December 27, 2022 will mark the 15th death anniversary of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. She became the first female Prime Minister of Muslim World in 1988. She served two terms as Prime Minister of Pakistan, 1988–90 and 1993–96. 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.
In this two-part series, written exclusively for BOL NEWS, an attempt is made to analyse political void created in Pakistan due to her assassination in the last three decades.
Dr. Ikramul Haq
The brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto fifteen years ago was for stopping her resisting the agenda of terrorists—merchants of death—and striving to make Pakistan a moderate, democratic and prosperous state. She waged heroic struggle against all the dictators and faced numerous hardships in her political and personal life with extraordinary courage. During the Decade of Democracy [2008-18] and since ouster of Imran Khan as a result of no confidence move on April 9, 2022, economic hardships for common citizens—especially the less privileged—have been increasing with every passing day. The prevailing political impasse, grave economic crisis and reluctance to hold early elections are posing a serious threat to the viability of state. Had Benazir was alive, not removed from the political landscape of Pakistan by hidden hands—still shrouded in mystery—things would have been much different.
While, the nation is facing extreme financial difficulties, the political parties, instead of joining hands to overcome the prevalent crisis, are fighting over issues not related to masses but protecting their self interests. They are perpetuating political instability, antagonism and intolerance among the people. They are not even ready to remove differences through dialogue and forge a consensus on fundamental issues relating to elections, national sovereignty and security, for which economic self-reliance is a prerequisite. In these circumstances, many believe early elections, coupled with charter of economy, is the only viable solution.
It is an irrefutable fact that since the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, Pakistan has been continuously entrapped in dreadful conflicts and grave crises. The prevailing volatile economic situation, political deadlock and recent attacks on our valiant armed forces and civilians by the militants pose serious challenges and must be a a serious cause of concern. At this point we need national cohesion and political maturity to come out of the existing mess.
It needs to be reminded that through relentless struggle, dedication and great sacrifices our armed forces and others law enforcement agencies provided much-needed peaceful law and order situation after years of upheavals. However, it appears that the politicians have once again failed to learn lessons from history and are engaged in mudslinging against each other and creating a situation that is detrimental to our economic survival.
It is now a national consensus that all major political parties in Pakistan, even after more than 14 years of revival of civilian rule, failed to produce a leadership having 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 irreparably 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 (PMLN) from 2013-2018, Pakistan was caught in a deadly debt trap and pushed towards economic insolvency besides creating institutional rifts. Nawaz Sharif, presently in London, allegedly dictates all the major decision by Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, heading the alliance government of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM).
The Tahreek-i-Insaf (PTI) during its rule [August 2018 to April 2022] also proved that it possessed neither any pragmatic programmes nor competent people to solve the fundamental problems faced by Pakistan and its people.
The ongoing PDM’s rule, started after regime change through vote of no confidence, is marred by bad economic governance, hyperinflation and inability to ensure economic viability of the country, besides many other failures.
In today’s Pakistan, there is not a single leader that matches the vision and determination of Benazir Bhutto and her struggle to make Pakistan domestically strong so that internationally our voice is heard on issues like unprecedented brutalities of Indian forces in held Kashmir and its open and naked terrorism inside our beloved motherland.
In the past, the efforts by PMLN, PTI and Jaamt-i-Islami (JI) and other political parties of “truce” with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terrorist outfits miserably failed. It is worth remembering that the PTI, after sharing power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa JI, having a soft corner for TTP etc, invoked the wrath of militants, losing Law Minister Israrullah Gandapur and many others. Ultimately the armed forces with determination and by offering great sacrifices through Operation Zarb-e-Azb (launched on June 15, 2014) and followed by Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (began in February 2017) uprooted the strong holds of TTP and other militant and separatist groups.
Unfortunately, the TTP and other militants have again started their nefarious attacks. We have also recently witnessed many cross border firing incidents as well as bomb attacks on our missions in Kabul and elsewhere under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. In the prevailing circumstances, all the political parties, ignoring all the differences, must support the armed forces to protect our national security. The recent disclosures of Indian sponsoring of terrorism in Pakistan must be taken up at international level to prove that Pakistan is continuous victim of cross border violence.
