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Rebellions follow Bhutto assassination
Pakistanis fault U.S.-backed regime
Published Jan 2, 2008 11:55 PM
The crisis in Pakistan has entered a new and even more acute phase with the
assassination of Benazir Bhutto, head of the Pakistan Peoples Party, who had
returned from exile just two months earlier. She was killed on Dec. 27 while
driving through a large welcoming crowd in Rawalpindi following a political
The regimes of both Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad and George W. Bush in
Washington rushed to blame the brutal murder on Islamic militants.
Their pronouncements failed to convince the public. Even the major imperialist
newspapers in the U.S. and Britain have had to admit that the Pakistani people
put the responsibility for Bhutto’s death squarely on the government.
Demonstrations and clashes with the armed bodies of the state continue across
Pakistan. The mass demonstration of popular outrage has targeted especially
offices of the government, Musharraf’s ruling party and symbols of the
military and superrich elite, including hundreds of bank offices. Some 58
people were killed, most by troops and paramilitaries firing on the people.
A private videotape of the assassination aired widely in the Pakistani media
and abroad, including on Britain’s Channel 4 News, shows Bhutto being
felled by an assassin’s bullets before a bomb blast hits her car,
contradicting the official account that she died, not from gunfire, but from
hitting her head on a sunroof lever after the blast. The military refused to
allow an autopsy to take place, but doctors at the hospital where she was
treated said she appeared to have been killed by bullets to the head.
In an e-mail sent in October, after an earlier attempt had failed to kill her,
Bhutto advised a British friend that if anything were to happen to her, she
would hold Musharraf responsible.
U.S. supported military dictatorships
Pakistan, a major client state of the U.S. and ally in the Cold War beginning
in the 1950s, has been under military rule for most of this time and has
received billions of dollars in U.S. military aid and equipment. However, there
were brief periods of elected civilian government between coups. Bhutto’s
father held the post of prime minister during one of them; he was overthrown by
the military and later hanged. Benazir Bhutto served twice as prime
minister—from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, when she was forced out of office,
then charged with corruption and sent into exile.
General Musharraf, the latest in a string of military dictators, seized power
in a coup in 1999 but later reinvented his rule by creating a political party
and winning the presidency in an election widely regarded as rigged. During
these eight years, the poverty of the masses has deepened while much of the
country’s wealth has gone to the military elite. Musharraf himself has
survived several assassination attempts.
After 9/11, Musharraf was strong-armed by the Bush administration into joining
Washington’s “war on terror.” This antagonized many in this
majority Islamic country, even though, in Washington’s eyes, he
wasn’t doing enough to support the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. On Sept.
24, 2006, Musharraf told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that U.S.
officials had openly threatened to “bomb Pakistan back into the Stone
Age” if it did not cooperate more vigorously with Washington’s war
In the last year, his military forces carried out a massacre at a Muslim school
right in Islamabad and also launched attacks on villages in the Northwest,
where there is strong opposition to the U.S.-led war in neighboring
Opposition to Musharraf’s rule became tempestuous this spring and summer
after Supreme Court justices defied his authority, ruling that he could not run
again for president while heading up the military. Demonstrations and strikes
broke out all over the country. They were brutally broken up by the state and
thousands, including hundreds of lawyers and jurists, were jailed for demanding
an end to martial law and the restoration of democracy.
Musharraf sacked the judges and appointed a new Supreme Court, whose members
did as they were told and ruled that his “re-election” for
president, which had taken place during a boycott by the opposition, was valid,
as long as he officially dropped the title of head of the armed forces, which
he did. The stage was then set for parliamentary elections, which were set for
Jan. 8, but which the Musharraf regime said on Jan. 1 would be postponed to
The deal that failed
Bhutto’s return in October from exile had been brokered by the Bush
administration, which got General Musharraf to agree to drop the corruption
charges. An article in the Washington Post of Dec. 28 described how Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice, her powerful deputy John Negroponte and U.N.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad thought they had concocted a deal whereby Bhutto
and Musharraf would share power in a coalition government that would continue
to cooperate with Washington. Bhutto, it said, had agreed that U.S. planes
could bomb targets in Pakistan’s Northwest territory, a stronghold of the
Islamic movement opposed to Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and
The idea was to keep Musharraf and the military in power, but with Bhutto
giving the government a more democratic veneer.
“The administration concluded over the summer that a power-sharing deal
with Ms. Bhutto might be the only way that General Musharraf could keep from
being toppled,” wrote the New York Times bluntly on Oct. 20.
From the moment that Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October, however, it was
clear that Musharraf had no intention of honoring the deal.
In her very first public appearance, at a huge rally in Karachi on Oct. 18,
Bhutto narrowly missed being assassinated by powerful bomb blasts that killed
150 people, 50 of them her security guards. At that time, too, the government
blamed Islamic militants, but her supporters told reporters that electric power
to the whole area had gone out just before the blasts and blamed it on the
Bhutto was then put under house arrest, where she continued to speak out
against Musharraf, calling on him to step down. Her courage in the face of real
threats on her life increased her mass support.
The PPP met just days after Bhutto’s assassination and elected her
19-year-old son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, to
take over the leadership, thus keeping this very wealthy dynasty at the helm of
the largest party in Pakistan. The PPP is expected to win the most seats in the
parliamentary elections—if the government allows them to be held.
Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League, who was prime minister until
ousted by Musharraf’s coup in 1999, has called for the general to resign
immediately from the presidency so “a government of national
consensus” can be formed.
The Bush administration is now scrambling to try to put the pieces of its
policy back together again. Its attempt to create a coalition government
between the military dictatorship and the bourgeois opposition has failed
miserably. After years of Washington’s support for Musharraf, even
demanding that he be more ruthless against its perceived enemies, anti-U.S.
sentiment is stronger than ever in Pakistan, among both Islamic and secular
Washington’s credibility with its “friends,” already in
tatters, has tanked. Who among the many exiled political figures around the
world will want to trust its guarantees of their safety now?
The situation seems ripe for the mass movements in Pakistan to demand no secret
deals, no more intervention by imperialism, and the creation of a truly
democratic and sovereign government committed to using the nation’s
resources to address the urgent needs of the people for adequate food, shelter,
education and health care.
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