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Pakistan: more turmoil « Previous | |Next »
December 29, 2007

Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan have done what they vowed to do--assassinate the Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, the only Pakistani leader who regularly spoke against al-Qaeda. Her death will further destabilize Pakistan.

Alqaeda.jpg Bill Leak

The fallout from Bhutto's death will make it more difficult for Pakistan to return to democracy after eight years of military rule under Musharraf. It also being interpreted in terms of Pakistan being in the frontline in the "war on terrorism". But it is more a Pakistani problem: the conflict between Islamist militants in the madrassas and those who stand for a secular, liberal democratic Pakistan.

The military intelligence of the military junta almost single-handedly catapulted the Taliban to power in 1994, and they are now using similar tactics in Pakistan itself to destroy any members of the opposition who confront the army's secular dictatorship. Bhutto represented a leader who could organize united opposition to the military's regime.Military rule, which was designed to preserve order and did so for a few years, does so no longer.

Bhutto's assassination is an indication of Islam's often uneasy relations with what passes for "modernity" across the rest of the globe: separation of church and state, equality for women, acceptance of an independent status for other religions (other than as prefiguring Islam), a secular legal system.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:28 AM | | Comments (21)


Shouldn't a women be holding that aerial while standing on one leg and holding her tongue to the right.
Or perhaps David Hicks now hes out?

Islamic fundamentalists have a contradictory stance to modernity. They embrace the technology and reject its liberalism. They try to hold onto premodern values and beliefs just like the fundamentalist Christians.

Yes true.

But I wonder what beer they are drinking? It starts with a D. I wonder if its Duff?

It's pretty darn scary. Is there even one way this could turn out to be positive for Pakistan and its neighbours?

I scratched my head in disbeleif when SBS newsreader Janet Peterson turned around and sotto voce offered the bald, unsubstantiated allegation of Bhutto's death in some way to "Al Quaeda". Why the cartoon stuff?
What has SBS come to, in its shameless, dangerously and wilfully oversimplifying; dumbing down? Anything for a tabloid ideological spike...
Militant nutters? Yes.
With the connivance of crankier sections of Pakistani military intelligence? Yes, probably.
The cartoon is a brilliant one, but the irresponsibility of other sections of the media reporting the event beggars belief. At a time when people rather need to learn the reality and complexities of West Asian politics, SBS news treats it as some sort of silly game, pertaining to its attack on its viewership.

I am not sure that whether Bhutto's government would of been better or worse but if the rumors are true about her death being caused by her ducking I do feel sorry for her memory. It is hardly the death of a hero. The cartoonist and jesters will focus in on that point about her for years to come. In the end that will equate to the sum total of her existence. Killing herself by ducking for cover too quickly. I hope for her families sake she was shot.

On the subject of misrepresentations, Hicks got out today.
There was Lee Sales banging on as usual, this time harping about this "apology" she reckons Hicks should offer to Australia.
I'd hve thought the other way round.
We let him be abducted by a foreign power, to be held and abused indefinitley in what was no better than a concentration camp and just turned our backs on our fellow Aussie.
To David Hicks; including hopefully on behalf of ignoramii like Ruddock and Sales, the writer offers sincerest apology for our gutlessness.

I agree with you on David Hicks. I was disappointed by the new Attorney-General's approval of the application for a control order against David Hicks, but not suprised. The Rudd government has little political will to stand up to the Americans.

A control order implies that Hicks is a threat to national security of Australia. In what way does Hicks represent a threat?

I've heard no reason given on this.

It doesn't look it. From what I have read the Bhutto family stood for a Pakistan where Islam and the modern world made an accommodation. That acommomodation has been rejected by the Islamic fundamentalists.

I agree re SBS. They should be using their knowledge to emphasis, and inform us, that Bhutto's death was a reactionary Islamist attack on a Muslim moderniser. Then they should inform us what a Muslim modernizer means in Pakistan, as it is very different to the abstract principles of American and western democracies - elected governments, personal freedoms, the rule of law, orderly political transitions, constitutional liberalism.Real democracy has never thrived in Pakistan, in part because landowning remains the principle social base from which politicians emerge, whilst the educated middle class is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process.

In the above link William Dalrymple says:

In the West, many right-wing commentators on the Islamic world tend to see the march of political Islam as the triumph of an anti-liberal and irrational 'Islamo-fascism'. Yet much of the success of the Islamists in countries such as Pakistan comes from the Islamists' ability to portray themselves as champions of social justice, fighting people such as Benazir Bhutto from the Islamic elite that rules most of the Muslim world from Karachi to Beirut, Ramallah and Cairo.This elite the Islamists successfully depict as rich, corrupt, decadent and Westernised. Benazir had a reputation for massive corruption.

Dalrymple says that Benazir Bhutto was a courageous, secular and liberal woman. But sadness at the demise of this courageous fighter should not mask the fact that as a pro-Western feudal leader who did little for the poor, she was as much a central part of Pakistan's problems as the solution to them.

well the Bush Administrations plans re Pakistan in the global "war on terrorism" are in disarray. The Bush administration hoped to establish a degree of security in Pakistan so that it could fight the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, Bush has relied on the military-run government of President Pervez Musharraf as an ally in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. With Musharraf's loss of popularity, the administration placed its hopes on a return to democracy and the emergence of a Musharraf-Bhutto coalition.

No more. They are now raising the spectre of nuclear weapons in the hands of Islamists hostile to the west.

