Thursday 27 December 2007

The Death of Benazir Bhutto

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto will have deep political repercussions domestically and internationally. At the moment of writing, it appears she was in the process of leaving a Pakistan Peoples' Party election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi when her entourage was attacked by a suicide bomber. Along with the bomber and his high profile target, at least 20 other people were killed.

So far, the US state department has condemned it as an attack not just on Bhutto and the PPP, but also the so-called democratic reconciliation process since the lifting of martial law last month. David Miliband, speaking for the government expressed his shock, and called for restraint. David Cameron for the Tories said it was a significant setback to Pakistan's return to democratic politics, and her London-based cousin, Asim Bhutto, paid tribute to her as someone who would bring "peace and freedom" to the country.

You can expect a number of tributes to litter the press and the blogosphere generally over the next couple of days. But let's be clear about this, Bhutto's support by the US and UK governments plus the friendly coverage she's received from the BBC since her return from self-imposed "exile" have nothing to do with her democratic or secular credentials. Our masters remain very keen for Pervez Musharraf to remain in power. From their standpoint he is a pro-Western figure amenable to US and UK imperialism's geopolitical interest in the region. The big problem is his lack of popular mandate, they'd much rather have a friendly face at the helm who's got there by fair means rather than foul. A rapprochement between the two figures - a government position for Bhutto plus a pardon concerning corruption charges - in exchange for her backing of Musharraf's presidency after the elections was possible, despite the long-standing personal indemnity between the two. Furthermore, neither were very far apart politically. On the key issues; the relationship with India, and opposition to the myriad Pakistani Islamist movements and militias, they were virtually one. The passing of Bhutto from the scene has thrown a spanner in the works.

While this will cause the foreign office and the state department a headache, for Pakistan it marks a new intensity to the crisis permanently engulfing its political system. It is no exaggeration to say Bhutto's death fundamentally alters the dynamics of the situation. Where the PPP are concerned, more than one commentator on the BBC this afternoon has noted it was very much structured around Bhutto's person. For example, imagining Forza Italia without Silvio Berlusconi gives you an idea of the predicament the PPP finds itself in. Without the anchoring figure of Bhutto, it's difficult to see how this party - a coalition of convenience between bourgeois nationalists, secularist intelligentsia, and even Trotskyists, can remain a coherent political entity. Nawaz Sharif, the ex-prime minister toppled by Musharraf's coup in 1999, may have ostentatiously wrung his hands of any benefits to be accrued from the assassination in his BBC interview a short while ago, but he did commit his party to sitting down with the PPP to work out what can be done, despite the bad blood between the two. No doubt he will be looking to co-opt as much of the PPP to his bandwagon as possible.

Another casualty will be the shreds of what remains of Musharraf's legitimacy. Speaking to the BBC, Hussain Haqqanni, a former Bhutto flunky, pointed out Rawalpindi is the headquarters of Pakistan's overblown military apparatus. It is a place that, in theory, should be the most secure location in the country. It is widely accepted to be crawling with intelligence operatives. And yet a suicide attacker was able to penetrate Bhutto's security detail in the heart of the military establishment with apparent ease. To the mind of many Bhutto supporters and sympathisers, even if there is no link between Musharraf and the attack (a claim already being made by Asim Bhutto) this, coming on top of his inability to tackle fundamentalist-inspired political violence at the very least positions him complicit in Bhutto's death.

In the immediate term, a postponement of elections is likely, giving Musharraf and his Muslim League some time to horse trade with his opponents. As for a return to martial law, this could be a serious mistake from Musharraf's point of view. It is possible such a move could be supported by some of his opponents as a means of stymieing the fall out, but seeing mainstream politics fall behind de facto military rule would do nothing to challenge the growing influence of fundamentalist political Islam. Whatever the case, it is they who are the winners. By claiming the scalp of Pakistan's most high profile politician, future "martyrs" will be emboldened to make similar attacks.


Anonymous said...

I think that either the PPP will end-up being racked by splits or, they will win the forth comming election.

It all depends if they can remain together as a party, if they can than the death of Benazir Bhutto will be the catalist for an election victory (she was very popular).

If however they end-up being unable to work together then it's also really the end for the PPP.

Foxessa said...

Another of these brilliant solutions of the bushies and implemented by condie, down the tubes.

Though Bhutto's now a martyr, her hands are not entirely clean of blood or corruption either.

Love, C

Phil said...

