Pakistan; Struggle for Life

Monday, January 21, 2008

 Pirmohammad Mollazehi

There are different viewpoints about the reasons and possible motives behind the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister and head of Pakistan People Party, Benazir Bhutto. They can be differentiated in two groups: 1. The government charges Taliban and al Qaeda; while 2. The opposition blames the assassination on ISI or Pakistan Army intelligence.

Government officials incriminate Beitollah Mahmoud and Mowlana Fazlollah, who are among regional leaders of the Taliban with links to al Qaeda which have already launched armed struggle against the central government in Waziristan province, for the assassination of Ms. Bhutto, though they have rejected the government’s claims. Parviz Musharraf has even blamed Bhutto herself for being careless and putting her head out of the car.

On the opposite, the public maintains that such an important assassination would have been impossible without involvement of ISI because the timing and organization of the assassination was so accurate. Since government officials have asserted contradictory remarks about the assassination of Bhutto, this has increased doubts that the incident may have been coordinated by state elements.

Three different stories have been told about how Bhutto died:

1. Some say that Bhutto died due to force of explosion, which slammed her head against the car body;

2. She died due to bullets which hit her in the neck and head;

3. She has been killed as a result of gunfire from a laser-guided gun (as claimed by the Indian officials).

Each story has its own proponents and since her family has opposed calls for exhumation and autopsy, the ambiguities will most probably remain in place as state officials and the opposition does not accept each other’s explanations.

More important than the assassination is its outcomes for Pakistan. In view of the power structure in that country, it is highly possible that masterminds of her assassination would never be found, and if identified, their names would not be revealed. Requests made by Asef Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s husband, and the new leader of her party who is also her son, Bilawal Zardari, and Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the second in rank in People’s Party for the United Nations to conduct international investigations into her assassination, as they did after assassination of the Lebanese politician and prime minister, Rafiq Hariri, have been vociferously rejected by the government. Parvez Musharraf has called on Scotland Yard for help with investigations, but some maintain that even if those investigations were successful, the results would never be made public. The results of Scotland Yard investigations in two cases have not been disclosed yet: the assassination of Liaqat Ali Khan, the first Pakistani prime minister after independence of that country in 1951 as well as the assassination of Morteza Bhutto, the brother of Mrs. Bhutto in the 1990s. The then government of Pakistan blamed Asef Ali Zardari and Mrs. Bhutto for that assassination. However, people and the public opinion considered ISI as the main culprit.

Therefore, the consequences of Mrs. Bhutto’s assassination are more important than revelations about protagonists of her assassination. The incident has exposed Pakistan to three serious risks:

1. Foreign intervention as well as nuclear disarmament by the United States and NATO;

2. Civil war and disintegration; and

 3. A return of the military to power and ensuing military coup d’état.

Observers are not unanimous about how serious the above risks should be taken. However, analysts who pay attention to such issues maintain that they cannot be easily overlooked. Also, opponents of the above hypotheses produce their own reasons. Those who believe that if instability in Pakistan increased, the United States and NATO are sure to intervene and occupy tribal regions, emphasize that domestic developments in Pakistan are the aftermath of military requirements of the United States and NATO in Afghanistan. According to them, religious madrasas in Pakistan as well as tribe living across 2,500 km of common border with Afghanistan support Taliban and al Qaeda and as long as they have not been controlled, the war in Afghanistan would not end in a decisive victory for the United States and NATO. The United States and NATO may even suffer the same fate as the former Soviet Union and a military debacle. It is clear that they are not ready to accept such a defeat under the present circumstances.

Therefore, the main solution to prevent that situation is direct military intervention and occupation of tribal regions of Pakistan. This issue has become so serious that New York Times recently revealed part of a scheme by CIA which has been discussed in presence of President Bush and high ranking US military officials. The Pakistani military and its president, Parvez Musharraf, have clearly opposed that plan. However, if the United States comes to the conclusion that the political and social situation in Pakistan is too risky and radical Islamic groups are to snatch the power, which would naturally give them access to military arsenal of that country, there would be strong possibility of military action with or without the support of Pakistani army. If the American and NATO military commanders in Afghanistan concluded that security in
Afghanistan would not be possible without controlling the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan, they are very possible to occupy tribal regions of Pakistan along the common border with Afghanistan and even Baluchistan province.

The second probability is the risk of civil war and final disintegration of Pakistan along racial lines. For the first time after assassination of Bhutto, calls for ethnic disintegration of Pakistan were heard during public demonstrations by people of Sind province. Similar slogans had been already chanted on a limited scale by Pushtus and Baluches. Now the people of Pakistan are noting that Punjab province, which accounts for more than 55 percent of the country’s population and sways great power in the military where more than 70 percent of military personnel and majority of their commanders hail from that province, has exploited other ethnic groups. They maintain that ethnic groups like Sindis, Baluches, and Pushtus cannot achieve their rights through the existing federal framework of Pakistan government. Therefore, the final solution is disintegration of Pakistan into four ethnic regions. Of course, those who thought along ethnic line had already reached this conclusion, but it was the assassination of Mrs. Bhutto which made the masses to reach that conclusion and this is very dangerous.

The factor that increases the risk of ethnic disintegration of Pakistan is a possible armed struggle waged by the Islamic radicals against the central government. In addition to its religious nature, such a war would finally develop into an ethnic dimension and would be supported by other ethnic groups living in Baluchistan and Sind provinces. The risk would be even higher when political and social instability inside Pakistan would instigate foreign intervention. Attention should also be paid to India’s strategy; a country which basically has not recognized Pakistan and welcomes its disintegration. The reality, however, is that Pakistan can only undergo such changes within the frame of a wider Middle East strategy implemented by the United States. Otherwise, the odds are low that Pakistan would be disintegrated along racial lines.

The third possibility is a full-fledged military coup to be staged by the military and return of army commanders to power. In the past, the army was the most important institution affecting power structure of the country while political parties were too weak to be influential. Repeated military coups staged by the army attest to that fact. However, the Pakistani army has never been as discredited as it is now. During demonstrations in Sind province after assassination of Mrs. Bhutto, people chanted slogans against the government and the army, for the first time. Some high ranking military commanders were surprised to the extent that they noted the army should not be such involved in power game as to put its national credit at stake because this would undermine its national power to protect independence of Pakistan, which is its main mission.

Most analysts maintain that the military would take action if the situation becomes too critical and may even stage a coup against Parvez Musharraf or pressure him to step down. Therefore, the upcoming election will be very important for survival of Pakistan. If moderate political and religious parties in addition to government and the army manage to hold free elections, army generals and realistic political figures could save Pakistan. In that case, the army would go back to the barracks and keep its influence on political matters. Otherwise, the army may stage a coup d’état whose future prospects would not be clear. If we accepted judgment of observers who draw analogy between the current conditions in Pakistan and conditions in the 1970s when Bangladesh was separated from the main country, it would be conceivable that Parvez Musharraf is to play the role of General Yahya Khan. If considered from this viewpoint, assassination of Mrs. Bhutto would look like a tragedy, which can challenge the very survival of Pakistan.

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