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Democracy movement in Pakistan not dead

Aijaz Ahmad: The democracy movement did not start with Bhutto and will not end with her death

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Post-assassination crisis in Pakistan

December 27, 2007

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a political rally in Rawalpindi. The leader of Pakistan’s People’s Party was leaving the rally when she was shot at by a man who then blew himself up, killing twenty others.

According to the Guardian newspaper, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto triggered violent convulsions across the country that cast grave doubts on elections scheduled for January 8, as well as marking a dark finale to a tragedy-strewn life. The Real News spoke to Senior News Analyst, Aijaz Ahmad, in New Delhi.

AIJAZ AHMAD, VIA BROADBAND FROM NEW DELHI, INDIA: Benazir Bhutto has been the most prominent civilian politician for awhile. She was the daughter of a very famous prime minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Her father was overthrown and then essentially assassinated through judicial decree under the previous martial law administrator and dictator of Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq. She was elected prime minister in 1988, but was then dismissed. She was again reelected in 1993, and remained prime minister of Pakistan until 1996, when she was again dismissed, both times on charges of corruption and incompetence. She as prime minister siphoned off something like $1.5 billion in various shady deals essentially made by her husband. After Musharraf made the coup, she left the country. And between that time and October this year, and she returned to Pakistan as part of something of a deal sponsored by the United States between herself and President Musharraf. But Musharraf and Benazir have had very tense and difficult relationships. And she was emerging as the main politician in Pakistan actually now challenging Musharraf. This assassination of hers now scuttles the prospect of elections. And I believe that Pakistan now may be moving very much towards martial law, unless Musharraf goes altogether, which is what the demand of the opposition now is, that Musharraf is answerable for what has happened. We can expect more and more unrest. And that unrest, in fact, will become the excuse for imposing the martial law. When she first arrived in Pakistan in October and held her rally, on the very first day of her arrival, there was a massive attempt to assassinate her in which hundreds of people died. She had at that time said that she knew that retired military officers who were close to the jihadi elements, Islamic extremist elements, had plotted to assassinate her. The second people who benefit from this is precisely the political party which has been supporting Musharraf so far, because if Benazir and Musharraf at some point came together, that is the political party that would be sidelined completely and become irrelevant. That political party is led by some very, very powerful magnates of industry and agriculture in Pakistan. And then, of course, a finger is being pointed at the highest levels, that is to say, Musharraf himself, that Musharraf had had a very turbulent relationship with Benazir, and if the elections were held and Benazir were to emerge as the prime minister under him, his political power would have been curtailed. Benazir Bhutto was certainly a very important political leader because of her political party, the PPP. But the real democratic movement is really among the intelligentsia and among the masses. I’m very, very sorry and sad that there have been assassinations. Her father was killed by one military dictator, and now Benazir has been killed by God knows who. And this is a very difficult time to talk about the negative aspects of Benazir Bhutto. Let me just say that she was fighting off a conviction from a Swiss court, which convicted her of bribery and corruption. Her corruptions were legendary. When the people of Pakistan were suffering under military dictatorship, she lived in Dubai and London. And it is only when the democratic movement picked up in Pakistan that she came back thinking that she would benefit from it. And in fact what happened was that the attention immediately shifted from the popular movement based among the masses of people, among students, among lawyers, to these very famous luminaries of Pakistani politics, of which Benazir Bhutto was the most prominent. So she was also trying to take advantage of the democratic movement which had erupted. In her absence, while she was in London and Dubai, it was opportune for the Pakistani elite, for the United States, for all that, to turn the democratic movement away from the popular uprising against military dictatorship and, you know, foist these leaders upon that movement. So now Nawaz Sharif, Benazir, all of these people were trying to benefit from that movement. So, no, I don’t think she is the one who can be seen as leading the democratic movement in Pakistan. There has been an immense dissatisfaction with the military regime in Pakistan, which has been expressed primarily by the intelligentsia, such as the lawyers and the students and so on. That is the real democratic movement in Pakistan. And my sense is that if the martial law comes, we are going to have to look to that popular unrest against the dictatorship. But that popular unrest is also unrest against the United States. It is against the Islamic extremists. But opposition to Islamic extremists does not mean that that movement would be kind to people who cooperate with the United States.

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