Martin Luther King’s last battle: for labor rights

April 3, 2008 at 10:09 pm (Anti-Racism, assassination, Civil liberties, class, Human rights, Jim D, liberation, United States)

“In a sense, you could say we’re involved in the class struggle.” – Martin Luther King to a New York Times reporter, 1968.

Dr. King will always – quite rightly – be remembered as the inspirational leader of the civil rights movement. But it’s often forgotten that at the time of his assassination he had turned his attention to the plight of the working class – black, white, Mexican, American Indian and all others – in the US. He called it, simply, the Poor People’s Campaign

At the time of his murder King was campaigning in support of a strike of sanitation workers in Memphis. The strikers were all black and the bosses and the brutal police and national guard on the side of the bosses, were white; but the issue was not, primarily, black vs white, but class against class.

Even some of Dr. King’s own staff were reluctant to work on the Memphis strike, believing it to be a diversion from the civil rights campaign.

As Michael K. Honey notes here: “Most people know King died in Memphis, but many now want to know why. What was going on in this city anyhow? Most people don’t know King died fighting for the right of workers to organize unions, in one of the most dramatic and significant battles of the 1960’s

“King was far more than a dreamer. He said a union is the best anti-poverty program available to poor people with jobs, and he supported unions all his life. He knew most of the major union leaders in the country and recognized that unions had paved the way for the civil rights movement. He always had a black working class constituency, from maids in Montgomery to teenagers without work in Birmingham to sanitation workers exploited in Memphis. Time and again, King gave voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless…

“Five weeks into the strike, on March 18 1968, King delivered an impromptu speech at Mason Temple of the Church of God in Christ. More than 10,000 crammed the auditorium, many overflowing into hallways and stairways, creating the largest indoor mass rally of the civil rights-era South:  ‘All labor has dignity,’ King preached. ‘You are reminding, not only Memphis, but you are reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and recieve starvation wages. And I need not remind you that this is our plight as a people all over America.'”

Seventeen days later Dr. King was dead, slain by an assassin’s bullet. Prophetically, King had spoken of his own mortality:

“Like anybody, I woud like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up a mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve s-e-e-e-n the promised land. I may not get up there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

This is also worth reading (despite its provenance); and this is worth listening to.

Also, look at, and listen to, this (yes, I know you’ve heard it a hundred times before – including from charlatans – but it still has the power to move you to tears):

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Tariq Ali on Democracy Now: 28th of December

December 29, 2007 at 12:38 pm (assassination, democracy, Pakistan, TWP)

I just finished watching the nearly hour-long special put out yesterday by Democracy Now which featured Tariq Ali. I have posted excerpts the parts with Tariq below. I would encourage people to watch it if they have the time at the following link:

http://www.democracynow.org/2007/12/28/pakistan_in_turmoil_after_benazir_bhuttos

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go now to Britain to Tariq Ali, the British Pakistani historian, activist, commentator, one of the editors of the New Left Review, author of more than a dozen books, was recently back in Pakistan, where he was born. Tariq, talk about your response on Thursday when you heard the news, and talk about why Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan.

TARIQ ALI: Well, Amy, my first reaction was anger. I was livid that Bush and his acolytes in Britain had fixed this deal, pushing her to do a deal with Musharraf, forcing her to play a role, which, of course, she agreed to do—it has to be admitted—in Pakistan, which she was not capable of playing. She made some extremely injudicious remarks, saying that she would go back, she was the only person who could deal with terrorism, etc., etc. The fact was that this was not the case.

And, you know, to—I wrote at the time that it is a big, big problem when you try and arrange a political marriage between two parties who loathe each other. And so, Musharraf very rapidly, after her return, embarrassed her by instituting a state of emergency. And she then didn’t know whether to defend the state of emergency; finally, she attacked it. So the whole situation was a complete mess.

