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Remembering Benazir Bhutto

Victim of ‘New Great Game’

December 27, 2019 marks the 12th death anniversary of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the great visionary leader, who resisted with great courage the agenda of neo-colonial forces aimed at pushing Pakistan to a theocratic State incapable of progressing towards an egalitarian and democratic polity. In recognition of her great services, she was awarded posthumously the prestigious UN Human Rights Award on December 10, 2008. The UN Human Rights Award is given every five years. The 2008 award was special as it coincided with 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

Professor Amin Mughal, a doyen of progressive, humanistic thinking and great scholar, in his remarkable paper, After Benazir Bhutto: Some reflections, read at a meet, organised by the Campaign against Martial Law, Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, London commented, “I confess, in the least uncharitable terms, that I was never fond of Benazir Bhutto. In fact, I was inimical to her politics. In death, however, she has redeemed herself. In the imagination of the masses she has acquired a mystical significance that is destined to be a never-ending source of inspiration in their struggles ahead. Most authentic martyrs in history were reluctant to die. All of them were, however, prepared to accept death. Benazir went further. Her detractors have accused her of being foolhardy. That is not true. She only embraced what she had in the last days of her life come to perceive to be her destiny. Hers was an act of courage steeled in deliberation and schooled in the imagination. It matters who killed her, but what matters more is that she knew she would be gunned down. Had she escaped death that day, the suicide bombers would have done her in sooner than later. Yet, she decided to take the risk. Again, it matters whether she died of the gun wound or was later levered down into death. But what matters more is that she was there, facing a possible killer. She did not flinch”.  This is perhaps the best tribute to Benazir Bhutto till today as well as sheds light on her relentless struggle against fanaticism.

The act of great courage demonstrated by Shaheed (martyr) Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto praised by Amin Mughal and many others since 2007 has changed the entire political scene of Pakistan, many believe for the worse. For resisting the agenda of forces of obscurantism—working on the dictates of neo-colonial masters—she lost her life. Her removal from the political scene paved the way for installing the elements that were even keener to implement their agenda. That was a ‘Grand Design’—termed as ‘New Great Game’—aimed at pushing Pakistan slowly and gradually towards collapse from within, it continues till today. During the Decade of Democracy [2008-18] and thereafter under the premiership of Imran Khan, political conflicts and economic shenanigans and troubles for common citizens—especially the less privileged—are taking a bizarre turn. There is growing antagonism and discord between political parties even on fundamental issues relating to national integrity and economic sovereignty. 

A number of experts closely watching historic evolution of Pakistan, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 and invasion of USA and allied countries in October 2001 of Afghanistan, are of the view that since the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, Pakistan has been continuously entrapped in dreadful conflicts and grave crises, though in recent year the valiant armed forces of the country have waged unprecedented and successful war against the militants giving great sacrifices. However, it is generally accepted that country’s civil politicians still lack leadership qualities and capabilities of pulling State out of the prevailing socio-economic and political mess.

The five-year rule of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) [2008-2013] under Asif Ali Zardari substantially damaged Bhutto’s progressive party—corruption reached new heights, mal-administration spread like wild fire, law and order deteriorated to unthinkable levels, institutional confrontations accelerated and economic woes of people multiplied many times, just to mention a few.

The trend set by PPP further accelerated under the third-time elected Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, later disqualified by Supreme Court and convicted by Accountability Court. During the rule of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) from 2013-2018 Pakistan was caught in a deadly debt trap and pushed towards economic insolvency besides creating institutional rifts.

