A killing that reverberates far beyond Pakistan

Share

There was an appalling sense of inevitability about the death of Benazir Bhutto at an election rally in Rawalpindi. The risk she had taken in returning to Pakistan was brutally apparent from the moment her plane touched down. The failed attempt on her life during the interminable procession that day showed how inadequate her protection would be if she continued her campaign. That she did so nonetheless showed admirable, if perhaps foolhardy, courage. An accursed symmetry had it that she died yesterday in the same garrison city where her deposed father was executed. Her quest to avenge his death and return elected government to Pakistan came to naught.

Ms Bhutto had powerful enemies, and there were damaging accusations against her: of corruption, nepotism and entitlement. But there could be no doubting either her sense of personal destiny or the seriousness with which she plied her politics. While lineage played its part, she was one of the first women to be elected prime minister of an Islamic country. The gamble she took in accepting the deal President Musharraf offered her an end to exile, an election campaign and, if her People's Party won, the prime ministership was not an unreasonable one for her to make. When she, rightly, broke with Mr Musharraf over his failure to lift martial law, she took the more difficult course. Rather than returning to exile, she stayed to fight.

In a way, her gamble was rewarded. Mr Musharraf lifted the state of emergency. Before his re-inauguration as President, he made the formal move into civilian life. When she died, an election campaign not entirely unworthy of the name was in progress. Whether it would have been strictly constitutional for Ms Bhutto to accept a third term as Prime Minister was a question that lurked only a little uneasily in the wings. At the time, it was just possible to believe that Mr Musharraf and Ms Bhutto might be able to bury their differences for the sake of a stable Pakistan and a rapid transition to democracy.

Those hopes now appear wildly unrealistic. But if, with the false wisdom of hindsight, yesterday's assassination seemed inevitable, the consequences can only be unpredictable and highly dangerous. It seems unlikely that any of the gains of recent months can be maintained. Disturbances broke out in cities across Pakistan within minutes of the announcement of Ms Bhutto's death. The language of martyrdom in which her assassination was condemned bespoke conflict and bloodshed to come.

These will be perilous days for Pakistan. The return to civilian rule and the parliamentary elections, now less than two weeks away, are both surely threatened. Mr Musharraf's position is as shaky as it has been since he seized power. His call for calm "so that the nefarious designs of terrorists can be defeated" smacked of desperation, the national security card ever the last resort of the weak leader. And even if, as is probable, he had no part whatever in her death, there will be many among her supporters who will believe he did.

As the urgent words of tribute and warning showed yesterday, however, Ms Bhutto's assassination will reverberate far beyond her native land. The United States, and to a lesser extent Britain, had encouraged Ms Bhutto to return in the expectation that she would be Pakistan's next Prime Minister. They envisaged her as a moderating and pro-Western force in a country where Islamic extremism is never far from the surface. They hoped an electoral mandate would bring stability. At a time when the Taliban are advancing in Afghanistan, violence still plagues Iraq, and Iran's intentions are uncertain, new volatility in the region can be in no one's interests. Benazir Bhutto might not have been able, as she aspired, to save Pakistan for democracy, but now she will not have the chance.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game