And now, everyone in Pakistan knows that an election organized in this fashion, under the leadership of a guy who’s become a master at rigging elections, is not going to achieve anything. So Benazir was advised by close advisers, including one of the central leaders of her party, Aitzaz Ahsan, who is still in prison, by the way, saying we must not participate in this election, it’s totally fake and rigged, it should be boycotted. She refused to accept that, because Washington insisted that she participate in this election, and she was torn in her loyalties. And finally, she, a woman of great physical courage, lacked the political courage to defy Washington. And I have to say this, it’s cost her her life. Had she decided to boycott the election, this would not have happened.

And for Washington to send her to Pakistan, reassuring her that she would be safe, is shocking. At the very least, if they were insistent on doing this, they could have provided her with a Marine guard like Karzai gets in Kabul. But, you know, they depended on the locals to guard her, and they obviously couldn’t do it. So she’s now dead. And it’s a tragedy. It’s a personal tragedy for her and her family. And it sort of has begun, embarked on a new crisis for Pakistan, which is going to get worse.

I mean, I think Musharraf’s days are numbered. I don’t think he will be, even if he has this fake election in a week or ten days’ time, which Bush is forcing him to do—I mean, I cannot understand, for the life of me, how the President of the United States can be so isolated and remote from reality as to insist that an election goes ahead when one of the central political leaders in the country, backed by Washington, has just been assassinated. I mean, what the hell are they going to achieve from this election? Nothing. It will not give legitimacy to anyone. It will create possibly, very rapidly afterwards, a new crisis, and then they will have to have a new military leader stepping in.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani historian, activist, commentator; also Manan Ahmed, historian of modern Pakistan and South Asian Islam. This is Democracy Now! We’re talking about Benazir Bhutto and Pakistan for the hour. Stay with us.
[break]

AMY GOODMAN: For our radio listeners, you can go to our website to see the video images that we show throughout the broadcast today on Pakistan. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez. Our guests are Manan Ahmed, historian of modern Pakistan and South Asian Islam, as well as Tariq Ali, British Pakistani historian, activist and commentator, one of the editors of the New Left Review. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, I’d like to ask Tariq Ali, I was struck by your counter-posing the physical courage of Benazir Bhutto with some of the lack of political courage. And this is something that you’ve remarked in many of your articles in the past, including interviews you had with her. I remember one article where you talked about a 1988 interview, I think it was, that you had with her when she was prime minister and how she was hemmed in by the political forces in Pakistan, but would not publicly tell her supporters what was going on. Could you talk about that in this sort of—this trend throughout her leadership of this lack of political courage.

TARIQ ALI: Well, Juan, this is absolutely right, and it’s been her tragedy and the country’s tragedy. When she came to power, elected for the first time, it is absolutely true she was hemmed in by the military on one side and an old rogue of a bureaucrat who had been made president on the other.

And she told me very openly, “I can’t do anything.” And I said to her at the time in Prime Minister’s house in Islamabad, “I understand that, but there are two things you have to do. One, you have to make it very clear to the people publicly that this is the reason I can’t deliver my promises on land reform, on health, on education. They won’t let me do anything. This is why I can’t make any readjustments in foreign policy. They have imposed their own foreign minister, Yacoub, on me, who insists we carry on as before,” etc. etc. She didn’t do that.

And I think by this time she had become a very different person politically from what she had been earlier and had decided that she didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history, so to speak. She more or less said that to me. And she realized or she thought that the only way to survive in this world was basically to do the bidding of the army at home and Washington abroad, two institutions which had led to the—which had basically bumped off her dad in 1979 and which were not going to do her any favors.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq, explain that, how her father died and who was involved in his assassination, in his execution.

TARIQ ALI: Her father was probably the most popular politician in Pakistan, pledging massive social reforms. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had been elected in the 1970 elections, had won a large majority in the country that we now know as Pakistan and had been elected on a very radical platform. He came to power.

He implemented some of his reforms, not all, became extremely autocratic, clashed with the United States on a number of issues, including Pakistan’s right to have nuclear weapons. Henry Kissinger warned him in private that if you do not desist on the nuclear issue, we will make a terrible example out of you. That’s what Bhutto wrote from his death cell. The United States organized a military coup d’etat. General Zia-ul-Haq took power in 1977, organized a trial against Bhutto, charging him with an absurd charge of murdering someone. The judges were pressured, and they found him guilty, and Bhutto was hanged in April 1979. It could not have happened without US support and approval, because Zia was a nobody, and Washington clearly green-lighted the murder.