The Tahreek-i-Insaf (PTI) after assumption of power in the wake of elections held on 25 July 2018 has also so far proved that it has neither any pragmatic programmes nor competent people to solve the fundamental problems faced by Pakistan and its people. In today’s Pakistan there is not a single leader that matches the vision and determination of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto to regain what we have lost domestically and internationally 

It may be remembered that our political parties in the past had tried “truce with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as highlighted in a paper, From Peace Talks to Operation Zarb-e-Azb – Politics of Consensus Building for Counter-Terrorism, written by Manzoor Ahmad Naazer, Sadaf Farooq and Masood-ur-Rehman Khattak:

All Parties Conference (APC) convened by the federal government on September 09, 2013 took a consensual decision to start dialogues with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in order to bring an end to unabated wave of terrorism in Pakistan that ensued after US invasion of Afghanistan…After coming into power, Premier Minister Nawaz Sharif in his first televised address expressed his intent for the negotiated settlement of the problem (“PM Nawaz Sharif calls,” 2013). Both PML-N and PTI played key role in building consensus in favor of peace talks…. The process convinced the entire nation that the militants only understood the language of force and no other option could be helpful in combating terrorism. The consensus among the nation with regard to how to deal with terrorism is vital to achieve the durable peace in the country. Thus, the failure of the dialogue process opened the window of success for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the harbinger of peace and tranquility in the country.

The efforts by political parties of “truce” with TTP/other terrorist outfits miserably failed and ultimately as mentioned above it paved the way for success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched on June 15, 2014 and followed by Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad that began in February 2017. Complete chronology of military operations from 2007 till today can be seen at https://www.dawn.com/news/1316332. The PTI, after sharing power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with Jaamt-i-Islami (JI), having a soft corner for TTP etc, invoked the wrath of militants, losing Law Minister Israrullah Gandapur and many others.

It is an established fact that neither PPP nor PMLN made any efforts to trace and punish the real hidden hands behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto during the Decade of Democracy [2008-18]. The verdict announced by an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Benazir Bhutto murder case after about ten years of her assassination on August 30, 2017 acquitted five TTP suspects (Aitzaz Shah, Sher Zaman, Abdul Rasheed, Rafaqat Hussain and Hasnain Gul) and announced 17-year imprisonment for two police officials (CPO Rawalpindi Saud Aziz and SP Khurram Shahzad Haider) who later were granted bails. The Judge of ATC Asghar Khan, in his 34-page long detailed verdict mentioned that the two senior police officers showed “criminal negligence” by removing Bhutto’s security, destroying key evidence, and allowing the crime scene to be washed merely hours after the deadly attack. The ATC also declared retired Gen Pervez Musharraf an absconder in the case.

A newspaper report made the following apt remarks on the announcement of verdict:

The prosecution of the high-profile murder case remained “orphaned” as far as Benazir Bhutto’s spouse Asif Ali Zardari and her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were concerned from day one because they never took even minor interest in pursuing it vigorously in the ATC or anywhere else

Many analysts believe that in the wake of brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto, wages of appeasement towards militants continued unabated and it ultimately culminated in the most lamentable and barbaric incident in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 when seven terrorists of TTP launched an attack on the Army Public School. They were clad in the uniform of the Frontier Corps and entered the school from the rear. They stormed the premises and held it in an-hour long siege. They moved from classroom to classroom, killing innocent students and staff—nearly 150 lost their lives and many hundreds received serious injuries. The carnage in Quetta of August 8, 2016 killing 70 and injuring over 100 was another great jolt to the entire nation. It is documented in Inquiry Report of Supreme Court. A few days later, there was wanton attack on Quetta’s Police Training Centre on October 23, 2016 killing 59 cadets and injuring 116. Earlier, the assassination of Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior and respected leader of Awami National party (ANP) and others on December 22, 2012 was a continuation of the same onslaught that killed Benazir Bhutto—attacks on our motherland by foreign-sponsored-hostile forces.

The nation also witnessed sad killings of General Sanaullah Niazi, Lieutenant Colonel Touseef and others on September 15, 2013, series of bomb blasts at many places, attacks on armed forces and civilians by the militants. These all were were links of a single chain—use of militancy in the name of religion to destabilise Pakistan after invasion of Pakistan. It is no more a secret that when our troops at Bajaur, Mehmand and Chitral countered Fazlullah’s onslaught from Afghanistan, NATO helicopters came to rescue the infiltrators on the night of 26 November, 2011—the tragic incident of military post at Salala. On 22 June 2013, Fazlullah’s special squad kidnapped 17 soldiers and beheaded them. Fazlullah proudly claimed that his men had killed Maj. Gen Sanaullah Niazi and two others on 15 September 2013 at a time when so-called peace talks were underway.

