Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

On the heels of the UN probe into Benazir Bhutto's death and the publication of the Fatima Bhutto's Song of Blood and Sword (Saba Imtiaz rightly thrashes the book here), the million dollar question as Cyril Almeida put it is  "Who killed BB?" and its counterpart "Why?". So far we know that stringent security measures were not provided for BB by the "establishment" and members of her own party were seen fleeing the scene moments before the attack. Additionally, it seems like the crime scene was purposefully hosed down on direct orders from an higher up in the government establishment. But neither the UN report nor the Pak
 fact finding mission has turned up any evidence that may lead to convictions of any sort, nothing new considering that none of the major political assasination in Pakistani history have been solved convincingly (Liaqat Ali Khan (assassin known, reasons unknown), all members of the Bhutto family, and Zia ul Haq (may be accident)). While I feel that shedding light on the events that led to the December 27th as well as finding and prosecuting her killers is important in providing closure to the Pakistani nation, this investigation is irrelevant in the large scheme of things.

Firstly, Benazir's assasination has provided the PPP an opportunity to participate in sympathy politics (notice the prevalence of BB's potrait at all political rallies, the utilization of her assasination in all political speeches, interviews etc) and I don't see that changing anytime soon regardless of any future convictions.  In the event of a conviction or arrest, if the individual(s) in question is affiliated with a rival political party, extremist religious group or the military, then  it is very likely that the PPP will play up the assasination (aka martydom) even more.

Secondly, based on the low conviction and case closure rates of political assasinations in Pakistan, it is highly likely that BB's assasination will not be resolved (cynical but true). And even if a conviction is sought, given the number of conspiracy theories out there ranging from AAZ offing his own wife to religious militant-military cooperated attack planning to religious extremists taking revenge, this issue will not be resolved easily (at least not by this generation of Pakistanis). The one thing that Mohammad Hanif's "A Case of Exploding Mangoes" makes clear is the lasting power of conspiracy theories and the irrelevance of historical fact in such circumstances.

Capturing our collective imagination, the assasination of BB on 27th December 2007 has becomes an important milestone in Pakistan's history, sure to be mentioned decades from now in heated living room discussions in the same reverential tones as the Kennedy assasination or the events of September 11th. What is more interesting is our response. The national fascination with her murder says much about our current soceity. It is a mainfestation of our desire for the past and our discomfort with the future.


  1. The Musharraf government acted in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination as a facilitator by playing an important role by the handling of crime scene, tampering of evidence, security lapses and finally by declaring Baithullah Mehsud as responsible. The role of the Pakistani media in this crisis remains biased and protective of the Pakistani establishment. The media, who plays a significant role in forming public opinion, has engaged in falsely accusing Zardari and other PPP members for the assassination. They have even criticised the UN investigation and calling it a conspiracy against the Pakistani Army. Sympathizers of the Pakistani establishment (Such as Rashid Qureshi and Shaheen Shabai) are also spreading rumours that the UN investigation cost Pakistan $1.5 million a page (70 page in total). The fact is that the total cost of the report is $5million and it is stated in the same report that the commission would be funded by the member states (Page 69). According to Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, the investigation will cost Pakistan around $1.1 million (Rs 100 million) and the remaining is being funded by the US, UK, UAE and the Turkish governments.

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