WORLD/PAKISTAN: Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and emergence of a draconian military power

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, who was the leader of one of the best known political parties in Pakistan that was contesting the election to be held on the 8th January 2008, reflects the nature of the repression and the absence of the rule of law and human rights in the country. To those who have followed the developments of recent months, particularly since the 9th March, 2007 when the then General Musharraf ousted the chief justice from his position, this latest event of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, though shocking, does not come as a surprise. The recent strategy of the military regime is to destroy the activism of the parliament and the judiciary as stated by President Musharraf himself. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a serious blow to any attempts to develop an independent parliament based on multiparty democracy.

This was the second attempt on the life of Benazir Bhutto and the first attack from which she escaped unharmed killed over 140 of her supporters. Benazir Bhutto subsequently made many comments about this attack. According to her she suspected her attackers to be related to the military regime rather than other extreme elements. It is reported that she repeatedly expressed concern about threats to her life and that some acts such as the removal of the security around her was also seen by her as means to target her.

It is a common feature regarding acts of serious violations of human rights in Pakistan that these acts are not being investigated. There are thousands of disappearances, many bomb attacks, including attacks on judges, lawyers, journalists, democrats and human rights activists which go without investigation. In fact there is no agency within Pakistan that has the power to investigate into such violations. The call for investigations falls on deaf ears as there is no institutional framework to investigate such violations. Thus the call for investigations is an empty cry. Those who engage in such crimes and violence can take comfort in the fact that there are no law enforcement agencies to pursue them. There is no reason to believe that things will be different regarding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Already when she was still alive her call for investigations into the severe bomb blasts against her were not given any weight. The announcement of the military regime that one of its own judges, who remained in the High Court of Punjab Province after the ousting of the judges, is to enquire into the assassination is not likely to evoke any credibility.

A leader of a major political party has been killed. There are also threats to the life to the leader of another political party, Nawaz Sharif. The former chief justice of Pakistan is under house arrest and forty of the judges have been removed from their posts as they wish to assert the independence of the judiciary. Thousands of lawyers were arrested and later freed due to international pressure. Two of the leaders of the Supreme Court Bar Association were assaulted, harassed and kept under severe control. Any lawyers who try to go to court to get legal redress face serious threats to life and liberty. Many media channels have been closed and numerous journalists have been harassed and arrested.

This is what Pakistan has become. It is a draconian military state and uses anti terrorism as a pretext to strengthen itself and to oust the rule of law. In essence it is a lawless place where any act of cruelty to any person at all, be it a leading politician or a chief justice, can be done with impunity. Those are the conditions under which the ordinary Pakistanis have to live and must adjusted themselves to.

The world¡¦s leading super power, the United States wants to remain oblivious to these facts. It wants to see in the military regime an ally that fights against extremism and fights for democracy. As long as the United States wants to live by this illusion the military regime can take comfort in the hope that it can avoid any consequences for any acts of cruelty it carries out including assassinations.

The international community needs to wake up to the fact of the emergence in Pakistan that will do its utmost to destroy the possibility of parliamentary democracy or an independent judiciary. Until the world opinion begins to condemn these acts of military brutality such assassinations as that of Benazir Bhutto and other acts of violations of rights will remain a routine occurrence in Pakistan. The violence of extremist elements cannot be prevented until the ruling regime itself begins to respect the rule of law.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-290-2007
Countries : Pakistan,