And Bhutto, from his death cell, wrote a very moving document called “If I Am Assassinated,” in which he said there are two hegemonies—these are his words. He said, “There are two hegemonies that dominate our country. One is an internal hegemony, and the other is an external hegemony. And unless we challenge the external hegemony, we will never be able to deal with the internal one,” meaning Washington is the external hegemony and the army is the internal one. And this is a problem which still haunts Pakistan and which, I have to say, has now created this new crisis.

And unfortunately, his daughter decided to collaborate with both of these hegemonies. One has to say this. Her second period in office was a total disaster, because not only did she do nothing for the poor or her natural constituency, but basically it became an extremely corrupt government, and she and her husband accumulated $1.5 billion through corruption. This is well known to everyone.

Now, when the United States decided they wanted to put her back in there, they told her, we are going to whitewash you so clean no one will even know. And this is what the global media and networks have been doing. Look, I knew her well. I’m very upset that she’s dead. But the piety being displayed on the global media networks is beyond belief. You know, it’s as if there’s no past, no history in this country or its politicians.

…………………………………….

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk for a minute about Benazir Bhutto returning. The Washington Post reports the United States brokered Bhutto’s return to Pakistan in October in a deal where she could be prime minister, Musharraf could retain the presidency. In August of this year, Benazir Bhutto discussed her negotiations with General Musharraf.

    BENAZIR BHUTTO: As far as my understanding with General Musharraf is concerned, the ban on the twice-elected prime minister must go before the election period kicks in. And if that ban does not go, then obviously the agreement is not there.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Benazir Bhutto in August. Tariq Ali, you begin an extended piece that you wrote over this twenty-four hours by talking about who in Washington, people like John Negroponte, who were instrumental in her return.

TARIQ ALI: Well, yeah. I mean, John Negroponte was the ghoulish go-between fixing up—trying to fix up the marriage between Benazir and Musharraf, backed, as always, by the ever-loyal acolytes in the British Foreign Office, who were also pushing this deal without any real understanding, in my opinion, of what was going on in the country or what the country needed.

And essentially, Amy, if one has to ask the question, what was the desperation? The notion that the Jihadis in Pakistan are on the verge of achieving power is total nonsense. There is no danger, in my opinion, of any Jihadis coming close to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. The army is half-a-million strong, one of the toughest armies in the world. It will not permit anyone to get close to the nuclear facility, the Jihadis or the United States, if they tried. So that is not on.

The real crisis is a crisis in Afghanistan, which they don’t like talking about, an occupation which is going badly wrong, seeing the revival of the Taliban. The United States knows this fully well and is negotiating with the Taliban behind the scenes. They don’t even bother denying it.

So this is what is going on, and they needed a politician in Pakistan who could act on their behalf, like Karzai does in Kabul. And they picked Benazir, because they didn’t trust the Sharif brothers. They thought they were too close to the Saudis, which is true, by the way. So they picked on Benazir to do the deal, because they thought Musharraf on his own was too closely attached to extremely retrograde elements and that Benazir would be able to swing it. But, you know, nothing in Pakistan can be swung without the army.

So they were the key players, and they, ’til now, have been backing Musharraf. And they backed Musharraf’s decision to impose an emergency, which completely pulled the rug underneath Benazir’s feet. And it’s at this point that the United States should have realized that an election in these conditions is completely foolish. It was not going to deliver anything. It was going to be rigged. There was no secret about it. Benazir herself said this: “I fear this is going to be a rigged election.” Well, if that is the case, why participate in it?

AMY GOODMAN: Our top story yesterday, before we learned of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, was Pakistan, and it was the news that had come out about questions being raised over how Pakistan had spent $5 billion in US aid sent since the September 11th attacks. According to the New York Times, the money was supposed to have been spent to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but now US officials are admitting that the funds were diverted to help finance weapons designed to counter India, another US ally. Tariq Ali?

