Getting Away with Murder: Benazir Bhutto and the Politics of Pakistan by Heraldo Munoz; book review
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books 2013, and the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014.
Friday 24 January 2014
We are introduced to Heraldo Munoz, former Chilean ambassador to the UN, as he is called up by Ban Ki-moon and asked to lead a commission into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, killed in the full face of the public on 27 December 2007, on her return to Pakistan after exile.
Munoz has his reservations before he is urged to “go ahead and accept”. One feels for him as he points out that he is far from an expert of the region, and that the remit of the commission will have its limitations. It will only seek to shed light on the circumstances of the former prime minister’s murder and not attempt to establish criminal responsibilities. So “I could not force anyone to testify, my powers would be limited, and public expectations would be high.” A lose-lose case, Munoz fears, and so, in some respects, it turns out to be the case for this book too.
Written with all the charisma of a UN report, with repeated facts, repeated unknowns and also the repreated refrain that the culprits behind her death may never be known, this is the opposite of a dramatic read. Given the nature of the assassination – the Kennedy-style crowd killing in front of political supporters who felt Benazir might finally, this time, bring home the dream of democracy to Pakistan – it could have afforded to amp up the drama, even a little.
Munoz stresses how little we know about the killing because the crime scene was swiftly hosed down, among other systematic obfuscations. He also reflects on how the sinister activity around the aftermath of the assassination can be traced upwards – to the ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency), to the police and the military. Sadly none of it is definitive, or deeply revelatory, though there are smaller moments that reveal detail, such as the idiocy of the emergency services that took Benazir not to the nearby hospital that stocked her blood type, but the one that didn’t.
The second aspect of the book comes as a potted history of previous high level assassinations in Pakistan, from Benazir’s grandfather, to both her brothers and former PMs Liaquat Ali Khan and Zia ul Haq, as well as a brief analysis of Pakistan’s relationship with America, and the history of Benazir’s special relationship with the West. It is necessary to contextualise her death but at the same time, these mini history lessons slow the assassination story down. Neither is Munoz’s analysis of Pakistani politics particularly profound. Other books have given us much more penetrating argument, such as Anatol Leven’s recent study.
There are a few human interest touches and in the absence of any deeper revelation, one wishes that Munoz had sprinkled more of these into his workman-like prose: that Benazir shopped for bulletproof vests with another of the Bhutto clan; that she received such a vest as a gift; and that not long before she died, she was offered a cookie on a plane and after first refusing because she was on a diet, she quipped: “Oh what’s the difference. I’ll be dead in a few months anyway.” Sadly prescient words.
TVJamie's Sugar Rush reveal's campaigning chef's new foe
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
First Look at Bryan Cranston transformed into LBJ for HBO’s ‘All the Way’ film
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
Star Wars: New action dolls launched on Force Friday ahead of The Force Awakens release
Ricki And The Flash, film review: Meryl Streep's rock'n'roll creation steals the show
Photographer captures the beauty and intensity of his girlfriend giving birth at home
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up