Last Thursday, while many hastily built mammoth leaf piles for collection on Alexandrias city-wide deadline for pickup, a pioneering leader was assassinated an ocean and a continent away in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Benazir Bhutto, the first female prime minister of a Muslim nation, was killed moments after delivering a speech to thousands of supporters in the city of Rawalpindi, near to the capital Islamabad. In a situation comparable to John F. Kennedys assassination, Bhutto was in a bullet proof vehicle but in response to throngs of cheering people opened the sunroof and waved to the crowds. It was then that her killers struck, opening gunfire and delivering a suicide bombing which ended up killing 20 others.
It all seems too far away.
Time alone tells of the geographic expanse separating Alexandria and Rawalpindi; it was in the dark hours of early mourn when Bhutto was pronounced dead for us, but for her countrymen the official time recorded was 6:16 PM, nearly a half days difference.
A former British colony, in 1948 Pakistan was created out of partition along with India and East Pakistan, later renamed Bangladesh. Due to religious and cultural tensions, Pakistan and India have been on the brink of war since partitioning, with India aiding Bangladesh in its war of independence against Pakistan in the 1970s. The United States has had little historical impact on the near six decade old country, a trend many want to end.
Pakistan has three ideological forces striving for power. The first is the establishment itself, the government under General Pervez Musharraf. Although his title is President, he was not elected but rather ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999. Since then, he has been the head of a dictatorship that to its credit shied away from totalitarianism; for example, the media is largely free from government control. The faint presence of constitutional government and the relative sedateness of the tyranny made Musharrafs decision in early 2007 to suspend Pakistans chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry a very unpopular move. Since then, there has been a growing contempt for the Musharraf government: a recent poll showed two-thirds of Pakistanis disapprove of his administration.
Another faction consists of the reformers. They include among their number the Pakistan Supreme Court, which ruled against Musharrafs attempted ousting of Chaudhry in July of this year. These reformers have called for the reestablishment of democracy in the nominal republic and for Musharraf to step down from power. Their most influential leader was twice elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan and had as a father one of the founders of the republic: Benazir Bhutto. Like her father, she was committed to political reform. Along with Sharif, the man kicked out of office by Musharraf, they demanded fair elections come January 2008 and that Musharraf officially relinquish his military status, an action he eventually conceded to. Yet he has continued to try and maintain a strict order by doing the very thing his government refused to do years ago: declare martial law. This has made the political rallies and campaigning for the election much harder, yet the reformers were willing to compromise in light of the third faction, the most nefarious entity of the three.
This third entity in the crisis of Pakistan is a big reason why we should take notice of what happens abroad. Concentrated in the northern province of Waziristan, Radical Islamic groups are attempting to violently seize power.
These forces are comprised of reactionary Muslims from the hinterlands of Waziristan and notably former Taliban militants who entered the nation through neighboring Afghanistan. Unlike their former bulwark, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has nuclear capabilities, created in response to perceived threats from India. Once thought to be isolated in Waziristan, the Radical Islamists have made successful attacks within cities of Pakistan such as Peshawar, once alien to terrorism. Maybe because of this evil, reformers were willing to go through with the elections set up by Musharraf and hopefully peacefully remove him. So many saw Bhutto as the next leader of Pakistan, her third term as Prime Minister to be the transition from dictatorship to full-fledged democracy, being opposed to Musharraf and the Islamic terrorists.
Michael Gryboski lives in Alexandria.