I was shocked and saddened as the story of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination suddenly popped up while browsing news at the dead of night on 27 December 2007. She was probably the only one able to put the house in order in Pakistan. Now that she is gone, it could well be the end of salvaging Pakistan from the hands of the Islamists. However, I held hope that this was probably the wake-up call, which Pakistanis might heed and rise up against the death-cult of the Jihadists.
After her death, Ms Bhutto has emerged as an icon of secularism and modernity in the Islamic world, a courageous political leader and a champion democrat, a champion of women’s rights, and a fighter against the Jihadists. Her death has been compared to Gandhi’s and her political struggle to Aung San Suu Kyi’s. She was going to replace the rogue dictatorship of President Musharraf to institute democracy and secularism in Pakistan.
In a thoughtful analysis, however, it turns out that the majority of these epithets bestowed on her career and legacy are not accurate. Her most devastating action, not only for Pakistan but also for the whole world, was her patronization of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan and fueling of separatist Jihad in Kashmir.
It is not right to put all the blame on her for the support that the Taliban and Kashmiri militants received during her tenure as Prime Minister (PM), because the Pakistan intelligence services (ISI) and the military are too powerful for the PM to call the shots alone. Yet, she must accept her share of eager complicity.
Let us explore the Jihadi world of Benazir Bhutto. As the Islamist separatist movement was heating up in Kashmir, she walked into the field to fuel the Jihad in Kashmir. In addressing a huge congregation, she said:
“The people of Kashmir do not fear death, because they are Muslim. The Kashmiris have the blood of the Mujahids [Jihadists] and Ghazis [infidel slayers]. The Kashmiris have the blood of Mujahideens, because Kashmiris are the heir of Prophet Muhammad, Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Umar.”
In inciting even the women of Kashmir to Jihad, she said:
“And the brave women of Kashmir ― they know how to fight and also to live. And when they live, they do so with dignity.”
“From every village [of Kashmir] only one voice will emerge, “Freedom.” From every school, only one voice will merge, “Freedom.” Every child will shout: Freedom, freedom, freedom.”
After becoming PM for the second time, she told William Dalrymple in 1994 about her support of the Jihadists of Kashmir:
"India tries to gloss over its policy of repression in Kashmir… India does have might, but has been unable to crush the people of Kashmir. We are not prepared to keep silent, and collude with repression."
These rabble-rousing statements speak volume of Benazir Bhutto’s eager support for the Kashmiri separatists, clearly inspired by her Jihadi zeal. The Islamic separatist movement in Kashmir started getting backing from Pakistan since 1990, when well-trained Jihadists started crossing border to join the Kashmiri guerrillas. During her second term (1993-1996), both foreign and local Jihadists started pouring into Kashmir in ever greater number. The result was a large-scale pogrom of native Kashmiri Hindus. No less than 60,000 people have died, many more have been handicapped or mutilated, while nearly half a million Kashmiri Hindus have been evicted from their ancestral homes, who languish in refugee-shelters elsewhere in India.
Benazir Bhutto was, therefore, not a brave warrior against extremism and terrorism as commentators have propagandized over the last few days. Undeniably, she had an unstinted support for the Kashmiri Jihad movement. She had a similar support, on the other side of border, for the Taliban militia, who captured power in Afghanistan during her second term as unimpeded assistance flowed to them from Pakistan. It is impossible to discount the role of ISI and the military in Pakistan’s support for the Kashmir and Afghan Islamist militias during her tenure. But, inspired by her religious zeal, she obviously had whole-hearted support for them.
During Bhutto’s stewardship, the Islamist militia power peaked in both Afghanistan and Kashmir, thanks to the unstinted support from Pakistan. The havoc, wrecked by Islamist terrorists today in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is the harvest of what was seeded or nurtured and inspired by her. Her death is basically a fruit of the seed she herself had planted. Unfortunately, thousands of otherwise innocent men, women and children have also been victim of it and many more to follow in coming years and decades. I see more reason to mourn for those thousands of the victims, the innocent Hindus of India in particular, of the Jihad, she nurtured and helped flourish.
A Harvard- and Oxford-educated liberated woman, she became first Prime Minister of a powerful Muslim state in 1988 at the young age of 35. But she did absolutely nothing to alleviate the despicable treatment of women in Pakistani society. She helped the Taliban sweep into power, who became the worst oppressor of women in living memory. Nearly an entire generation of Afghan women lost their rights, freedom, and dignity. She never lodged a strong protest against the mistreatment of Afghan women by her Taliban protégés. So much for a champion of women’s right!
