Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Bhutto Assassination Closes Out Another Bloody Year

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, December 30/07

Zack Gross

I checked my email before 8 a.m., Thursday, simultaneously to the arrival of a Washington Post “Alert” – to discover that Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan had been caught in a bomb attack and was rumoured dead. 

I raced to the TV and clicked on BBC World to find out that this “breaking news” was all too true.  Another bloody year has come and gone around our planet, and another source of hope for the poor and disenfranchised has paid the “supreme sacrifice” for standing up in the political arena.

It is not just the shooting of Bhutto and suicide bombing of her vehicle that brings 2007 to a destructive and disappointing end. 

The political and religious or communal struggle in that country – with its wider implications for worldwide terror and peace – is also just the latest headline in another bloody year of human history.  It reminds this aging activist that the answer to the question “How are we doing?”  
in bringing equality, shared wealth and peace to our world – is “Not so good.

A check of various Internet web sites yielded the following information.  Six hundred Afghani civilians have died this year as a result of the coalition - Taliban fight in that country.  Ironically, that figure seems small. 

In recent years, in the Darfur conflict in Sudan, between Arabic government - sponsored paramilitary forces and black African dissidents and their civilian populations, some 400,000 people have died and two million have become refugees, amidst cries of genocide, but no real action has been taken by the international community.

In Iraq, since 2003, close to 4,000 US troops have been killed, most of them since three events took place that were believed to be signs that the fighting would end – US President George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech,  Saddam Hussein’s capture, and the Iraqi election. 

In the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, since 2000, about 1000 Israeli soldiers and civilians have died, along with about five times as many Palestinians fighters and civilians. 

On a smaller scale, but telling nonetheless, in 2007, at least 64 journalists have been killed covering conflicts or murdered in relation to their work.  Twenty-two others are being investigated to see if they qualify for this designation.  This is a comparable total to the previous highest “killing year” for journalists 
1994.

Benazir Bhutto, 54 years old, the first woman Prime Minister in an Islamic state, was leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and a major opposition candidate set to contest democratic elections scheduled for January 8th. 

Her father had been Pakistan’s Prime Minister in the 1970s but was overthrown, charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and executed in 1979.  During the 70s, Benazir studied in the US and Britain, and was always seen as a bright young leader of the future and a favourite of the Western media. 

The flip side to this, of course, was that traditionalists in Pakistan strongly oppose the idea of modernity and a woman in politics.  When her father was killed, she spent five years under house arrest.

Benazir followed a strong personal and political family obligation to contest for her country’s leadership and served as Prime Minister from 1988-90 and from 1993-96. She was twice removed from office on charges of corruption, but never went to trial. 

She had returned to Pakistan after years in exile this past October to stand as an alternative to dictatorial current Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf, forcing him to give up his post as chief of the army and, it was hoped, give in to truly democratic elections. 

In recent weeks, Musharraf had imposed brief “state of emergency” regulations, limiting Bhutto’s movement, and also warned that Pakistan was in too volatile a state for open campaigning and elections.

Musharraf has been one of the US’ “point men” in the war on terror.  Bush has backed him as the needed “strongman” to hold down “Islamic extremism
.

However, some of the luster has faded from Musharraf’s image.  Pakistan is still considered a staging ground for anti-U.S. / coalition activities. 

At the same time, when State of Emergency rule was brought in, Musharraf rounded up human rights workers, trade union activists and jurists, not terrorists or extremists.  He is thought to be increasingly unpopular in his own country and ineffective in controlling militant elements (or too busy shoring up his own position to focus on the international sphere). 

What is ahead for this poor and conflict-riddled country, at this writing, is anybody’s guess.

Benazir Bhutto, like other political leaders, was not without “warts
.

 While charismatic, many felt that her party was based on her personality alone.  Many Western governments expressed support for her but wondered if she could lead Pakistan on her own, or actually would serve their interests better in a coalition with Musharraf. 

Others felt that a new generation of Pakistanis needed new leadership, not a person from the past.

We will always remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard of the Kennedy assassination, saw Paul Henderson’s goal, or learned of the Asian Tsunami.  As another bloody year comes to an end in our world, I’ll remember my frustration in turning on my computer, sipping my fair trade coffee, and learning that another star in the sky – another hope for a better world – has been snuffed out. 



Zack Gross is program coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of 36 international development organizations active in our province.

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