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Remembering Benazir Bhutto

December 27, 2018 marks the 11th 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.

The act of great courage demonstrated by Shaheed (martyr) Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto praised by Amin Mughal and many others has changed the entire political scene of Pakistan for the worst. 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 the Neo-Colonialists to get rid of General Musharraf and install the elements that were even keener to implement their agenda. The sad killing of Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior minister and a respected leader of Awami National party (ANP) and nine others in Peshawar on December 22, 2012 was continuity of the same ‘Grand Design’—pushing Pakistan slowly and slowly towards complete collapse from within and it continues till today after the end of Decade of Democracy [2008-18] political and economic conflicts are taking bizarre turn. There is growing antagonism and discord between political parties even on fundamental issues relating to national integrity and economic sovereignty. 

Very few analysts and scholars have tried to view her assassination and later events from this perspective. 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 designs. These forces used their proxy—Islamic militants—to get rid of her.   

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’. Dr. Sachithanandam Sathananthan, a Visiting Research Scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University School of International Studies, in his paper, The Great Game Continues, noted with concern that “they are yet to discover ‘Late Neo-colonialism’.  He argues that removal of Benazir and thereafter, easily maneuvered victory for Asif Ali Zardari in the presidential election “brought to a high point the tortuous process of regime change in Pakistan. 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”.

The theory propounded by Dr. Sachithanandam got credence in the wake of events took place in the wake of assassination of Benazir. It was rightly highlighted by Dr. Sachithanandam that “the earliest foreboding surfaced in the backroom manoeuvres by United States (US) 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. A carefully worded article, co-authored by former State Department officials Richard L. Armitage and Kara L. Bue, signalled the shift in US policy. After formally acknowledging the then President Pervez Musharraf’s many achievements, the authors continued: ‘much remains to be accomplished, particularly in terms of democratization. Pakistan must…eliminate the home-grown jihadists…And…it must prove itself a reliable partner on technology transfer and nuclear non-proliferation.’ And the denouement: ‘We believe General Musharraf…deserves our attention and support, no matter how frustrated we become at the pace of political change and the failure to eliminate Taliban fighters on the Afghan border.’ Translation: Musharraf has to go”.

It was ‘Washington’s renewed interest’ in Zardari and his alike and not Benazir that forced Musharraf—once a close ally of Bush—to offer firm opposition to US Late Neo-colonialism to ravage Pakistan. According to Dr. Sachithanandam, “politically challenged Pakistani liberals — a motley crowd that includes members of human rights and civil liberties organisations, journalists, analysts, lawyers and assorted professionals — are utterly incapable of comprehending the geo-strategic context in which Musharraf maneuvered to defend Pakistan’s interest”. So they slandered him an ‘American puppet’, alleging he caved in to US pressure and withdrew support to the Afghan Taliban regime in the wake of 9/11 although in fact “he 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 join hands with 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. When he offered to cooperate under the auspices of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), naïve Pakistani media and analysts lunged for his jugular, condemning him once again for succumbing to US demands. But in fact he nimbly sidestepped American demands: he calculated that diverse ideological stances of the 57 Muslim member-counties would not allow the OIC to jointly initiate such controversial action and therefore Pakistan’s participation could not arise, which proved correct.

Benazir was fully aware of the fact that Bush Administration had been becoming increasingly hostile to Musharraf’s determination to prioritise Pakistan’s interests when steering the ship of the state through the choppy waters of the unfolding New Great Game, which the West — led by the US — has been manoeuvring to contain growing Russian and Chinese influences in Central and West Asia. She decided to work with Musharraf, precisely for resisting this agenda of Pakistan-hostile forces. She became the prime target of these forces and was eliminated—interestingly the blame was shifted to Musharraf to hide the real hands. Since then events show and prove that under the “chosen” leadership, Pakistan is moving towards disaster. The interior minister keeps on reminding us of his dedication to fight “terrorists” but in the last five years there was utter failure even to contain them, let alone uprooting the menace.

Benazir became victim of this Great Game in which her own party stalwarts betrayed her. Hers has been a legacy of continuous struggle. Pakistanis need to continue her legacy of resisting the ongoing 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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