Daughter of Destiny / Getting Away With Murder

The first Book of the Week is “Daughter of Destiny, An Autobiography” by Benazir Bhutto, published in 1989.

“If you do not appoint me president along with my team, then I’m afraid I’ll have to explore other options. I may even have to start my own party. I will be your biggest opposition.”

-said to Benazir in late 1984 by one of the Old Guard PPP members in exile in London

Upon the initial sovereignty of Pakistan in 1947, there was an egalitarian climate in terms of gender– women could join the country’s National Guard. Born the oldest of four siblings in June 1953 in Karachi, Benazir Bhutto began studying at Radcliffe College (the sister school to Harvard) in 1969. There, she made many friends who achieved high positions in the world, affording her political assistance through the years.

The Bhuttos were something akin to a royal family in Pakistan in the second half of the twentieth century. They were one of the largest tribes in Sindh. They were Muslim, and most of their members lived in Larkana where they had plantations of rice, sugar cane, cotton and guava. Females inherited land when their relatives died, but their marriages were arranged.

Benazir’s grandfather was progressive in permitting his female descendants to get an education. Ironically, many families didn’t educate their sons because the sons were almost guaranteed a living from supervising servants who worked the land.

Benazir’s father– Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a Sunni, studied abroad at the University of California at Berkeley, and then Oxford University’s law school in England. Benazir’s mother, a Shiite, was: a second-generation Iranian, allowed to forgo covering herself up with clothing, and allowed to drive a car.

As is well known, through the centuries, there has been almost non-stop tribal and religious warfare in the territory that has become Pakistan. In the 1960’s, the major sites of bloodshed included the Kashmir, the Punjab and Sindh. In 1967, Zulfikar (Benazir’s father), a wildly popular government minister experienced in various political areas, helped form the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). In 1974, Zulfikar, as a master diplomatic negotiator, participated in talks over the territory that was to become Bangladesh.

In March 1976, Zulfikar was elected president of Pakistan. He nationalized major corporations, re-allocated land to peasants and outlawed gender discrimination in employment and government. Pairs of groups engaged in constant conflict: separatists in certain regions of Pakistan fought with those who believed the people would be better served by a federal government; rich opposed poor; landowners tangled with the educated, etc. Surprisingly, most of Pakistan’s population was still illiterate.

In the first half of the 1970’s, Zulfikar and his ilk continued to anger the United States with their actions. The leader spoke out against the Vietnam War, made friendly overtures to China, and took the Arab side in the Yom Kippur War.

Beginning around the middle of 1976, the French were teaching the Pakistanis how to make nuclear weapons. The latter were having a little spat with India besides. So the following year, the newly elected president Jimmy Carter secretly sicced the CIA on Zulfikar. It collaborated with the PPP’s rival party, the PNA (comprised of thugs, arsonists and sociopathic sadists with weaponry) to commit black-market currency manipulation to lower the value of the American dollar. Predictably, there were ugly consequences.

Carter and Ronald Reagan after him, like all American presidents, had to decide the kinds and amounts of aid to give to, or withhold from nations such as Pakistan, with its human rights abuses and temptation from the Soviets to adopt Communist policies in exchange for financial aid and weaponry.

As is well known, Pakistan borders on Afghanistan, in which the Soviets militarily insinuated themselves in late 1979. There were complicated economic, trade and geopolitical considerations– including a huge number of Afghan refugees– which as usual, were favored over stemming abusive treatment of ordinary Pakistanis by their government.

In July 1977, Zia ul-Haq, a general, had finally gained sufficient sway over Pakistan’s military to arrest and jail Zulfikar. Zia canceled the elections and declared Martial Law when he saw that there was still huge support among common Pakistanis for the Party (PPP). In October 1979, the Bhutto family’s newspaper was shuttered. The remaining media outlets of course, were censored by dictator Zia. Political parties were outlawed.

Dissidents, including Benazir and her mother (who, for some years stayed and fought, and other years, fled the country until there was less danger of assassination) were subjected to the usual Third-World-country human-rights abuses.