It is an established fact that PPP, PMLN and PTI, made no worthwhile efforts to trace and punish the real hidden hands behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. 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, 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 General Pervez Musharraf an absconder in the case.
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 one of the most wanton incidents in human history 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 Quetta Commission Inquiry Report, conducted by a sitting judge of Supreme Court. Till today, the implementation of key recommendations made in this report is not made.
On October 23, 2016, there was a wanton attack on Quetta’s Police Training Centre killing 59 cadets and injuring 116. Earlier, the assassination of Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior and respected leader of Awami National party 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. The late 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, after creating the threat of communism, invented a new one, al-Qaeda and later Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). We all know who founded Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), in Swat, announced allegiance with Daesh-ISIS and unleashed reign of terror. In Afghanistan, US-backed, ISAF-trained, National Directorate of Security and Indian RAW helped late 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, late Mullah Fazlullah started sending his barbarian squads, 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’, published in a local English daily. 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”.
By now, it is not a disputed that there exists a ‘Grand Design’—The New Great Game—aimed at sabotaging Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and keeping South Asia and Middle East in turmoil. The ultimate aim is containment of China. 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.
The forces behind this New Great Game wanted to get rid of Benazir through their bogies—the terrorists—knowing that she would be the main stumbling block to achieve their nefarious designs. The forces that removed her were aware that she would be an ardent advocate of a block of China, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and Turkey to counter 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 as elaborated by Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan in The Great Game Continues.
Our defence analysts and political historians have yet not examined assassination of Benazir Bhutto from the perspective of the New Great Game. According to Michiko Kakutani, American literary critic and former chief book critic for The New York Times wrote on February 19, 2008: “In Ms. Bhutto’s new book, “Reconciliation,” a volume she finished days before she was killed, she lays out her vision of Islam as “an open, pluralistic and tolerant religion” that she says has been hijacked by extremists, and her belief that Islam and the West need not be headed on a collision course toward a “clash of civilizations”.
In RECONCILIATION: Islam, Democracy, and the West, Benazir has quoted extensively from holy 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 has 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 divided and remain in wars against each other for their nefarious purposes.
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.
After assassination of Benazir at the age of 54, 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”. It explains why Benazir decided to support Musharraf to resist agenda of “Neo-colonialists”, as they were dissatisfied “with Musharraf’s government was palpable by late 2003, after he dodged committing Pakistani troops to prop up the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq”, Dr. Sachithanandam added.
Even after fifteen 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 political parties and institutions.
Benazir was fully aware of contours of the New Great Game that was launched to contain growing Russian and Chinese influences in Central and West Asia and economically muzzling strong Muslin nuclear state. Till her assassination, Benazir worked for resisting this agenda of Pakistan-hostile forces. This legacy of Benazir should be followed by all Pakistanis, irrespective of their political affiliations, against all the militant outfits and Hindutva having agenda of undermining nuclear Pakistan.
Benazir, as leader of the poor and dispossessed, will always live in their hearts. If the country has to get rid of economic subjugation and protect its security and sovereignty, all the political parties, despite all political differences, must follow the legacy of “reconciliation’ as propounded by Benazir in her last book and always struggled for it against all odds. The present political leadership must work for uniting the nation to counter the forces of terrorism, bigotry, extremism, fanaticism and fascism, which are part of the New Great Game aimed at dividing the Muslim World on sectarian and other bases, controlling South Asian and Central Asian resources using the bogey of militants, BJP-supported-Hindu extremism, and terrorist-cum-separatist outfits, working to create hurdles in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in which China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a flagship project.
Dr. Ikramul Haq, Advocate Supreme Court, specialises in constitutional, corporate, media, intellectual property, arbitration, international taxation, IT and ML/CFT related laws. He is author of many books on law, economic and political history of Pakistan, drugs, arms, terrorism and related matters. He studied journalism, English literature and law. He is Chief Editor of Taxation He is country editor and correspondent of International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation (IBFD) and member of International Fiscal Association (IFA). He isVisiting Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).