Editorial: Benazir’s martyrdom: what next?
A spokesman of Al Qaeda has informed the media that his organisation has killed Ms Benazir Bhutto — “a precious American asset” — reminding Pakistan that it is in the midst of a global war. (Al Qaeda Afghanistan commander and spokesman Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid telephoned the Italian news agency AKI to make the claim.) This owning up once again proves Daily Times right when it reported before the arrival of Ms Bhutto from Dubai on October 18 that the terrorist elements in South Waziristan had vowed to kill her through a suicide-bomber. Now it develops that Al Qaeda had to deploy an elaborate piece of disinformation to disarm Ms Bhutto’s suspicion that Al Qaeda was intending to attack her.
Someone in Dubai — Al Qaeda now receives most of its funding from unofficial Arab sources — was made to “inform” her that bureaucrats and politicians identified as “remnants of the Zia period” were intending to kill her. At the same time the Taliban elements in South Waziristan were asked to deny that they had issued any threats. This was followed in the national press by reports and analyses on how Daily Times had got it wrong. But the red herring had appeared in the shape of a letter by Ms Bhutto to President Musharraf about people other than Al Qaeda who were intending to kill her.
When Ms Bhutto arrived in Karachi, she was somewhat disarmed about Al Qaeda. But after the suicide-bombing actually took place killing 150 people, she did change her view and began to include Al Qaeda among the suspects. Despite all the signatures of Al Qaeda, however, the opinion expressed in the national media did not connect the Karachi attempt to Al Qaeda and its war with America. Now that Ms Bhutto has been labelled an “American asset” by the Al Qaeda spokesman, one can put in context the statements by political rivals that she had been sent by the Americans to help America’s cause in Pakistan. Her earlier condemnation — she was alone among the opposition politicians — of the Lal Masjid terrorism in Islamabad, was also linked by her detractors to her “toeing of the American line just like President Musharraf”.
However, despite the realisation that Al Qaeda was now targeting her, she continued to name Al Qaeda and its Taliban auxiliary as the foremost danger for Pakistan. And this she said without fear of the possibility that she could be identified as a supporter of President Musharraf — against whom she was now campaigning — and the Americans. Her last address contained the reference. It should be noted that until after Al Qaeda had admitted to the killing, no one appearing on the TV channels clearly connected the assassination to Al Qaeda. Such is the state of Pakistani popular denial about Al Qaeda; such is the fear of being politically damaged through naming Al Qaeda.
The PMLN chief Mr Nawaz Sharif made an emotional statement immediately after Ms Bhutto’s death, which no one can doubt, but moments later, in another statement, he announced his party’s boycott of the January elections. This clearly means the revival of APDM where the Jama’at-e Islami’s Qazi Hussain Ahmad has already announced continuous agitation till the elections are called off and the government steps down. Once again, Mr Sharif has made a hasty decision. He should have waited for the decision of the PPP in this regard and gone along with it since he had opted to participate after consulting Ms Bhutto. However, whether the PPP will be steadfast in its resolve to participate in the January elections remains to be seen.
The boycott and the agitation by the political parties that follows will certainly enhance the strategy of the terrorists who may be expected to lend a hand. There will be a prolonged state of disorder without any clear result because the Musharraf regime will not surrender easily and, if it surrenders, there is no knowing if order, and what sort of order, will prevail thereafter. That is the crucial issue. Surely, the political parties should know that they will gain their strength only from the 2008 elections and will stamp their authority on Islamabad only with the vote of the people. Another emergency or emergency-plus with the army in charge of civilian affairs would throw the country back many decades.
Elections should be postponed until after the 40 days mourning period of the PPP is over to allow it to recover from the shock and take the crucial decisions that have to be taken. The decision to participate would be the right decision under the circumstances unless the PPP leadership wants to go into a long political eclipse and ignore the challenge accepted by their departed leader. The vote bank is galvanised now, but if the party abstains, the same vote bank will be cannibalised by the other parties that favour the boycott. The decision to participate should be the natural conclusion after the confession made by Al Qaeda.
The political instincts of the politicians fishing for the anti-PPP vote in Punjab will incline them to exploiting the situation created by Ms Bhutto’s demise. They will go into agitation mode because they fear that they may not be able to score well enough to make the next government and may rely on the boycott agitation to get in without the hardship of arousing popular support. They may even dip into the PPP vote-bank by pretending to identify emotionally with Ms Bhutto’s cause, but since politics is all about getting to power there is no bar on cut-throat methods to achieve this objective. If the PPP decides to boycott, it may lose its vote-bank forever.
Those who say that Pakistan “should not fight America’s fight” and that Al Qaeda doesn’t exist because no one knows where its headquarters is located should finally renew their knowledge about the organisation. It is not headquartered in Sudan, as one retired military officer said on TV, but in Pakistan with an army at its beck and call in our Tribal Areas that is a force to reckon with. Before dubbing it an American war our analysts should ponder the chaos that will ensue in an internationally isolated Pakistan with Al Qaeda lodged in its guts. What may have begun as America’s war is now Pakistan’s war. *