TARIQ ALI: Well, this is totally true, and why are they surprised? It’s been happening for years. You know, I remember during the war in Afghanistan when the Russians were there in the ’80s. The United States, you know, sent billions into Pakistan in both money and weapons, including very advanced weapons, to help the Pakistan army and the Jihadi groups fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. And the same thing was happening: weapons were being sold on the open market, weapons money was being diverted. And when the Pentagon sent in its auditors to check what was happening to the money, one of the largest arms dumps, where a lot of American equipment was stored, suddenly blew up the day before the team delegation arrived from the United States in Ojri. I happened to be in the country then, and the blast was heard all over the city. So that is what they do. So no one should be surprised that this is what is being done.

I mean, essentially, the Pakistani—or sections inside the Pakistani military have never got used to the idea that they are no longer strong in Afghanistan, that they no longer control Kabul, and they believe that after NATO leaves, they’ll take it back. And for the United States, the choice is either to use the Pakistan army as a cop to control Afghanistan or to fix a regional deal so that Afghanistan’s stability is guaranteed by Russia, Iran, India and Pakistan. That is the way to go, not deal unilaterally with the Pakistani military. But no one is listening in Washington, because they’re completely visionless at the moment. So the fact that these billions have been spent to provide security to fight one particular enemy and now being used to shore up the country against another supposed enemy shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. That’s how things happen there.

……………………………………………………………

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of thousands of people have come out to mourn the death of Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister. She was assassinated yesterday. Our guests are Tariq Ali, British Pakistani historian, activist, commentator, knew Benazir Bhutto; Manan Ahmed, historian of modern Pakistan and South Asian Islam.

Another part of our headlines yesterday, before the assassination, a top headline, the Washington Post reporting that US Special Forces expecting to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan in early 2008. The US troops reportedly taking part in an effort to train and support Pakistani counterinsurgency forces and clandestine counterterrorism units. Tariq Ali, talk about the significance of this.

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think, you know, the significance of this is that the United States refuses to understand that there is a big political problem which cannot be dealt with militarily. And that political problem can be summed up as follows, that the people of Afghanistan—like it or dislike it—do not like being occupied by foreign powers. They didn’t like being occupied by the Russians, and they don’t like being occupied by the United States and the NATO armies in their country. And as long as this foreign occupation lasts, there will be, you know, forms of resistance against it.

Now, this crisis and instability in Afghanistan is seeping across the border into northwestern Pakistan. Pakistan is, you know, sending troops to fight some of the people who come over the border, some who belong to Pakistan, who are fighting against NATO. They order their soldiers to kill, and Pakistani soldiers are refusing to open fire. That is essentially what’s going on.

And the reason they’re refusing to open fire is because for the last twenty-five years this ideology implanted in their heads when they’re being trained to be soldiers in the Pakistan army is that your enemy is the Hindu. Your enemy is India. Your enemy is the traditional enemy of Pakistan and of Muslims, and these are the people you’ll be fighting. This is what they’ve been led to believe.

Now they are being told that your enemies are other Muslims from a neighboring Muslim country, and so there’s a massive crisis, a big psychological crisis, for lots of soldiers who are not fighting. In fact, you often read in the Pakistani press reports—twenty soldiers surrender, fifty soldiers surrender. And they are surrendering to groups of four or five armed Taliban or, you know, non-Taliban fighters from Afghanistan. This is impossible to understand, except in political terms.

So training more specialized troops isn’t going to do the trick, if there’s this basic problem, which is, as Juan was asking earlier, when you have some of these opinion polls, the reason people say that if there’s a choice between Bush and bin Laden, they’ll back bin Laden, or between—it’s not because they’re extremists in that sense, but they don’t like the fact that Pakistan is totally on its knees as a state before Washington and the United States. It doesn’t argue with them. It doesn’t resist them on any level at all. So the fact that it’s independent is neither here nor there. So sending in more US troops is actually going to make things much, much worse for pro-US politicians in that country. And they should be prepared for that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Tariq, I’d like to ask you, in an article in November, an extensive article on Pakistan, you delved in much detail into the death of one of Benazir Bhutto’s brothers, Murtaza Bhutto, who—there’s been much made of the history of violence in the family, of violent deaths of her father and both of her brothers. But you go in particular detail into the differences that had developed over the years between Benazir and her brother. Could you talk about that?

