Pakistan after the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Musharraf Is Abusing the "War on Terror"

Since September 11, Pakistan's President Musharraf has been considered one of the USA's most important allies in the war on international terrorism. According to Thomas Bärthlein, the reality is very different: Musharraf is in fact bringing the struggle into disrepute

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf (photo: AP)
Should I stay or should I go? The International Crisis Group recommends President Musharraf step down or else Pakistan could descend into civil war from which only extremists would gain

​​Recent developments in Pakistan have highlighted some of the fundamental mistakes that have been made in the course of the so-called "war on international terrorism".

Hardly anyone in Pakistan believes that al-Qaida was behind Bhutto's assassination. Instead the wildest theories are being put forward, most particularly by Musharraf's political opponents. Some say that the army was behind the murder because the generals wanted to get rid of Bhutto, whom they considered a rival; others that it was probably high-ranking politicians from Musharraf's own party.

Some claim that Benazir Bhutto was eliminated because she intended to present evidence of election-rigging; others that they know for a fact that she was killed by ultra-modern laser weapons.

Lack of transparency

It is easy to see what is feeding such speculations: Pakistan's authorities do not "do" transparency. For example, it was initially said that Bhutto died as a result of gunshot wounds to the head; it was subsequently claimed that bomb fragments did the damage; and most recently, it has been said that her skull was smashed on the roof of her car.

Although people in other countries are aware that there are long-standing links between the Pakistani security forces and Islamist militants in the country, the West generally tends to interpret this as being the result of the fact that Islamists have infiltrated the Pakistani army and secret services. In view of what has happened in Pakistan over the past thirty years, many people there see things very differently.

After all it was the army and its agents that actually built up militant groups and used them for political ends. That being the case, it is hard to believe that these contacts no longer exist and that the army is no longer manipulating these groups.

It is interesting to note that Baitullah Mehsood, who is being held responsible for Bhutto's assassination, released hundreds of captive soldiers following negotiations with Islamabad after the state of emergency was declared in November.

Terrorism as the pretext for a crackdown

Moreover, Musharraf is using the "war on terror" to achieve his own political ends in Pakistan. Political opponents with absolutely no links to al-Qaida, such as separatists in Balochistan, are disappearing without a trace; critical lawyers are being arrested under the absurd pretext that they are "terrorists"; the army is benefiting from America's military assistance.

Above all, terrorism is repeatedly given as the reason why Musharraf must stay in power – whether it be in November, when the state of emergency was declared, or the current postponement of elections.

As a result of all this, people in Pakistan have so little faith in their rulers that they are underestimating the power of al-Qaida or the Taliban in Pakistan, despite the fact that both groups are undoubtedly highly influential in the north-west of the country in particular.

Pakistan is demonstrating in a most cogent manner how counterproductive it is to give the secret services and the military a free hand in fighting terrorism.

If terrorism and political power are to be permanently overcome, human rights, democracy, and transparency must not fall by the wayside. A full and complete clarification of the events surrounding the assassination of Benazir Bhutto with the assistance of foreign experts would be a first step towards re-establishing the trust that has been lost.

Thomas Bärthlein

© Deutsche Welle/ 2008

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

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