Some say that Bhutto killed by a bomb detonated next to the car? Others argue that photographs show the assassin, wearing sunglasses, standing next to a man who detonated explosives in a suicide attack immediately after Bhutto was shot. Witnesses say at least three shots were heard as Bhutto stood with the upper part of her body through the sunroof, waving to supporters gathered near the gate of the Liaqat Bagh park in the city that is home to Pakistan's military headquarters.

According to a British photographer who was close to the scene, three shots were fired and Bhutto slumped back through the sunroof into the Land Cruiser, bleeding profusely from a neck wound. As she did so, a suicide bomb was detonated that caused massive injuries among the gathered crowds.

Things are not black and white in Pakistan. For instance, there is a long and dangerous association of the Pakistani government and its military with Islamic militants, in Afghanistan and Kashmir. So one must be skeptical of official accounts of what has happened----the Government's claims that Bhutto died from massive brain damage sustained when she smashed her head against the sunroof of the Toyota Land Cruiser in which she was travelling. On this account it was the force of the bomb blast that caused Bhutto to slam her head on the car roof. It was the impact of this that caused the huge wound to her head that led to a massive brain haemorrhage.

Gary thanks for kind responses. A positive from SBS was its repeat of an epic documentary on Pakistan last week, that traced its current problems back to the negligent and slipshod way partition was imposed on the subcontinent, making Pakistan's subsequent history and current problems almost inevitable.

Gary, I can't remember where I saw it now, but an Australian expert said the problem with the American approach to Pakistan is that it depends on Musharraf personally, who in turn is dependent on a weak democratic system. Basically what you're saying. As Musharraf loses legitimacy the system isn't strong enough to replace him. So essentially the place is leaderless with no system in place to produce one.

In his op-ed in The Age Amin Saikal says:
With Bhutto gone and the other main opposition leader, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, boycotting the election, Washington has no fallback position. It may once again find it necessary to rely on Musharraf and his control of the military and its notorious Inter-Services Intelligence agency to contain the situation.....Bush has left the way open for an easing of the pressure on Musharraf, hoping against hope that the dictator will be able to stabilise Pakistan, maintain the country's partnership in the war on terror and prevent the development of a situation where control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falls into the wrong hands.

He adds that the forces of extremism — from both the Pakistani military and religious circles — outweigh the forces pushing for democracy.What has developed is a Pakistani Taliban----- reportedly led by Baitullah Mahsud from South Waziristan--- who have been mounting an increasingly audacious insurgency in Pakistan's tribal areas.
It is directed in the long run at undermining the position of the US in the region as a whole, and in the short run at hitting at political leaders who appear to be favoured by Washington.

Musharraf's state of emergency is directed not at terrorists but at the judiciary and the media, and it has destroyed the basis for any election result to be widely accepted. So he lacks legitimacy in Pakistan. William Maley in The Australian argues that:

What is required is....a process that brings together civilian politicians and moderate military figures to promote the rule of law through the restoration of the old Supreme Court, and to set the scene for the military to begin to withdraw from politics, as has happened in Indonesia, followed by a genuinely free and fair poll.

Will this happen?

SBS could help us by having shows about the Pakistani Taliban and what they are trying to do in this religious/ethnic based nation-state run by a military elite. They--SBS-- could become more a part of the conversation in the democratic public sphere. They could do this online.

They still see themselves a traditional media corporation, which is a pity.

Gary, isn't it a bit late for Maley's suggestion?

Also, I'd argue that the suggestion might work for the major cities, but outside of those zones the country is pretty much feudal. The feudal system is the stronger of the two - it's murderous and volatile but at least everyone knows what's going on.

Dunno. Probably. Too early to tell?

Maley argued that the US should have focused on institutions and not personalities.

In all likelihood there will be a quick show of power followed by domestic clampdown followed by renewed centralized authority in a military dictatorship in crisis.

That's the easy bit huh? The question is whether President Musharraf now most resembles the shah of Iran in 1978---- has his authority among the people collapsed irretrievably?

Gary, things do get easier with practice, and they've had lots of that.

The best account I've read on Pakistan's troubles is this one by Juan Cole at

I think that we should give up on the Australian media and turn elsewhere for analysis of the geo-political situation in Pakistan.It's a global world now and a lot of good stuff is online.

It is clear that military rule has run its course in Pakistan. It is deeply unpopular, no longer has the credibility to resist the Islamic fundamentalists, and is unwilling to facilitate the transfer to democracy.

Musharraf and the military elite/establishment will continue to resist free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections. They will allow the elections to go ahead, under pressure from the US, but they will try and rig them. In 2002 the army rigged the elections, and parliament is now packed with pro-army politicians and Islamic fundamentalists.

Another emergency?

If the peaceful transfer to democracy fails, then there will be street agitation, violence and chaos. That was Benazir Bhutto's argument.

Pakistan's tribal areas have receded to the control of Afghan Taliban and the Arab and the Chechen militant fighters. These groups actually administer parts of Pakistani territory.

Ahmed Rashid Yale Global says that:

world leaders can do little but look on helplessly as Pakistan’s cowed political establishment and dispirited military face the threat of a determined Al Qaeda–backed Islamic extremists. While enormous public anger and mistrust swells in the nuclear-armed nation, both President Pervez Musharraf and his leading backer, the US, have lost all credibility over managing free and democratic elections, combating extremism or delivering stability to the troubled region.

Bhutto's scenario remains the only viable one--peaceful transfer to democracy instead of violence in the street.