TARIQ ALI: Well, this was a big tragedy for this family. But, yeah, I mean, essentially what happened is that when Murtaza Bhutto returned to the country, their mother, Nusrat Bhutto, was chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party. Benazir was the prime minister of Pakistan. And the mother wanted Murtaza, as a member of the family and of the party, to be made chief minister of the province of Sindh. At this point, Benazir’s husband, Asif Zardari, said that this was intolerable, because he and Murtaza weren’t exactly close. And Benazir then sacked her mother as chairperson of the party and became chairperson for life of the party herself. Her brother was being provoked by the local bureaucracy in Sindh.

And finally, one day, returning to his home, his father’s home, from where his father had been picked up by General Zia’s commandos, he found a police ambush. The police were hoping that he would open fire, but he didn’t. He came out, out of his car with his bodyguards to surrender, and they shot him dead on the street, while his sister was prime minister.

Now, you know, there was a judicial inquiry into this, where the Murtaza Bhutto’s family lawyers accused Benazir’s husband of being responsible for having organized all this. The judicial inquiry, appointed by Benazir, said what while they couldn’t exactly pin the—you know, point the finger at any one person, there was absolutely no doubt that the murder of Murtaza Bhutto had been organized and ordered from the highest level. Well, you know, they didn’t have to say much more.

And Murtaza’s daughter, Fatima, in an op-ed piece for the LA Times a few—four or five weeks ago, actually accused Benazir’s husband of having carried out her father’s murder eleven years ago. Just before the media, independent media, was taken off the air by Musharraf, one of the largest networks, Geo, was interviewing Benazir and asked her, said, “How was it that when you were prime minister, your brother lay bleeding to death outside his house? Were you—you know, what did you know about that?” She walked out of the studio.

So this is a very awkward question, but I have studied all the documentation now, and I have little doubt that the murder was ordered at the highest levels. Whether she knew it was going to happen is an open question. She is the only one who knew, and she is now dead. But there is absolutely no doubt that unless an instruction from someone at Prime Minister’s house, the police force in Karachi would not have killed the prime minister’s brother. Things do not happen that way.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Tariq Ali, about this quote of Senator Barack Obama’s top campaign strategist, David Axelrod, who responded to the assassination by highlighting Hillary Clinton’s vote to support the US invasion of Iraq. He said, quote, “Barack Obama had the judgment to oppose the war in Iraq, and he warned at the time that it would divert us from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, and now we see the effect of that. Senator Clinton made a different judgment. Let’s have that discussion,” he said.

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, you know, I think both of them were wrong, quite honestly. I think obviously Hillary Clinton was foolish, if not crazy, to support the war in Iraq. She couldn’t see beyond her nose. And it’s good that Obama opposed it. But for Obama and, I may say, many others who say that the only reason they can’t do anything in Afghanistan is because they are bogged down in Iraq is nonsense. I mean, they took Afghanistan without a fight. There was no—in the early years, there was no resistance at all. And the reason for that is that the Taliban didn’t fight. The Pakistani army told them, “Don’t fight back now. We don’t want to have any more people killed. Let them take over the country.”

AMY GOODMAN: But the point of Axelrod’s comment, the top strategist for Barack Obama, was responding to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, saying that here you have the war in Iraq, it diverted us from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda, and now we see the effect of this, responding to Benazir Bhutto. And this has caused a bit of an uproar here saying—as he’s saying that Hillary Clinton is, you know, partially responsible by supporting the war and then seeing the surge of al-Qaeda in other places.

