BENAZIR’S ASSASSINATION : A VIEW FROM SINDH

By: Abdul Khaliq Junejo

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was, without any saying, a gruesome, ghastly, hideous and horrible act of highest magnitude that shook the entire country. Yet it was not totally incomprehensible.

Apprehensions about such cowardice attack and fears about her life were felt and shown not only within the country but throughout the world and not only in the media but by the administrative authorities and intelligence organs of the governments most powerful and most friendly to Pakistan. These fears came closest to be turned into reality on the day of her return from exile in Karachi when about 150 of her supporters including her bodyguards were killed. Still it was allowed to happen, makes it more intriguing.

Benazir Bhutto was, no doubt, the head of country’s biggest party and Pakistan’s Politician of international stature. But it is equally beyond doubt that Sindhis had an special relationship and an extraordinary attachment with her. A very large number of Sindhi people loved her without caring for gain or loss and without making her accountable for her deeds of commission or omission. They thought her defender of their rights and carrier of their hopes and aspirations. The killers seem to be inept, coward and short-sighted. For cheap gains and shoddy interests they have committed a crime consequences of which they are enabled to imagine and incapable to comprehend. By killing BB they have not only robbed People’s Party workers of their inspiring force but deprived Pakistan of a genuine political leader, who had on her back not only a political legacy but a hard-fought political struggle also. Most of all they have committed the brutal murder of hopes, aspirations and dreams of millions of Sindhi People.

And the way government responded to this tragedy of highest magnitude was just rubbish. While whole country was reeling under the ensuing shock, grief and anger, the state handed over this all important matter to a lower grade contract employee whose non-serious and changing-on- daily basis attitude was an insult to the assassinated leader and tantamount to rubbing salt into the wounds of her mourners.

When injured-to the-core Sindhis came on the roads to express their inner feelings of shock, grief and anguish, they were called criminals and hundreds of cases were registered against hundreds of thousands of them. I, being a political opponent of Benazir Bhutto and the PPP, say with sure that the people flooding the roads from Karachi to Kashmore on the evening of 27th December, 2007 were not only the PPP Workers but the majority of them were common Sindhis, who felt their hearts broken. And I say with confidence and responsibility that their reaction was instant and natural. No power on earth can motivate and mobilize millions of people in a matter of few minutes as was the case after the breaking of news of BB’s assassination. Also I would say that while registering their protest Sindhi people acted with political maturity. Considering the state responsible for the destruction of their dreams, they targeted their anger at government apparatus

being careful to avoid human casualties. Scores of trollers were burnt but not a single person was hurt. Dozens of train bogies were put to torch but only after making sure that each and every passenger was safely taken out. Not only that but Sindhi People, even in this traumatic situation, did not lose their traditional hospitality and hosted thousands of passengers, including men, women and children in their homes for days and made arrangements for their safe return to their homes.

However, on second and third day some criminal elements did intrude taking advantage of the volatile situation. But then it is a well-known fact that criminals, at least in this part of the world, operate under the shadow of government agencies. In this case, the absence of law enforcing agencies from the sites of loot and theft adequately prove the point. In any case, when you encroach upon all the freedoms and close all the avenues of legal and peaceful protest and the very leaders through whom people express their will are killed blatantly, then people take on any path they find available.

It is an admitted fact that on the eve of her return to Pakistan from exile, Ms. Benazir Bhutto had written a letter to the head of state mentioning therein names of certain persons whom she felt her life threatened from. All of them were related to the state in one way or the other. Again immediately after the first attempt on her life at Karachi on 18th October 2007, she sent an email to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer through her representative Mark Seigel in which she mentioned “I have been made to feel insecure by his (Musharaf’s) minions” and that if anything happened to her, “I would hold (President Pervez) Musharaf responsible”. Now since she has been assassinated these writings stand as her dying declarations which put the responsibility on state functionaries. And the way government (mis) handled the post-assassination scenario from washing away of the incident site to the contradictory statements of different state functionaries (upto the highest

level) about the cause of and the people behind the murder, strengthen the view that state, at least some part of it, is involved in the matter. But if, for the sake of argument, we accept that the killing shots were fired by militants, as per claim of the government, even then the over-all responsibility of this earth-shacking incident comes on the state because it is the state which, by its role character, throughout the 60 years of its life, has time and again made the people believe that the solution to all the issues and disputes lies in the gun-power. The collective will of Bengali people (1971) was reciprocated by sending tanks to the streets of Dhaka, the political decision of Baloch people (1948 and 1970s) was changed with the force of the cannon and Sindhi people demanding restoration of 1973 constitution were showered with bombs and bullets. Nawab Akber Bugti and Balach Marri were killed when they voiced the Balochs’ demand for ownership of their resources.

Before that Pakistan’s first elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was murdered at the behest of military junta.

Many questions that have been simmering in the hearts and minds of the people of Sindh, and also Balochistan, regarding the formation and functioning of the State for quite some time, have flared up with the firing at Liaqat Bagh. Whenever Bengali, Baloch, Sindh and Pakhtoon nationalists were targeted, they were labeled secessionists and foreign agents. But the people’s party and its leadership has always aligned with the politics of strong centre and taken pride in combating nationalist movements. Then why leaders of this party have been targeted? While killing Akber Bugti and Balach Marri, it was charged that they were making demands out of the constitution. Since the 1973 constitution gives control of ports, oil, gas, coal and other natural resources to the centre, so calling for province’s authority over them was tantamount to treason. Come to the contest between Benazir Bhutto and the establishment, the position is altogether different. On the

one side Benazir’s whole political life revolves around 1973 constitution; struggling for its restoration when the uniform in power and trying to strengthen it while herself in power. On the other side General Pervez Musharaf seized the seat of power by defying and destroying 1973 constitution and continues his rule by continuously distorting and deforming this ‘sacred’ document. Still he is the champion of ‘first of all Pakistan’ and ‘she’ is the loser paying with her life. Isn’t it an astonishing scenario? People, specially those from Sindh, are asking what are the decisive factors in Pakistan power politics and what are the common factors between Baloch nationalists and BB to bring them to the common fate? And the answer are very clear and very simple. There is nothing common between Baloch nationalists and Benezir Bhutto but the fact that both belonged to the oppressed nationalities and the main difference between Benezir Bhutto and Pervez Musharaf was that she wanted

to run the country with the will of the people as per 1973 constitution while he likes to rule the country with the power of the gun as per his personal will and whim.

Due to its oppressive, exploitative and anti-people character and colonial-like behaviour, most Sindhi people had already lost faith in the State. However some of them, being part of an agricultural society, had pinned their hopes for better future in the person of Benezir Bhutto. On 27th December 2007 these hopes were murdered on the streets of Rawalpindi, the twin-city of country’s capital. So the people of Sindh have stopped looking towards the State. They have absolutely no expectations, neither they see any positive change coming from within the State.

They are now looking towards the democratic, progressive and rational people of the country for change in this situation of hopelessness. And certainly this change would have to come from outside the prevailing system. And to begin with this process of change in a manner that attracts the confidence of Sindhi people, determination of some fundamental questions would be necessary. It would have to be decided, once for all, whether this country will be ruled with the will of the people or with the power of the gun. Another issue of pre-eminence is to recognize and re-affirm that people of all the federating units inherit the same status and enjoy equal rights.

Keeping in view the speed of events, time will be the most important factor.

March 02, 2008

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