Thursday, December 27, 2007

Shock not Surprise Fills this Day

The story of this extraordinary woman
and the country she hoped to lead is far too complex to be reduced to a short post on a blog, imo. Given that I'll simply skirt around the edges to offer my observations.
While Benazir Bhutto was a controversial figure, in recent times her conviction to make changes in her country was palpable. Some of her choices of course could be questioned, such as power brokering with Musharraf, but at this point I would prefer to think that she felt it necessary to explore every option available to her.
It is doubtful of course that we will ever know what really happened today, but I was pleased to hear that Dion recommended that an international enquiry take place.
I think our government has been far too quiet about what has gone on in Pakistan, today and previously. Marshal law, the arrest of lawyers and judges and the lack of progress in diminishing extremism, especially on the border of Afghanistan have neither been challenged with gusto, nor pursued diplomatically to any great gain. This obviously could affect our troops in Afghanistan.
There are many questions and issues to be addressed, but I will leave that for the future.
For today, I feel sadness. Sadness for a woman who (whatever you thought of her political view), had the courage of her convictions to go forward in spite of the risk. Sadness for the people who believed in her and who held fast to their desire for what they hoped could become democracy. Grief for a country with a population who for the most part work hard to achieve democracy, but have every possible roadblock thrown their way. The despair that must be felt in Pakistan at the moment is one that I can only imagine. I also feel sadness for women who live in Pakistan and other countries that have a culture, sometimes on the margins sometimes more pronounced, that suggest that women are not considered capable of holding offices of power, indeed they are still not considered equal.
How that can be as we approach 2008 is difficult for me to understand, but it's true of course. I think it is very easy for we in the West to condemn those attitudes, but I question what we've done to actually promote a contrary view. The US is still asking is the country ready for a woman president for heaven's sake.
This is a sad day and one that will affect much more than Pakistan. Bob Rae stated today that the world is small now and indeed it is. The ramifications will embolden some, discourage others, incite those who see this as a victory and cause us to turn away from other important issues, like Darfur, because we seem to have the attention span of a gnat.
We must hope for the best and work to mitigate the worse.
For the moment, I will mourn the loss of a woman whom I can only describe as the epitome of courage. I know there is an argument against that, but I find it too facile to discuss. Who among us is as brave as she was?


ottlib said...

Hmmmm. The ramifications of today's events are certainly unpredictable.

However, I am cautious about putting her on a pedistal. Her times as Pakistan's PM were marked by government corruption that went all the way to her office.

Indeed, that is why she was ousted as PM, twice.

Perhaps, she did have the desire to make her country different but there is strong evidence that she also enriched herself and her family in the process.

Measure that corruption against the actual progress she made in transforming her country and the balance is in the negative.

In short, she was not the saviour of Pakistan.

Like her father her assassination will make her a martyr and perhaps her death and the forces it unleashes could transform Pakistan much more than she could have in life. Hopefully for the better.

Then again, maybe not. We will have to wait and see.

sassy said...

May she rest in peace. May Pakistan survive the sad and uncertain days ahead.

knb said...

I won't debate you ottlib, but she wasn't the first to be accused of corruption.

In my mind, the country is run by the military. The military and the police are well known to accuse whomever is in power in that country, specifically if they are leading toward democracy, of corruption.

It did not start with Bhutto. 11 years of investigation...nothing. Bogus charges aimed at getting progression out of the country.

Measure that corruption against the actual progress she made in transforming her country and the balance is in the negative.

With facts that are hard to find, I absolutley disagree.

Tell me, how many schools did she build? How far within the country did she bring electricity?

I rarely disagree with you, but as I said, this is complex.

I do not place her on a pedestal per se, but I do see her as the hope the country required.

In her 30's she was a different person. She was handed the mantle and took it but she did not have the conviction she showed us in her 50's.

People change ottlib as I'm sure you know and have experienced.

Thank you for your comments and I think you're bang on re' the transfomative nature of todays events.

As you say, we shall see.

knb said...

Indeed Sassy, indeed.

Anonymous said...


Pakistan in my opinion can become an extremely dangerous country it is becoming more and more unstable. Imagine this scenario a Saddam Hussein type becoming Pres.and controlling the military,but this time he would have control of it's nuclear weapons scary isn't?

knb said...

John, that is scary, but not realistic. The military controls the nukes. Not government. Then again, the military controls the country.

That is why I said this is so complex.

I agree with you on this point. What awaits us we do not know.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is I agreed with ottlib. I have written a blogpost
highlighting the desperate situation in Pakistan and question whether Benazir can turn things for the better.

