VIEW: Planning an assassination —Shaukat Qadir
Bhutto’s death, a national tragedy in more ways than one, has left the future even more uncertain for the citizens of this country. Now too much has become unpredictable
A moment’s silence please, before you read on. On Thursday, December 27 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Merely days after having been placed second, behind Hillary Rodham Clinton, amongst the eleven most influential women of 2007 by MSN, she succumbed to multiple bullet wounds in the head and neck, the latter proving fatal. Whether one agreed with her politically or not, her death is a national tragedy of mammoth proportions, the repercussions of which will become visible over time. There is also little doubt that in death she has been immortalised and all ills associated with her cleansed.
Shakespeare once said, ‘The evil that men do, lives after them, the good lies oft inter’d with their bones’. He was probably more accurate in his statement than he intended to be, since perhaps this statement intended to exclude women, for whom the opposite is true.
Musharraf has announced a three-day mourning period for the whole nation, during which national flags will fly at half-mast. Nawaz Sharif has announced a boycott of the elections to demonstrate solidarity with the PPP, but if, at a later stage, the PPP decides to participate in the elections, he is again likely to relent. Altaf Hussain has asked that elections be postponed for two to three months, while the PPP has announced a forty-day period for mourning.
Some delay in the elections is inevitable, at least enough to permit the PPP to reorganise and to allow for the period of mourning that they have decided upon, if the PPP intends to participate at all. Already analysts have started allocating blame on lax security arrangements; some are hinting at establishment involvement, speculation that may be an inevitable consequence of such a tragedy.
While there is insufficient information available at present, we are aware of the following facts around which a premise can be built: she was travelling in a bullet and bomb proof vehicle and she exposed herself through the sun roof of her vehicle to respond to the cheering crowd, and died of a number of bullet wounds in the head and neck. Eyewitnesses claim having heard three bullets being fired but if one or more AK-47s were in use, it is likely that many more were actually fired. While it is assumed that the same individual who fired upon her blew himself up a few seconds later, it is possible, even likely, that more than one individual were involved.
Since the attempt on her life was contingent upon her exposing herself through the sun roof, and it could be safely assumed that she would do so in response to an upsurge in the crowd’s welcome or farewell to her, it is entirely possible that a certain segment of the crowd was placed at the exit to Liaquat Bagh with instructions to chant slogans to a crescendo at a time when the assassin(s) was in position, to which she would inevitably respond by exposing herself, thus offering the assassin(s) an opportunity to target her.
It is incomprehensible that so many analysts have begun to bay for blood and have called upon the government to identify those responsible. If such a call were to be answered, some scapegoats would be found and sacrificed. That would be most unfortunate and unfair, since in truth it would be an impossible task to identify a potential assassin/suicide bomber in a crowd of thousands, where there is a continuous flow of individuals. It is just not possible to search individuals attending such rallies and, was it to be done, the time consumed in doing so would be prohibitive for those who wished to attend.
Perhaps, it is time to realise that large political rallies are no longer safe for those political leaders or their parties who are viewed as supporters of American neo-imperialism, because they seem to be targets for such killings, just as much as the security forces acting upon their behest have become potential targets. Once that has been comprehended, security and police forces can more realistically be expected to ensure the safety of the leaders, if not of the crowds. Security agencies would then ensure their swift arrival and departure from unannounced routes with the assurance that they would not expose themselves in response to the crowd’s slogans.
As expected, the response to Bhutto’s death has been violent. Shops, buildings and vehicles have been vandalised all over the country. In Hyderabad, the Punjabi population has been singled out, even though major cities in Punjab are witnessing similar violent protests.
Security forces are not making enough of an effort to restrain protestors; perhaps because they think it is better if the anger and sorrow of the people is allowed an outlet, or perhaps, because they fear that any attempt to control these protestors might result in the protestors focusing their ire on the security forces, whom they hold responsible, however unreasonably.
For those, like myself, who have no political affiliation, the concern is for the future. While there are other politically mature leaders who could take control of the PPP, even if they lack the surreal charisma that surrounded the ‘Bhutto cult’, time alone will tell the direction the country is headed towards. Bhutto’s death, a national tragedy in more ways than one, has left the future even more uncertain for the citizens of this country. Now too much has become unpredictable. We can only hope that Musharraf is sensible enough not to make this event an excuse for declaring another emergency.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)