Furthermore, her support for the Kashmiri Jihadist was meant for creating another Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. India, since her birth, has established as a sustainable secular democracy with credible records in the rule of law, freedom and liberty, human rights, and the rights of women and minorities, which definitely rate much better than those of Pakistan. Her support for breaking Kashmir away from India to transform it into something like Pakistan or Afghanistan, does not make a her champion of democracy, secularism or women’s rights either. Instead, her encouragement of the Kashmiris to be peaceful part of India probably could.
William Dalrymple is obviously correct in asserting that she “did little for human rights, a calculating politician who was complicit in Pakistan's becoming the region's principal jihadi paymaster while she also ramped up an insurgency in Kashmir that has brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war.”
Among the epithets accorded to her, she probably deserved to be called a brave person. She, defying ominous threat to her life from Islamic terrorists, returned to Pakistan and gave her life at the hands of a death-cult, she had propped up.
Moreover, although her actions, especially her support for the Jihadists in Kashmir and Afghanistan, were meant for the undoing of secularism ― she was, I believe, a truly secular-minded woman. She belonged to a secular family and grew up in the West, where lived the life of freedom and liberty and donned western dresses before her return to Pakistan.
Her support for the Jihadists was probably an outcome of her naivety. She, like many others at the time, probably failed to conceive how the whole thing would transpire in the years and decades to come. I believe, she finally realized the depth of the Jihadist crisis faced by Pakistan; and this time round, she was up for a fight against them. I, however, doubt her ability to do anything worthwhile to contain the Jihadist tide.
It is told that the Islamists have little support among the mainstream Pakistanis. But opinion polls have repeatedly proved that notion false. Since the 9/11, opinion polls have consistently demonstrated 45-51% popular support for Osama bin Laden among the Pakistanis.
It is a fact that the mindset of Pakistanis has become dominantly radicalized. Under such circumstance, it is doubtful that she, being a woman, was going to be accepted as the leader of the country by the mainstream Pakistanis. A photo of her wearing a mini skirt was making rounds in the internet and among Pakistani communities, attracting negative comments. The Islamists were going to expose her on the grounds of her previous un-Islamic life-style. Her being a woman and her previous life-style were going to be useful weapons to the Islamists for further fanaticizing the minds of Pakistanis. They were going to bring her down sooner or later.
Yet, it would have been interesting to see how she was going to fight former Islamist protégés. Now that she has gone, my biggest hope at the first moment was that her death could probably galvanize the half-hearted secularists of Pakistan onto a single platform and wage a united confrontation against the Jihadists. It should be realized that the greatest Jihadist danger the world faces today lies in nuclear-weaponized Pakistan, not Afghanistan or Iraq. The stability of Afghanistan is also intimately related to the situation in Pakistan, and the outcome in Afghanistan will ultimately influence the outcome in Iraq.
The way the Talibanized elements are spreading their hold block by block in Pakistan already extending their tentacles to all major cities ― it only about time before Pakistan falls at the hands of Jihadists. Pakistan can avoid becoming another Afghanistan only if all the highly divisive secular and semi-secular secular and half-secular forces join hands and stand up against the Islamists. Benazir Bhutto’s death was a real opportunity for them to come onto a single platform.
Instead, the Pakistani society has become even more divisive in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Today no prominent leader in Pakistan is more secular than Musharraf despite his tainted past. Neither does anyone else grasp the depth of crisis and the need to firmly deal with it, as does he. There was a strong likelihood that following the election, the parties of Benazir and President Musharraf would join together to form an anti-Jihadist platform. However Pakistanis have almost unequivocally pointed fingers at President Musharraf and his ally America and to Israel and India for Bhutto’s assassination. This has further shaken Musharraf’s already tenuous position.
Muslims are adamant that they will not point fingers at the Islamists, the guardians of the “religion of peace,” who can do nothing wrong. This wrong finger-pointing taints the secular fronts leaving the real culprits, namely the Islamists, clean and emboldened, accelerating their cruise to power.
Ominously for Pakistan, the Islamist politicians have already emerged as the power brokers. Bhutto’s death has only made them stronger. She has been a blessing to the Islamists in her death as she was in life during her time in power.