The same dark forces that appear to have killed Ms. Bhutto on this day last year – Islamic extremist groups based in Pakistan – seem to be behind the carnage in Mumbai last month, an event that pushed Pakistan into an even deeper crisis.
Tensions between Pakistan and India, which blames “elements from Pakistan” for the Mumbai attack, escalated sharply yesterday after Pakistani military officials said that troops had been “pulled back” from the Western border with Afghanistan. Unconfirmed reports said that thousands of troops had been redeployed to the border with India in what would be the first concrete sign that either side was preparing for conflict.
For Ms. Bhutto’s admirers, and for many other Pakistanis, the issue that rankles most on the first anniversary of her murder is the apparent lack of any investigation into who killed her, despite the fact that her own Pakistan Peoples Party was elected into government 10 months ago. This omission says much about the state of the country.
“The investigation of the [Bhutto] murder has remained suspended by fear of facing the demons within Pakistan’s body politic,” said Raza Rumi, a newspaper columnist. “She alarmed those who didn’t want a secular, civilian country. The unravelling of Pakistan can be dated as starting from her death.”
The PPP has asked the United Nations to form a commission to probe the assassination. The UN has agreed, but the inquiry has yet to begin and could take years. Soon after Ms. Bhutto’s death, her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, blamed “the establishment” for the killing, seemingly a reference to Pakistan’s extensive state security apparatus, a network that has had a long and close relationship with Islamic militant groups. Privately, many senior PPP members continue to see the hand of the state in the killing but feel impotent to do anything about it, despite being in government.
Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the militant leader whom Ms. Bhutto accused of plotting to kill her in a posthumously published book, remains at liberty in Pakistan – supposedly living in the capital, Islamabad. Mr. Akhtar, reputedly close to that Pakistani “establishment,” denies the charge and is suing her publisher and family for libel.
Analysts question how, if Ms. Bhutto’s party is not in a position to investigate her death, will it bring to justice the group that carried out the Mumbai attack?
Pakistan is awash in rumours that the government is about to be toppled, or at least that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will be ousted, a sign of how precarious democracy remains in a country that has been ruled by the army for more than half its existence.
In a message to mark the anniversary, Mr. Zardari – who became leader of the PPP after Ms. Bhutto’s death and remains a controversial figure – said that her death was not an attack on one individual.
“It was an attack on the viability of the state and for undermining the efforts to build democratic structures for fighting militancy,” he said.
The army has indicated it is subservient to civilian rule, but it has humiliated the government several times in its short tenure, especially over control of the military’s Inter Services Intelligence agency.
Ms. Bhutto used to say that democracy and defeating extremism are interdependent. The current weak civilian government, concerned over whether it will last, seems in no position to take on the militants and their powerful backers.
Special to The Globe and Mail, December 27, 2008