FEATURE & OPINION: After Benazir

After Benazir

Speaking again to this newspaper not long before her death – this time by phone from Dubai – Bhutto had voiced her concerns. They were not with the militants but with those inside the security establishment – the same people whom her husband blamed for the Karachi attack.

‘I’m not worried about Mahsud,’ said Bhutto. ‘I’m worried about the threat within the government. People like Mahsud are just pawns. It is the forces behind them that have presided over the rise of extremism and militancy in my country. They feel threatened now that their infrastructure will be rolled back when democracy is restored.’

The reality was that Bhutto’s return was deeply threatening to powerful interests in a Pakistani establishment increasingly dominated under Musharraf’s rule by the army and the intelligence agencies.

It was marked by a hatred towards the Bhuttos within a core section of Pakistan’s military – one that runs back to the coup against Bhutto’s father in the late 1970s. This group were less threatened by her threat to roll up the extremists than her promise to give western countries access to the disgraced scientist Khan, who operated a nuclear weapons supermarket from Pakistan for much of the 1990s. The fear was that Khan might implicate powerful figures in the army who had supported his illegal activities.

Deep down, Bhutto considered these people the real enemy: ‘I’m talking about the retired military officers who fought the jihad, who created the Afghan mujahideen, and later morphed into al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The real threat comes from them; it doesn’t come from their puppets or their pawns. They have a lot of supporters within the echelons of administration and intelligence.’ [complete article]

Pakistan’s flawed and feudal princess

Her neighbouring heads of state may have been figures as unpredictable and potentially alarming as President Ahmadinejad of Iran and a clutch of opium-trading Afghan warlords, but Bhutto has always seemed reassuringly familiar to Western governments – one of us. She spoke English fluently because it was her first language. She had an English governess, went to a convent run by Irish nuns and rounded off her education with degrees from Harvard and Oxford.

‘London is like a second home for me,’ she once told me. ‘I know London well. I know where the theatres are, I know where the shops are, I know where the hairdressers are. I love to browse through Harrods and WH Smith in Sloane Square. I know all my favourite ice cream parlours. I used to particularly love going to the one at Marble Arch: Baskin Robbins. Sometimes, I used to drive all the way up from Oxford just for an ice cream and then drive back again. That was my idea of sin.’

It was difficult to imagine any of her neighbouring heads of state, even India’s earnest Sikh economist, Manmohan Singh, talking like this.

For the Americans, what Benazir Bhutto wasn’t was possibly more attractive even than what she was. She wasn’t a religious fundamentalist, she didn’t have a beard, she didn’t organise rallies where everyone shouts: ‘Death to America’ and she didn’t issue fatwas against Booker-winning authors, even though Salman Rushdie ridiculed her as the Virgin Ironpants in his novel Shame.

However, the very reasons that made the West love Benazir Bhutto are the same that gave many Pakistanis second thoughts. Her English might have been fluent, but you couldn’t say the same about her Urdu which she spoke like a well-groomed foreigner: fluently, but ungrammatically. Her Sindhi was even worse; apart from a few imperatives, she was completely at sea. [complete article]

See also, Pakistan at standstill as discord and unrest grow (WP), Bhutto’s son, 19, to take over as Pakistan opposition leader (The Guardian), and Fury at claims on Bhutto killing (The Guardian).

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