TARIQ ALI: Well, Amy, I mean, all I can say to that is, you know, politicians will say anything in the run-up to the primaries. But let’s assume they hadn’t invaded Iraq, OK? And let’s assume that they had sent twice as many soldiers into Afghanistan. I mean, the Russians, after all, did that. The notion that this would have somehow transformed the situation in Afghanistan is a joke. We don’t even know to this day whether al-Qaeda was behind Benazir Bhutto’s killing. I’m amazed to see newspaper headlines in quite a lot of Western newspapers. There is no evidence for it. For her to be killed not far from military headquarters, Pakistan’s military capital, in the heart of the city, I personally find it very difficult to believe that any group of religious extremists could have carried this out without some support from some agency within the establishment. I can’t believe it. So they assume that al-Qaeda carried this out.

But to return to Obama, if you’d had, you know, three times as more US troops in Afghanistan, casualties would have been higher. People would have—more people would have been fighting it. The real problem in Afghanistan is that they occupied it without having any understanding whatsoever what they were going to do. They put Karzai in, and they couldn’t do anything to transform the lives of ordinary people in that country. You have large-scale corruption with Karzai and his cronies getting rich, with Karzai’s brother actually in charge of the heroin trade and arms smuggling. That’s the problem, that the people they put in had—were feathering their own nests. So I think Obama is out of line on this. I mean, there is no guarantee that if he had sent twice or three times as many troops, that the situation would have been any better. It could have been worse.

…………………………………………………….

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali, finally—we have fifteen seconds—what you see as the future of Pakistan right now?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I think that General Musharraf’s days are numbered. He has blown it. He was entrusted by Washington with pushing through this deal with Benazir. He wasn’t able to do it. She was murdered on his watch. So I think sooner rather than later they’ll be looking for someone else to remain—to replace him. And Pakistan’s dark night will continue. We will enter into a new cycle of military rulers and corrupt politicians.

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Daughter of the West

December 27, 2007 at 9:03 pm (assassination, Pakistan, TWP)

This was published in the December 13th edition of the London Review of Books. It’s a good background piece from a left-wing perspective from Tariq Ali on Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated today:

Daughter of the West

Tariq Ali

Arranged marriages can be a messy business. Designed principally as a means of accumulating wealth, circumventing undesirable flirtations or transcending clandestine love affairs, they often don’t work. Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent, desensitised by the thought of short-term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well that it will end in misery and possibly violence. That this is equally true in political life became clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Pervez Musharraf.

The single, strong parent in this case was a desperate State Department – with John Negroponte as the ghoulish go-between and Gordon Brown as the blushing bridesmaid – fearful that if it did not push this through both parties might soon be too old for recycling. The bride was certainly in a hurry, the groom less so. Brokers from both sides engaged in lengthy negotiations on the size of the dowry. Her broker was and remains Rehman Malik, a former boss of Pakistan’s FIA, who has been investigated for corruption by the National Accountability Bureau and who served nearly a year in prison after Benazir’s fall, then became one of her business partners and is currently under investigation (with her) by a Spanish court looking into a company called Petroline FZC, which made questionable payments to Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Documents, if genuine, show that she chaired the company. She may have been in a hurry but she did not wish to be seen taking the arm of a uniformed president. He was not prepared to forgive her past. The couple’s distaste for each other yielded to a mutual dependence on the United States. Neither party could say ‘no’, though Musharraf hoped the union could be effected inconspicuously. Fat chance.

Both parties made concessions. She agreed that he could take off his uniform after his ‘re-election’ by Parliament, but it had to be before the next general election. (He has now done this, leaving himself dependent on the goodwill of his successor as army chief of staff.) He pushed through a legal ruling – yet another sordid first in the country’s history – known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance, which withdrew all cases of corruption pending against politicians accused of looting the national treasury. The ruling was crucial for her since she hoped that the money-laundering and corruption cases pending in three European courts – in Valencia, Geneva and London – would now be dismissed. This doesn’t seem to have happened.

Many Pakistanis – not just the mutinous and mischievous types who have to be locked up at regular intervals – were repelled, and coverage of ‘the deal’ in the Pakistan media was universally hostile, except on state television. The ‘breakthrough’ was loudly trumpeted in the West, however, and a whitewashed Benazir Bhutto was presented on US networks and BBC TV news as the champion of Pakistani democracy – reporters loyally referred to her as ‘the former prime minister’ rather than the fugitive politician facing corruption charges in several countries.