There was the vicious cycle of arrests on false charges, jailings with horrible conditions, arbitrary releases and re-arrests on different, absurd charges; firing on protesters– killing hundreds or thousands (accurate documentation was hard to come by, as foreign journalists were censored or banned from the country during the worst years of the oppression). For, the government controlled the courts, the army, and the media.

By the 1980’s, Pakistan was making a transition from military dictatorship to theocracy, as Zia supported the Wahhabis. However, on and off through the years, Zia must have still cared about world opinion because international complaints prompted him to, among making other concessions, allow Benazir and her mother at different times to be released from jail to receive
treatment abroad for serious medical conditions.

Anne Fadiman, a writer for Life magazine recounted an interesting experience riding in a car with Benazir going to a political rally in August 1986. Benazir stood on the seat with her head through the open sunroof (or emergency exit) when police officers started spraying tear gas. Incidentally, that tear gas was made in America, by Smith & Wesson.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional details on Pakistan’s political history from the 1970’s up until the book’s writing as seen through Benazir’s eyes and personal experiences (Hint– it involved the usual, repetitive dictatorial shenanigans), and how she portrayed herself as the new Mahatma Gandhi toward the end of the story, in the spring of 1986, amid riots in Karachi over identity politics, and identity cards for voting).

The second Book of the Week is “Getting Away With Murder, Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan” by Heraldo Munoz, published in 2014.

The author wrote, “The commission soon encountered a country deeply skeptical of authority and the justice system because of widespread corruption , abundant behind-the-scenes political deal making, and the regular impunity that had met previous unsolved political assassinations [which included Benazir Bhutto’s brother; her father’s was a death sentence but an assassination nevertheless].”

From its founding in 1947 through the first decade of the twenty-first century, Pakistan has had a European-style / military / theocratic government, each of which has waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of geopolitical shenanigans.

In mid-2004, the United States persuaded Pakistan’s leader Pervez Musharraf (who was turning into a dictator) to plan to give up his generalship in the Pakistani military and exile himself at some future date at U.S. taxpayer expense (because he knew the tide was turning against him), rather than the alternative. Benazir was considering returning to Pakistan to run for the top leadership position in an election, when Musharraf’s latest term was supposedly going to expire.

Talks also dragged on for three years between Musharraf and Benazir over a proposed power-sharing arrangement. Always a bad idea. For, a co-prime-ministership would certainly have failed. In the vast majority of cases, with a more-or-less democratic government, there can be only one leader.

Two very different people such as they, unrelated by marriage or blood are highly unlikely to have enough common vision, complementary talents and skills, and strategic interests to cooperate enough of the time to make it work.

Elections to governing bodies and top leaders in Pakistan were scheduled for January 2008. Benazir Bhutto had, in the past, been at various times– top leader, party leader, jailed, in exile, and physically present– mentored by her father who led Pakistan before her in the 1970’s.

Conspiracy theories abounded surrounding the circumstances of Benazir’s December 2007 assassination in Rawalpindi. A few bullets allegedly penetrated her head (or not– she allegedly bumped her head on the lever controlling the sunroof / emergency exit of the vehicle in which she was standing up with her head exposed to rally-supporters / protesters / political enemies), plus a suicide bomber’s explosives detonated near her vehicle that might have contributed to her death.

However, the fact that she was killed should have come as no surprise. She knew she was at risk for harm, considering that all political leaders are surrounded by security at all times, even those from democratic countries. Ones from Third World countries like Benazir, are especially vulnerable to physical danger from political rivals.

Just one day prior, terror attacks against her supporters in the form of two explosions in Karachi left hundreds wounded and dead. The then-leader of Pakistan’s military dictatorship who had grabbed power in a 1999 coup– the aforementioned Musharraf– refused to allow the FBI or Scotland Yard to investigate, not wanting to appear to be a puppet of the West (though he so obviously was).

A year and half later (!!) (rather than the next day), in February 2009, the United Nations (UN) began an inquiry into Benazir’s death. It wasn’t meant to result in any trial or punishment, but was simply a way for the investigators to remain relevant, and counter the Pakistan government’s historical revisionism with their own.

The author was named to the UN Commission of Inquiry, which traveled three times to Pakistan. Read the book to learn much more about the history of Pakistan and his experiences in trying to get the facts on the events that led to Benazir’s death.