Pakistan's problems do not start or begin with the Bhuttos but Benazir has not helped to alleviate the problems with her rule.

There are many women who have positions of power in South Asia. This is due to their insistence to promote liberalism and secularism. Unfortunately, the side effects are patronage and corruption.

The real solution lies not with depending on liberal political leaders but in creating a fairer global society.

I am quite angry with how the War on Terror has turned out and it will unfortunately be targeted at Harper's government. By failing to recognize the desperate situation in the Western world which has fueled the jihadis, there will unfortunately be more assasinations. At the same time, Dion will not be in my good books if he does not start to address these problems and that means ending the Afghan mission as soon as possible (all troops gone by 2009) and start promoting nonviolent reconciliation between different religious sects.

ottlib said...


Certainly some of the accusations of corruption were bogus but not all of them.

There is a well documented case of her husband enriching himself using the good offices of her position the first time she was PM. Indeed, it was what lead to her ouster as PM the first time. (In democratic elections.)

Of course the guy that replaced her was just a corrupt and lost the PM's office to her only to win it again when Ms. Bhutto's family and political friends again took advantage of her position to enrich themselves.

I would point out that I am not singling her out. Official corruption is endemic in Pakistan, from the highest offices of government down to the lowest. However, I also do not want to single her out as being the saviour as some would make her out to be.

Her times in office did not transform the government or Pakistani society. They just muddled along like it they did before and after her time as PM.

knb said...

ottlib, I profess no expertise in this area, so I will defer to your knowledge on the subject.

I'm afraid I allowed my frustration to get the better of me in my reply yesterday.

Mushroom I offer you the same deference.

To both of you, my frustration does lie solely with this one issue.

I too am angry about how the west has both bungled and exacerbated fundamentalism/jihadi's. It seems that with each passing day they gain more strength. It often feels futile to me but I agree that non-violent measures have to be explored.

ottlib said...


Make no mistake I agree with you about the bungling of the west in that part of the world.

When they failed to capture bin Laden in Tora Bora and Omar in Khandahar in 2002 the war in Afghanistan was lost.

Then George Bush attacked Iraq and took a minor setback and turned it into a major disaster.

Beginning in 2009, the US will be withdrawing from that part of the world and they will be leaving a mess behind that will have major implications for that region.

Note however that the implications will be minor for the west. In no way does the Taliban or bin Laden and his crew really have a hope in hell of damaging, let alone destroying, western democratic institutions.

Of course we could do it ourselves by overreacting to the threat posed by these folks but we are smarter than that, aren't we?

Anonymous said...


I don't think capturing Osama and Mullah Omar are problems. The problem with Afghanistan is nation building. It is good that Josee Verner and Bev Oda are handing out cheques. However, a project as massive as Afghanistan requires a Iraq-like commitment. This is especially needed in Kandahar and Helmand, which need to be stabilized. The lack of troops there do not make the record positive there. Iraq is a quagmire for the US alone.

I have stated the implication of the War on Terror in a previous blogpost. The Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns will do little to stop a train bombing in Madrid or an Underground attack in London. In fact, these events are perpetuated by the War on Terror and leads to an endless cycle in terror. You kill us, we have to kill you.

Dame said...

I feel sympathy and sorrow for her she was idealistic and brazen BUT I didn't feel she had a chance to create the Country she was trying to envisioned Somehow there was a great deal unreal and unfounded part in the whole thing what she was doing recently. .You can't just plant a thousand roses in the desert and hope they will grow /if Allah wants it/ these regions can't switch to the democracy we more or less have in the West... it is far too complex

All these areas have the so called “strong man” as leaders … progress is depends on that man Not all are essentially evil /but a necessity of their time…????

knb said...

correction :To both of you, my frustration does lie solely with this one issue.

That should have read my frustration does not lie solely....

ottlib, I fully agree with your summary.

Beginning in 2009, the US will be withdrawing from that part of the world and they will be leaving a mess behind that will have major implications for that region.

Indeed. I'm still not clear on what direction the pres.candidates want to do in Afghanistan.

:Of course we could do it ourselves by overreacting to the threat posed by these folks but we are smarter than that, aren't we?

Sadly, I've yet to see evidence that we are.

Overreacting really seems to be the key to everything doesn't it?

I'm nervous about this Manley panel to be honest. I'm also nervous at just how inept the Harper government seems to be concerning foreign affairs. I realise of course that there are many other people behind the scenes but the government seems hell bent on assuming policies filled with rhetoric that support the Bush view of the world.

