"Politics. n. A strife of interests masquerading
as a contest of principles."
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
The controversy remains, if only because no
group has claimed responsibility for killing her.
Benazir Bhutto’s violent demise was indeed a
tragedy foretold from that day not too long ago when press
reports revealed that the United States had arm-twisted an
increasingly unpopular Pervez Musharraf to agree to a brokered
power-sharing deal with her. In a country of 160 million
seething with anti-American sentiment, the Bush Administration’s
open attempt to shoe-horn Benazir back into Pakistani politics
from exile was the proverbial kiss of death; it left little
doubt as to her pro-American proclivities.
Soon after her return to Pakistan from exile,
she made herself even more of a target by asserting that she was
not opposed to America’s military operations under the rubric of
its ‘war on terror’ in Pakistan’s fiercely tribal areas, even
expressing a willingness to allow disgraced nuclear scientist AQ
Khan to be interrogated by the US, something Musharraf has to
date stubbornly refused to permit. The dictator was merely
playing to the gallery, of course, aware that Khan is idolized
by his countrymen.
In death she’s being eulogized as a great
democrat. In life, both her terms as Prime Minister were marred
by widespread charges of massive corruption and of having
siphoned more than $1 billion from Pakistan’s treasury while in
office, most of it stashed away in Dubai. In fact, Switzerland
convicted her of laundering nearly $11 million. [Sri Lanka
cannot, I’m afraid, claim the prize for having had the region’s
first publicly acknowledged ‘Mr. Ten Percent’ – that
under-the-table honour goes to Benazir’s hubby, Asif Zardari.]
What’s also being overlooked is that Bhutto
while in office financially and militarily supported and
strengthened Afghanistan’s extremist Taliban government that
came to power in 1996 merely to ensure beneficial and lucrative
trade routes to Central Asia.
Wrote playwright Wajahat Ali, a Pakistani Muslim
American described as ‘neither a terrorist nor a saint’: "Mere
hours after her assassination, Bhutto was both praised as a
‘shaheed’ [a martyr], ‘a beacon for democracy’, ‘a model of
progress’, ‘a loyal friend to democracy’, and condemned as ‘a
traitor’, ‘a US puppet’, and everything in between. When
extremism, political fervor, and selfish interests marry, the
resulting progeny is usually instability, uncertainty and
violence; commonsense, rationality, and moderation are generally
What does Benazir’s exit portend for the US, for
Musharraf, and for their US-led joint-venture scam known as the
‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan itself? Just
a week before the assassination, US Defence Secretary Robert
Gates went on record that al-Qaeda had re-established itself in
Pakistan’s ungoverned area along its border with Afghanistan.
About that time, Pakistan’s former President of
the Supreme Court Bar Association, a prominent critic of
Musharraf, told it like this: "The US supports dictatorships
that suit its interests. It is never interested in the masses of
Pakistan. The power sharing between Benzair and Musharraf will
only perpetuate military hegemony."
Having knowingly looked away while Pakistan
surreptitiously entered the exclusive nuclear club via the
back-door, the US now finds itself having to face reality on two
major fronts vital to its foreign policy and its security: A
major worry is whether the assassination sets off a chain of
events that fractures Pakistan politically, raising the danger
of Pakistan’s arsenal of 60 to 100 nuclear warheads being stolen
by al-Qaeda allies embedded in the nation’s own armed forces.
And then there’s the war in Afghanistan.
Truth to tell, if America’s muscle-flexing
worldwide has everything to do with the planet’s dwindling
resources, especially oil, its cozy relationship with Pakistan’s
dictator has everything to do with that same oil’s refined
version - fuel. Robert Bryce, Managing Editor of Energy
Tribune, reckons that without Musharraf's cooperation, the
26,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban
would run out of fuel within a matter of days.
The US military burns about 575,000 gallons of
fuel per day in Afghanistan. About 80 percent of it comes from
refineries in Pakistan. Without Musharraf’s supplies, the US
forces in Afghanistan would have only one fuel supply, coming
via a logistics line that extends more than 1,000 miles from
northern Afghanistan all the way to refineries in Baku,
Azerbaijan and Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan.
Some 700 tanker trucks deliver the fuel and some
of the trucks take a month or more to make a round trip delivery
from their starting points in Pakistan. According to Army
Colonel Dan Jennings, on some occasions, the US military had as
much as 4.7 million gallons of fuel in transit between Pakistan
and Afghanistan. "We've had trucks show up as much as 90 days
after they were initially loaded," Jennings said.
The logistics line carrying fuel from Azerbaijan
and Turkmenistan into Afghanistan is somewhat precarious. Fuel
from the refinery in Baku is loaded on rail cars, put on barges
that then traverse the Caspian Sea. When they land in
Turkmenistan, they follow a circuitous rail route through
Uzbekistan before they arrive at the Afghan border where the
fuel is then transferred to trucks. The long supply lines to the
Caspian Sea underscore the importance of the Pakistani fuel.
Greg Wilcox, a retired Army officer commented on
America’s predicament, "We don’t have any choice. We got kicked
out of Uzbekistan so we don’t have any bases there. We can’t
survive in that region without Musharraf. We are tied to him
whether we like it or not."
Whoever killed Benazir, General Musharraf’s
regime will undoubtedly be the greatest benefactor of her death.
Another rival who may have been willing to see her dead are the
Chaudhry Brothers - former Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervez
Illahi and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim
League Q, the political partner of Musharraf. The Chaudhry
Brothers were the bitterest opponents of Benazir’s homecoming
and tried unsuccessfully to stop President Musharraf from doing
a deal with Bhutto.
Murtaza Shibli, Editor of Kashmir Affairs
writing from London noted: "History shows that a sensational
political murder usually brings out a sympathy vote for the
party that lost its leader. Benazir’s death might act as a
catalyst to unite the Pakistani nation and strengthen their
resolve to fight the menace that has engulfed the country thanks
to its willingness to act as proxy to the alien interests in the
region. [But will Pervez, the dictator parading as a democrat,
behave like his real-life democrat counterpart, Hugo Chavez of
Venezuela, and accept a popular ‘no’ vote gracefully?]
Were Musharraf to escalate operations against
al-Qaeda militants in the border areas, that also could
complicate the situation in Afghanistan, said J. Alexander Thier,
a former United Nations official in Afghanistan. "If done in a
significant way, it will stir up a hornet’s nest, which may well
result in a surge in Afghan violence."
There is, of course, the very real possibility
that a post-Benazir Pakistani government could turn hostile to
US interests, which would radically alter the entire nature of
the US war in Afghanistan.
Retired Pakistani Brig. Naeem Salik, now a
scholar at Johns Hopkins University, touched on that very point.
"If there is a break in US-Pakistan relations . . . it wouldn’t
be possible for anyone in power in Islamabad to continue to
allow the transit facilities and the flow of logistic support
for US forces in Afghanistan."
George seems to have dug himself a hole on the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border too.
One good hole – in Iraq – deserves another, I