The Late Neo-Colonialists first created the threat of communism. Then it was the al-Qaeda and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Those who need proof must read why Fazlullah (Mullah Radio), ex-son-in-law of Maulana Sufi Muhammad, who had founded Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), in Swat, announced allegiance with Daesh-ISIS. In Afghanistan, US-backed, ISAF-trained, National Directorate of Security and Indian RAW helped Fazlullah and his men to settle down in Kunar and Nuristan and extended them all sorts of facilities to launch cross border attacks. By April 2011, Mullah Fazlullah started sending his barbarian, well-trained militants into Pakistan who attacked targets in Bajaur, Mehmand and Dir in their bid to clear their way to re-enter Swat through Dir. Subsequently, targets in Chitral were also hit. Despite Pakistan’s strong protests, Afghanistan took no measures to bridle Fazlullah and other militant leaders like Faqir Muhammad and Khalid Khurasani who fled from Bajaur and Mehmand Agencies respectively. In the aftermath of Peshawar School carnage, Pakistan’s ex-Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif rushed to Afghanistan asking for firm action against Fazlullah and his men. Four of them, Maulvi Abdus Salam, Hazrat Ali, Mujeebur Rehman and Sabeel alias Yahya were hanged in Kohat, a few days before the first anniversary of Peshawar School tragedy.

The killing of Mullah Radio [Fazlullah] on June 14, 2018 in an American drone strike in Kunar Province was part of what is documented in ‘Inventing and slaying the enemies’. The Neo-Colonialists have been inventing new loyalists and slaying the old faithful guards. The classic case is that of creating the monster of ISIS and then spending billions to eliminate them. It is like following Machiavelli’s famous advice in The Prince that “a wise ruler invents enemies and then slays them in order to control his own subjects”. All these have been well-designed ploys, observes Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan in his paper, The Great Game Continues. His core argument has been that the purpose “is not to eliminate the ‘Islamic threat’ but to contain it within manageable limits and to spawn the next generation of ‘terrorists”.

According to Janaka Perera, Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan in his ‘Great Game Continues‘ sums up, “The ‘war on terror’ and ‘promoting democracy’ are the 21st Century equivalents of the 19th Century British gobbledygook.” According to Peter Hopkirk, author of the original The Great Game, Washington sees the (Central-South Asia) region as an extension of the Middle-East.

By now, it is not a disputed matter that there exists a ‘Grand Design’—The New Great Game—aimed at keeping Pakistan, in fact, the entire South Asia in turmoil by certain powers having intentions to curtail the rising influence of China in the area. The rise of extremism and militancy in the entire area, including Modi-driven Hindutva ideology and genocide of Muslims in Indian held Kashmir—all are part of the New Great Game to contain China and destabilise the entire South Asian region. These forces got rid of Benazir through their bogies—the terrorists—knowing that she had been and would remain the main stumbling block to achieve their nefarious designs.

Many experts cite ghastly attacks on GHQ Rawalpindi, PNS Mehran Base in Karachi, PAF Base at Kamra, intrusion in Abbotabad, invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, campaigns against Libya, Iran, Syria and other Muslim States in the perspective of New Great Game, keeping the threat of fundamentalismaliveby some hidden hands—see details in Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan’s The Great Game Continues.

Analysts and scholars have yet not examined assassination of Benazir Bhutto from the perspective of the ‘New Great Game’. In her last book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy & the West, she “tried to trace the roots, causes, and potential solutions to the crisis within the Muslim world and the crisis between the Muslim World and the West”. Benazir, in this work has unveiled the agenda of neo-colonialists and the obscurantists. She has quoted extensively from Al Qur’an to prove that Islam is a religion of peace, but it has been brutally abused by a handful of extremists throughout the Muslim history to create chaos and disorder. She traced the factors behind militant Islam and exposed the colonial and neo-colonial forces promoting and encouraging it. These views must have annoyed the forces that want to keep the Muslim World in dark ages for their nefarious purposes. These forces used their proxy—Islamic militants—to get rid of her.  