Has Manley made any comment about Bhutto? I haven't seen anything.

knb said...

Marta, I would agree that it is very complex but she offered a step in a different direction. She may not have been able to accomplish what she sought, but she brought a different focus to her supporters.

Had she managed to gain a modicum of power, she would have been that much closer to what really goes on. She seemed willing to shine a light on it.

I don't think she was a panacea, nor do I know if there would have been any progress made by her.

What I did see is that many had been given hope through her return and to see that dashed is heart-breaking to me.

To live without hope is something I obviously do not understand, at least in that context. It just seems to me that it must be the nadir for a human being.

knb said...

Mushroom:However, a project as massive as Afghanistan requires a Iraq-like commitment. This is especially needed in Kandahar and Helmand, which need to be stabilized. The lack of troops there do not make the record positive there.

I'm not sure I'm following you here. Could you expand on your thought?

Anonymous said...


Harper's Cons define hope as allowing girls to go to school in Afghanistan. I don't consider it hope. Bhutto's hope may be something that is representative of Bush and Condi's tattered foreign policy. For many in Afghanistan and maybe Pakistan, it may be the preservation of a tribal tradition against foreign intervention and modernization.

One can also talk about the environmental degradation of Central Asia ie. desertification and agricultural terracing which leads to landslide. How do these things affect tribal communities there?

It is about seeing both sides of the coin. Hope means waking up the next day and knowing that things will be okay. Not living a life dictated by NATO forces or the IMF and the World Bank. Sorry for this political diatribe, but I had to bring forth this perspective.

Anonymous said...

"Could you expand on your thought?"

In Afghanistan, many places are relatively stable. Kabul, with the exception of a few suicide bombers, is controllable. Helmand and Kandahar are the southern provinces where the Taliban make raids against Canadian, British, and American troops. They are mountainous regions, good places for the Taliban to hide.

Due to the war in Iraq, Canadians would not have to do the brunt of the fighting in Kandahar. The Americans would do most of it, if there are more troops on the ground.

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Dame said...

I Hope you don't mind i come back To this post /it is very relevant to our future //

I did read many articles about Bhutto and her persona recently and Igot very ambigious about her political manovers...
here is an article from the Harper's Magazine which I found informative ..

Support for Taliban Missing from Bhutto Obits/by Ken Silverstein

As the American media continues to grant Benazir Bhutto sainthood status, it’s worth looking at a few sections from Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden. Here’s a bit on Bhutto’s background:

Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister was Benazir Bhutto, at thirty-six a beautiful, charismatic, and self-absorbed politician with no government experience… She had taken office with American support, and she cultivated American connections.

Raised in a gilded
world of feudal aristocratic entitlements, Bhutto had attended Radcliffe College at Harvard University as an undergraduate and retained many friend in Washington. And here’s a bit more on her support while prime minister for the Taliban, before it seized power in Afghanistan:Benazir Bhutto, who was secretly authorizing the Taliban’s covert aid, did not let the Americans know. She visited Washington in the spring of 1995, met with President Clinton, and promoted the Taliban as a pro-Pakistan force that could help stabilize Afghanistan… During her visit and for many months afterward Bhutto and her aides repeatedly lied to American government officials and members of Congress about the extent of Pakistani military and financial aid to the Taliban… Bhutto had decided it was more important to appease the Pakistani army and intelligence service than to level with her American friends.

Kabul fell to the Taliban in 1996. Bhutto, Coll says in his book, “had capitulated…to
[Pakistani intelligence’s] persistent requests for unlimited covert aid to the Islamic

Bhutto, of course, had some admirable qualities. She may have also had strong political
and geopolitical reasons for backing the Taliban. Either way, it’s an important part of her
biography that shouldn’t be elided from her obituary, yet it seems no one wants to write about this now.

knb said...

marta, of course I do not mind. In fact, I think most issues require further consideration.

What you brought up is interesting and not unlike some articles that I have been reading recently.

It certainly gives me pause, yet I still lean toward a need for change.

I think appointing a 19 year old as party leader is bizarre. I understand the dynasty thing and I think we have to look outside our own political context to understand corruption.

What goes on elsewhere does not measure up to what we expect here, but if it is a small step forward, perhaps it is worth looking at.

I think our biggest error in the West is comparing our system to others. It seems pompous to me. A Colonial mentality if you like.

I imagine I will write about this again, given Musharraf's recent statements, but I want to digest what is going on.

Thank you for your thoughtful contribution, once again. It's people like you, who really think about the issues that I enjoy engaging with.