She had returned the favour in advance by expressing sympathy for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lunching with the Israeli ambassador to the UN (a litmus test) and pledging to ‘wipe out terrorism’ in her own country. In 1979 a previous military dictator had bumped off her father with Washington’s approval, and perhaps she thought it would be safer to seek permanent shelter underneath the imperial umbrella. HarperCollins had paid her half a million dollars to write a new book. The working title she chose was ‘Reconciliation’.

As for the general, he had begun his period in office in 1999 by bowing to the spirit of the age and titling himself ‘chief executive’ rather than ‘chief martial law administrator’, which had been the norm. Like his predecessors, he promised he would stay in power only for a limited period, pledging in 2003 to resign as army chief of staff in 2004. Like his predecessors, he ignored his pledge. Martial law always begins with the promise of a new order that will sweep away the filth and corruption that marked the old one: in this case it toppled the civilian administrations of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. But ‘new orders’ are not forward movements, more military detours that further weaken the shaky foundations of a country and its institutions. Within a decade the uniformed ruler will be overtaken by a new upheaval.

Dreaming of her glory days in the last century, Benazir wanted a large reception on her return. The general was unhappy. The intelligence agencies (as well as her own security advisers) warned her of the dangers. She had declared war on the terrorists and they had threatened to kill her. But she was adamant. She wanted to demonstrate her popularity to the world and to her political rivals, including those inside her own fiefdom, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). For a whole month before she boarded the Dubai-Karachi flight, the PPP were busy recruiting volunteers from all over the country to welcome her. Up to 200,000 people lined the streets, but it was a far cry from the million who turned up in Lahore in 1986 when a very different Benazir returned to challenge General Zia ul-Haq. The plan had been to move slowly in the Bhuttomobile from Karachi airport to the tomb of the country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, where she would make a speech. It was not to be. As darkness fell, the bombers struck. Who they were and who sent them remains a mystery. She was unhurt, but 130 people died, including some of the policemen guarding her. The wedding reception had led to mayhem.

The general, while promising to collaborate with Benazir, was coolly making arrangements to prolong his own stay at President’s House. Even before her arrival he had considered taking drastic action to dodge the obstacles that stood in his way, but his generals (and the US Embassy) seemed unconvinced. The bombing of Benazir’s cavalcade reopened the debate. Pakistan, if not exactly the erupting volcano portrayed in the Western media, was being shaken by all sorts of explosions. The legal profession, up in arms at Musharraf’s recent dismissal of the chief justice, had won a temporary victory, resulting in a fiercely independent Supreme Court. The independent TV networks continued to broadcast reports that challenged official propaganda. Investigative journalism is never popular with governments and the general often contrasted the deference with which he was treated by the US networks and BBC television with the ‘unruly’ questioning inflicted on him by local journalists: it ‘misled the people’. He had become obsessed with the media coverage of the lawyers’ revolt. A decline in his popularity increased the paranoia. His advisers were people he had promoted. Generals who had expressed divergent opinions in ‘frank and informal get-togethers’ had been retired. His political allies were worried that their opportunities to enrich themselves even further would be curtailed if they had to share power with Benazir.

What if the Supreme Court were now to declare his re-election by a dying and unrepresentative assembly illegal? To ward off disaster, the ISI had been preparing blackmail flicks: agents secretly filmed some of the Supreme Court judges in flagrante. But so unpopular had Musharraf become that even the sight of judicial venerables in bed might not have done the trick. It might even have increased their support. (In 1968, when a right-wing, pro-military rag in Lahore published an attack on me, it revealed that I ‘had attended sex orgies in a French country house organised by [my] friend, the Jew Cohn-Bendit. All the fifty women in the swimming-pool were Jewish.’ Alas, this was totally false, but my parents were amazed at the number of people who congratulated them on my virility.) Musharraf decided that blackmail wasn’t worth the risk. Only firm action could ‘restore order’ – i.e. save his skin. The usual treatment in these cases is a declaration of martial law. But what if the country is already being governed by the army chief of staff? The solution is simple. Treble the dose. Organise a coup within a coup. That is what Musharraf decided to do. Washington was informed a few weeks in advance, Downing Street somewhat later. Benazir’s patrons in the West told her what was about to happen and she, foolishly for a political leader who has just returned to her country, evacuated to Dubai.

