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What will happen will happen

Eric S. Margolis (First Person)
Filed on December 30, 2007

I SPENT an afternoon in London with Benazir Bhutto and her chief security advisor just before she returned to Pakistan. "You cannot afford to go into crowds," I told her. "Yes, Eric, I know that, but I must. My people want to see me and know I am not afraid."

Last Thursday, the courageous former prime minister of turbulent Pakistan again risked her life, this time in an open car, and was killed by an assassin. Some years ago, she told me, "I am fatalistic. What will happen will happen."

Bhutto’s death is an earthquake for Pakistan’s political landscape and derails US efforts to forge a political cohabitation between her and former military, and now civilian dictator, President Pervez Musharraf. In Washington’s laboriously developed plans, Musharraf was to retain de facto dictatorship with support from the army, while Benazir was to provide democratic window dressing for the regime. Benazir’s plan, as she told me, was to regain the prime ministership, and then slowly marginalise Musharraf.

Shortly after the first attempt on her life in Karachi, Benazir, who always wrote to me as 'Bibi', told me that she suspected Punjabi politicians in Musharraf’s Muslim League-Q Party were behind the attempt. Her supporters will now repeat these charges. Angry mobs have been attacking pro-Musharraf party locations. But the attack also bore all the hallmarks of Al Qaeda or one of its local Pakistani allies. Other Pakistanis accused the army and its Intelligence agency, ISI. Bhutto had enemies across the political spectrum.

Bhutto’s murder leaves her party, the Pakistan People’s Party, in disarray and without strong leadership. She surrounded herself with pliant yes-men and brooked no competition in the party. The party has been decapitated.

As I write, I’m trying to analyse this frightful news with proper journalistic detachment. But it’s very hard after knowing this unique woman for 20 years. Having uncovered a major corruption scandal involving her in-laws, I was long on her black list. But in the past decade, I have come to admire her brilliant mind, will power, courage and determination.

'Bibi’ and I spent a good deal of time after she was ousted for a second time by the army, when she was in exile in the political wilderness. It was in this, her darkest hour, that her character and grit really came through. She certainly won my admiration. Some angry Pakistani readers claimed she had 'bewitched me'. We spoke or corresponded regularly. Shortly before her death, she asked me to develop a political strategy for her and her party. One of my recommendations was for her to extend an olive branch to her old foes, the Islamist parties, who denounced her as a Western tool.

Her death this week appears to end the tragic saga of the benighted Bhutto family. Her flamboyant father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s former prime minister, was hanged. Her two brothers were murdered, one by poison. Her husband was jailed for years and severely tortured. Now, her party will try to sustain the dynasty by pushing her children into Pakistan’s political inferno. I was with her son in London. There is no way he is ready for the murderous melee of political life. In India, Sonia Gandhi, whose mother-in-law and husband were assassinated, faces the same dilemma: her party is pushing her son and daughter into the dangers of Indian politics.

It is inexpressibly tragic that so gifted, brave and vivacious a woman has been snuffed out at this time of supreme danger in Pakistan’s life. While many Pakistanis disliked or even detested her as a cat’s paw of the West, and as a closet scorner of traditional Islam – which she probably was – all must recognise that she was the most remarkable woman in her nation’s history and a towering historical figure who set a standard for South Asia’s women. Pakistan’s murderous politics has taken its latest victim. Worse is likely to follow.

Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun.





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