Benazir Bhutto in 2006 (Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)
As world news organizations fall over themselves to provide broad-brush background and analysis on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, go read Tariq Ali’s recent LRB profile of and full-scale backgrounder on Bhutto; your investment in time will be repaid with greater comprehension. Example: A BBC piece today describes the 1996 murder of Benazir’s brother Murtaza curtly and with inoffensive vagueness. “He won elections from exile in 1993 and became a provincial legislator, returning home soon afterwards, only to be shot dead under mysterious circumstances…” By comparison, here’s Ali on the same subject:
Some months later, in September 1996, as Murtaza and his entourage were returning home from a political meeting, they were ambushed, just outside their house, by some seventy armed policemen accompanied by four senior officers. A number of snipers were positioned in surrounding trees. The street lights had been switched off. Murtaza clearly understood what was happening and got out of his car with his hands raised; his bodyguards were instructed not to open fire. The police opened fire instead and seven men were killed, Murtaza among them. The fatal bullet had been fired at close range. The trap had been carefully laid, but as is the way in Pakistan, the crudeness of the operation – false entries in police logbooks, lost evidence, witnesses arrested and intimidated, the provincial PPP governor (regarded as untrustworthy) dispatched to a non-event in Egypt, a policeman killed who they feared might talk – made it obvious that the decision to execute the prime minister’s brother had been taken at a very high level.
… In an interview on an independent TV station just before the emergency was imposed [by President Pervez Musharraf], Benazir was asked to explain how it happened that her brother had bled to death outside his home while she was prime minister. She walked out of the studio. A sharp op-ed piece by [Murtaza’s daughter] Fatima in the LA Times on 14 November elicited the following response: ‘My niece is angry with me.’ Well, yes.
Bhutto’s life story is a remarkable one, but it’s also complex and murky, and we should be on our guard against simplistic narratives (suiting Western media and politicians alike) of cosmopolitanism vs. fundamentalism and civilian vs. military rule. As with the hall of mirrors regime that Musharraf has constructed and continues to adapt to his needs, appearances rarely reflect reality.