Heraldo Munoz, the lead United Nations (UN) investigator, assigned probe into Benazir’s assassination, in his book ‘Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan’, doubts that the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) independently carried out the attack. He does not discount suspicions about involvement of intelligence operatives in her murder and later covering up of evidence. He expresses fears that the murder would remain unsolved because of absence of both capacity and willingness of the government and courts to solve the case. “In Bhutto’s case, it would seem that the village assassinated her: Al-Qaeda gave the order; the Pakistani Taliban executed the attack, possibly backed or at least encouraged by elements of the establishment; the Musharraf government facilitated the crime through its negligence; local senior policemen attempted a cover-up; Bhutto’s lead security team failed to properly safeguard her; and most Pakistani political actors would rather turn the page than continue investigating who was behind her assassination,” Munoz observes.

In the wake of her brutal and ruthless assassination—still shrouded in mystery—there was great euphoria among Pakistani liberals over the presumed ‘return to democracy’, noted Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan, in The Great Game Continues, and expressed the concern that “they are yet to discover ‘Late Neo-colonialism’.  “Anyone who has followed the ‘colour revolutions’ that installed pro-American rulers in Georgia (Rose Revolution, 2003), Ukraine (Orange Revolution, 2004) and Kyrgyzstan (Tulip Revolution, 2005) could surely not have missed the tell-tale signs”, he added.

The theory propounded by Dr. Sachithanandam got credence in the wake of events that took place after assassination of Benazir. It was rightly highlighted by him that “the earliest foreboding surfaced in the backroom manoeuvres by United States and British intelligence services to engineer panic about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear assets. It was a repeat of the duplicitous hysteria they generated over non-existent weapons of mass destruction that Iraq allegedly possessed.

According to Dr. Sachithanandam, “politically challenged Pakistani liberals were utterly incapable of comprehending the geo-strategic context in which Benazir maneuvered to defend Pakistan’s interest”. So they slandered her, alleging Musharraf caved in to US pressure and withdrew support to the Afghan Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11 although in fact “he [Musharraf] removed one excuse for the Bush Administration to ‘bomb Pakistan into stone age’, as a senior State Department official had threatened”.

In view of above, it is understandable why Benazir decided to support Musharraf to resist US Late Neo-colonialism. American discomfort with Musharraf’s government was palpable by late 2003, after he dodged committing Pakistani troops to prop up the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.

Even after twelve years of the tragedy of losing Benazir, our system has failed to punish her real assailants and unveil the forces behind the ‘Great Design’ of her assassination. The responsibility for this rests collectively on all institutions—civil-military and judiciary.

Benazir, as leader of the poor and dispossessed will always live in their hearts. If the country has to get rid of forces of obscurantism and legacy of Benazir is to prevail, workers of PPP must unite people from all walks of life to resist and counter the forces of bigotry, extremism, fanaticism, fascism, which are part of the New Great Game that aims at controlling South Asian and Central Asian resources through the bogey of Islamic and other militants, BJP-supported-Hindu extremism, self-created terrorist outfits with the ultimate objective of containing/hindering/destroying China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), announced in 2003, in which China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project.

Benazir was fully aware of contours of the New Great Game, which the West—led by the US—has been launched to contain growing Russian and Chinese influences in Central and West Asia. Till her assassination, she worked for resisting this agenda of Pakistan-hostile forces. She became the prime target of these forces and victim for fighting New Great Game in which some of her own party leaders betrayed her. Hers has been a legacy of continuous struggle. Pakistanis need to carry on her legacy of resisting the ongoing New Great Game of US Late Neo-colonialism—controlling South Asian region through the bogey of Islamic militants and Hindu extremism with the ultimate aim of containing China and undermining nuclear Pakistan.


The writers, researchers, historians and authors of numerous books, are Visiting Professors at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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