Ever since India and experiencing first hand the intense effects of Pakistan on that part of the world, I have become more aware of the political situation there. I fell in love with Al-Jazeera as a portal to sometimes overlooked perspectives on political drama and the status of Islamic societies around the world (an issue very dear to my heart and education). Being so close to the Pakistani border, at one point even touching it, and understanding the role of extremists in their daily lives – the Lal Masjid siege still burns in my mind – it has challenged and changed my worldview. Also the understanding I have of their culture, an incredible mixture of Indian tradition with Islamic faith, has been a great insight to the situations that have plagued the country since July and to the assassination and response yesterday. I understand the significance of her rapid, riotous, and simple burial. I know the significance of the simplicity of the coffin that now lies in her father’s mausoleum. I know why Pakistan lies in turmoil and why riots of mourning rage the streets. I understand their claims that their nation’s hope has been killed. They say that their cities are on fire.
I know why Pakistan’s loss is, in many ways, the world’s loss.
Pakistan is no perfect country. Ever since it’s creation in 1947, it has been troubled by war with neighboring India, also a country facing severe problems from its birth even to today, and torn between its Southeast Asian heritage and Islamic society, but ever since the beginnings of America’s war in Afghanistan, the country’s troubles have been forced into the limelight – most notably their particular issues with extremism and terrorism. President Musharraf has been an ally and an impediment to the “war on terror” – not that I agree with or support the terms of that war or its driving forces – and his masked dissolution of the constitution and public destruction of the Pakistani judiciary in the second half of the year have all but destroyed the country. The reemergence of Benazir Bhutto from her self-imposed exile this year had led people, namely Western foreign policy makers, to believe that should she be re-elected as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Musharraf would be reined in – that Pakistan would continue as a Western ally, and perhaps it would end the term of quasi-democratic Pakistan and give birth to a new nation run by the people. Bhutto, in her time, was not perfect either – her campaign as Prime Minister was filled with claims of corruption and conspiracy, (including international money-laundering, payoff of foreign officials, and more) her previous support of the Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, (she has since condemned the Taliban for their dismissal of human rights and their insistence in supporting terrorism) and her lack of implementation during her term as Prime Minister.
More recently, all of her efforts have been using her political party, the Pakistan People’s Party, to democratize and modernize Pakistan, focusing on human rights and women’s development issues to institute stability and democracy to the region – a plan which she hoped to spread throughout Western Asia. It was in this that the Western world named her Pakistan’s “best hope” for change and peace in the future. She had been working with Musharraf for months, agreeing to shared power of the country (a move which Musharraf granted her amnesty from the pending international investigations for corruption) – and remained outspoken against extremism and terrorism in “her home, her country”, even calling Musharraf to resign after he had established “emergency rule”, a code of martial law and suspended civil liberties that nearly destroyed the country. She has been a consistent American ally, and so many have recognized the power Pakistan would have should she return to lead the country.
Her death, which she very clearly understood was a risk from the day she returned to Pakistan, has been cited by lesser news sources to her “recklessness” and “stubbornness” to assess the risks she took by appearing publicly. Others say it was the reluctance of Musharraf to provide her proper protection. Some claim it was America’s stance on the Iraqi war (which is a stretch to say the least). Prominent terrorist groups have already claimed responsibility – which will lead to another step towards international foreign policy remaining focused on terrorist threats (which frustrates me because it continues the tradition that America has long since followed – treating the effects and not the cause of these acts, things like economy, education, improved cultural understanding, women’s empowerment, and the success of civil liberties and adaptive foreign policy – a tradition that goes back to World War I, but that rant is for another time…)
I don’t know what I believe. She was a woman of power from a political family that has been both revered, accused, and punished for their work to build a better Pakistan. She had been a tireless campaigner for human rights, civil liberties, and the progression of women. The world has lost an incredible force for understanding the Islamic woman and the Islamic world, both politically and culturally. It also lost someone who had arguably played both sides of the table in many ways. Her father had once claimed she would be more famous, more powerful, and more influential than India’s “Iron Lady” – her life was working to achieve that mantle, and perhaps her assassination will accomplish that impact.
Her death will bring a change to Pakistan, though I am not sure if it is going to get better or worse. I guess only time will tell.