Assassination and Revolution - A Pakistan Scenario?
by Stephen Schwartz
Experts on Islam and Pakistan, some of them individuals known for their past competence, some merely graced with fancy titles, are now pressed, in Washington and around the world, to imagine the future of Pakistan after the atrocious slaying of Benazir Bhutto. The continuous violence of pro-Bhutto protestors gives many foreigners the impression of an impending overthrow of Pervez Musharraf. The latter's latest mistake - postponing elections for a month - will contribute further to the appearance of an approaching revolution.
But disorderly "acting out" as political expression usually dissipates in the subcontinent after an outburst of rage, as we see when the medresa boys take to the streets in Pakistan, or in clashes between Hindus and Muslims in India.
While sifting through media reports and comments from Pakistanis, in the U.S., UK, and Pakistan itself, who cooperate with the Center for Islamic Pluralism, I have been reminded of some preceding examples where the murder of trusted opposition figures led to the downfall of dictatorships.
In 1978, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, publisher of the Nicaraguan daily newspaper La Prensa, was murdered. Pedro Joaquin, as he was known to most of his fellow-citizens, was an anti-Communist representative of the business class, which was growing prosperous and had become thoroughly sick of the corruption of the Somoza regime. His murder propelled masses into the streets and began the revolution that resulted in the flight of Somoza the following year.
Then, with Pedro Joaquin absent from the scene, bourgeois reformers lacked a charismatic leader to rally them, and the Leninist, Castro-backed Sandinistas took over. The death of Pedro Joaquin was never fully elucidated, and many Nicaraguans believed he was murdered by the Sandinistas to remove their most serious rival for power. Pedro Joaquin's widow, Violeta Chamorro, was elected to the Nicaraguan presidency in 1990; last year, Sandinista chief Daniel Ortega was voted in, after a transformation of his party into a safer, "social-democratic" entity.
In 1983, Benigno Aquino, Jr., the beloved representative of the Philippine opposition, was assassinated on an airline tarmac in Manila after he returned to lead the anti-Marcos struggle. His widow Corazon led the nonviolent People Power movement that forced the Marcos family out of power.
Eleven years later, in 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio, the designated successor to the Mexican president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, was killed at a campaign rally at Tijuana on the U.S.-Mexican border. That shock to the nation, and others, were such that Salinas temporarily left the country - settling in Ireland, of all places, for some time - and the Mexican state party (the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI) was removed in 2000, when Mexico held its first clean election in modern times.
In the Philippine and Mexican cases, assassinations led to nonviolent change and a managed transition, not to outright revolution. But the immediate question is: will the death of Benazir Bhutto bring an end to Pakistan's corrupt system, based on an alliance of the military (Musharraf), the feudal landlords (of which Bhutto herself was a representative), and the bigoted Islamist clerics, who support Nawaz Sharif, lately a resident of Saudi Arabia?
I do not think so, for this reason: Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, Ninoy Aquino, and Colosio were not old faces at the summits of their country's politics. They had long careers in opposition, but were not seen as implicated in the abuses of the past. Sadly, Benazir Bhutto carried heavy baggage from her two terms as prime minister, including a serious taint of corruption. Even Colosio, a product of the unsurpassably-corrupt PRIocracy, was viewed by Mexicans as a long-awaited "good boss" with a concern for popular welfare absent in Mexico for decades.
I may be wrong, but I know that Benazir Bhutto lacked the fresh image of the mentioned examples. I therefore doubt the psychological impact of her death will determine the fate of her country. She did not represent the great hopes that a Pedro Joaquin, a Ninoy, or a Colosio generated.
Bhutto's supporters are, however, morally correct: the concessions to and broad coddling of the Taliban and related radical elements by Musharraf made her assassination possible, if not inevitable, and in that sense responsibility belongs to the regime, even if we cannot accuse Musharraf directly.
A new civic alternative - represented by the protesting lawyers I praised in a TCSDaily column not long ago - independent of the military, landlord, and clerical interests, could yet save Pakistan. But such an option would involve a peaceful transition along the Mexican model, rather than a street insurrection in the image of the Nicaraguan overturn.
For the present, distasteful as it may be for most Americans as well as Pakistanis, the destiny of Pakistan may be determined by Washington. Those within and without the Musharraf regime who are proven to have conspired to kill Benazir Bhutto must be punished. The U.S. must press for a full purge of radical Islamists from the Pakistani military and intelligence services. Such action is necessary for the future of Pakistan, Afghanistan, U.S. troops in the regional theatre, and, given Pakistan's possession of nuclear arms, the world.