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Western Mass Pakistani Insight…

Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the world was shaken when news broke of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The charismatic moderate political leader was murdered after an election rally when the killer shot her and detonated a bomb killing himself and 22 others.

Benazir Bhutto was campaigning for her party regain control of the Pakistani parliament and thus become prime minister once more. Bhutto, the chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, a party founded by her father, had been forced from the premiership twice before under pressure from previous presidents and the military and facing charges of corruption. Although it seems that the charges had some validity, it was largely an excuse for the generals to remove her.

Bhutto had the distinction of being the first female prime minister of an Islamic nation. Her party remains in step with basic Islamic values, but encouraged liberalization of policies toward woman and friendliness toward the west. There is conflicting information regarding her attitude toward extremists in Pakistan and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Either way a new Bhutto Premiership would have been staunchly anti-Taliban.

The reasons for killing Bhutto run the gamut. Military insiders hated her magnetism and her and “frenemy” Nawaz Sharif’s success in getting Musharraf to resign his military commission. The Islamic extremists no doubt wanted her dead because she intended to push them out. In addition, as these extremists, like the Taliban they are allied with, have no interest in advancing woman in society they undoubtedly hated her for being a woman in power and a female prime minister of Pakistan.

Without Bhutto, questions abound with regard to the stability of Pakistan. Musharraf is weak and the only other person capable of uniting the country like Bhutto, albeit much differently, Nawaz Sharif, is boycotting the elections again. Sharif, following the attack, went to the hospital where Bhutto had been brought, consoled her supporters, and mourned her. He holds Musharraf responsible for not adequately protecting Bhutto.

The stability of Pakistan is important not just within the context of the war on terror. Pakistan is in the Nuclear Club and although relations with India, its longtime rival/foe, are presently good, they can turn on a time. Musharraf was able to keep the peace with India while working with the US along the Afghan border. However, the Pakistani president faces increasing pressure from the US and elsewhere to work harder to reign in those far-flung uncontrolled and extremist-laden mountainous regions bordering Afghanistan.

For the moment, all that can be done is mourn Bhutto. Far from perfect, she broke barriers in the Islamic world and opened the door for women in Muslim nations. She will be remembered for her courage and her conviction in trying to bring Pakistan closer to democracy and further into the modern world than almost anybody since the Islamic republic was founded. She will be missed by Pakistan, by Asia, and by the world.

*Photo from wikipedia

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