The assassination that changed everything—and nothing
On Aug. 31, an antiterrorism court in Rawalpindi acquitted five militants, connected with the Taliban, who had confessed to assassinating former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto at Liaquat Bagh exactly 10 years ago today.
The Rawalpindi antiterrorism court reprimanded the prosecutors for falling down on the job. But this was par for the course. In 2013, a special prosecutor of the Federal Investigation Authority, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ahmed, who was pursuing Bhutto’s killers, was slain in Islamabad. Another terrorist connected with Al Qaeda, former Maj. Haroon Ashiq, an Army commando, who was part of the conspiracy to kill Bhutto, was captured and prosecuted for killing a major-general of the Army in Islamabad. He, too, was acquitted by an antiterrorism court in 2012 after witnesses withdrew their testimony for fear of reprisals.
Bhutto, chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party, had returned from years of self-exile on Oct. 17, 2007, only to have her homecoming rally bombed. A suicide bomber was also caught at her Peshawar rally. When the unthinkable happened that Dec. 27, Pakistan—and particularly Sindh—didn’t take her death lying down. The turbulence hit everywhere, with fires and riots in across towns and villages and cities.
That anger still simmers as the common man in rural Sindh votes the PPP into power every single time. The party was driven out of the rest of the country mainly by the threat of terror: the Taliban announced they would target its congregations. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who gave Pakistan its 1973 Constitution, was hanged by his own handpicked Army chief.
There are far too many deaths unaccounted for in Pakistan’s violent history, but that of Benazir Bhutto is going to hurt it for years to come. The ouster of the party—which began with the creation of the anti-PPP Islami Jamhoori Ittehad in 1988 by Hamid Gul, the-then chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency—from the provinces other than Sindh will haunt democracy in Pakistan by increasing the level of alienation in the country.
What Pakistan needs is “normalization” after its long and violent pursuit of ideology and India-centric nationalism at the cost of its economy. But that is a goal, much like the pursuit of justice for Benazir Bhutto, which is likely to remain elusive.