Well, Sharif has announced his party is boycotting the elections set for the 8th of January. It'll be interesting to see the kinds of moves his Muslim League makes with regard to the PPP, the Musharraf clique, and other oppositionists. You can bet he won't be sitting on his hands during this time.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

In the short-term i think any leadership contest in the PPP will be interesting, and whatever results from that (a split in the PPP or whatever) I would have thought would be the most influential thing in the run-up to any elections. I think the current dictatorship is living on borrowed time, but the next month or has just become all that bit mor eimportant

Phil said...

CWI Statement, better late than never ;)

Socialist Movement condemns the killing of Benazir Bhutto

Pakistan People’s Party leader killed in suicide attack; political crisis and chaos deepen further
Khalid Bhatti, Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI), Lahore

Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was killed in a suicide attack after addressing a public rally in Rawalpindi on 27 December. Her tragic death has once again exposed the volatile situation that exists in the country. The government has pointed the finger of blame at an Al-Qaeda-linked group led by tribal war lord Baitullah Mashud for this killing.

Benazir had repeatedly said that some elements within the state apparatus wanted to kill her. She survived a deadly suicide attack on 18 October in Karachi at her reception rally when she returned from exile in which nearly 150 people were killed. She was on the hit list of Al-Qaeda and other reactionary Islamic groups. An Al-Qaeda spokesman in Afghanistan has claimed responsibility of her killing. This spokesman said she was killed because of her alliance with ‘infidels’ and because she was an American agent.

Violence has erupted as the news of her killing spread throughout the country. Benazir’s home province, Sindh, has been in the grip of violence as angry mobs have set ablaze banks, government buildings, gas stations and petrol pumps, railway stations, trains, cars, buses and shops across the province. More than 24 people have been killed in the violence so far. The whole country was shut down in protest and the government has also announced three days of mourning. Train services have been suspended and other transport has also been halted.

The situation is like a general strike but a spontaneous one which no one has really organised and acquiring a semi-insurrectionary character in some areas. Many workers and poor people who were not open Bhutto supporters, have expressed their anger against the regime as a whole. This could be channeled through building united democratic defence committees into a movement throughout Pakistan capable of bringing down the hated Musharraf government.

US loses key supporter of ‘War on Terror’

We cannot rule out the involvement of reactionary sections within the state apparatus in this assassination. The reactionary fundamentalist and nationalist elements within the state apparatus are closely linked with different armed reactionary Islamic groups. Many of these groups were created and developed by the state apparatus and especially the intelligence establishment. These elements were not happy with the pro-US policies of Benazir and particularly her vocal opposition to Islamic militancy and extremism. She was a staunch supporter of the US-led ‘War on Terror’ and supported military operations against militant groups. There is no doubt that reactionary extremist forces are behind her killing.

She is the fourth member of the Bhutto family who has been killed in political violence. Her father and two brothers were killed by the state apparatus. Despite the hanging of her father and founder of the PPP, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1979 at the hands of the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq, she tried to do everything to make a compromise with the military establishment.

Benazir abandoned pro-masses policies to appease the establishment. Despite this she was never fully trusted by the military or big sections of the ruling elite in Pakistan.

Mobilise workers and poor against reaction

The Socialist Movement Pakistan strongly condemns the killing of Benazir Bhutto and we reject terrorist acts and the methods of reactionary religious extremist forces. However, the SMP has always made clear our opposition to the pro-imperialist and capitalist policies of Benazir Bhutto and the leadership of the PPP who were working to defend the present system. Even at their most radical, the PPP leadership only really promised to make limited reforms to the rotten capitalist and feudal set-up in Pakistan, without ever explaining how these would be implemented. When in power, they always ended up lining their own pockets and attacking working class democratic rights and living standards. But we also condemn the acts of individual and state terrorism conducted against individuals or groups. The SMP believes in mass, independent working class political struggle to overthrow the present rotten capitalist and feudal system.

The SMP strongly believes that religious extremism can only be defeated by a mass movement of the working class and poor masses. The present regime has failed to defeat the reactionary forces of religious extremism. The working class is the only force in society which is capable of defeating dictatorship and religious extremism. A well organised and prepared mass political action and general strike can defeat the forces of reaction. The present wave of violence will not be able to bring down the regime and defeat reactionary forces. Instead the working people need an organised mass political movement with clear objectives and a programme which takes up the everyday concerns of the majority such as spiraling food prices, mass unemployment and widespread poverty.

We have been explaining that the elections due to be held on 8 January would be a farce - in no way democratic - and have been calling for elections to be held on a totally different basis for representatives to a revolutionary constituent assembly to prepare the way for a government of workers and poor people.