On 3 November Musharraf, as chief of the army, suspended the 1973 constitution and imposed a state of emergency: all non-government TV channels were taken off the air, the mobile phone networks were jammed, paramilitary units surrounded the Supreme Court. The chief justice convened an emergency bench of judges, who – heroically – declared the new dispensation ‘illegal and unconstitutional’. They were unceremoniously removed and put under house arrest. Pakistan’s judges have usually been acquiescent. Those who in the past resisted military leaders were soon bullied out of it, so the decision of this chief justice took the country by surprise and won him great admiration. Global media coverage of Pakistan suggests a country of generals, corrupt politicians and bearded lunatics: the struggle to reinstate the chief justice had presented a different picture.

Aitzaz Ahsan, a prominent member of the PPP, minister of the interior in Benazir’s first government and currently president of the Bar Association, was arrested and placed in solitary confinement. Several thousand political and civil rights activists were picked up. Imran Khan, a fierce and incorruptible opponent of the regime, was arrested, charged with ‘state terrorism’ – for which the penalty is death or life imprisonment – and taken in handcuffs to a remote high-security prison. Musharraf, Khan argued, had begun yet another shabby chapter in Pakistan’s history.

Lawyers were arrested all over the country; many were physically attacked by policemen. Humiliate them was the order, and the police obliged. A lawyer, ‘Omar’, circulated an account of what happened:

While I was standing talking to my colleagues, we saw the police go wild on the orders of a superior officer. In riot gear . . . brandishing weapons and sticks, about a hundred policemen attacked us . . . and seemed intensely happy at doing so. We all ran.

Some of us who were not as nimble on their feet as others were caught by the police and beaten mercilessly. We were then locked in police vans used to transport convicted prisoners. Everyone was stunned at this show of brute force but it did not end. The police went on mayhem inside the court premises and court buildings . . . Those of us who were arrested were taken to various police stations and put in lockups. At midnight, we were told that we were being shifted to jail. We could not get bail as our fundamental rights were suspended. Sixty lawyers were put into a police van ten feet by four feet wide and five feet in height. We were squashed like sardines. When the van reached the jail, we were told that we could not get [out] until orders of our detention were received by the jail authorities. Our older colleagues started to suffocate, some fainted, others started to panic because of claustrophobia. The police ignored our screams and refused to open the van doors. Finally, after three hours . . . we were let out and taken to mosquito-infected barracks where the food given to us smelled like sewage water.

Geo, the largest TV network, had long since located its broadcasting facilities in Dubai. It was a strange sensation watching the network in London when the screens were blank in Pakistan. On the very first day of the emergency I saw Hamid Mir, a journalist loathed by the general, reporting from Islamabad and asserting that the US Embassy had given the green light to the coup because it regarded the chief justice as a nuisance and wrongly believed him to be ‘a Taliban sympathiser’. Certainly no US spokesperson or State Department adjunct in the Foreign Office criticised the dismissal of the eight Supreme Court judges or their arrest: that was the quid pro quo for Washington’s insistence that Musharraf take off his uniform. If he was going to turn civilian he wanted all the other rules twisted in his favour. A newly appointed stooge Supreme Court would soon help him with the rule-bending. As would the authorities in Dubai, who suspended Geo’s facilities.

In the evening of that first day, and after several delays, a flustered General Musharraf, his hair badly dyed, appeared on TV, trying to look like the sort of leader who wants it understood that the political crisis is to be discussed with gravity and sangfroid. Instead, he came across as a dumbed down dictator fearful for his own political future. His performance as he broadcast to the nation, first in Urdu and then in English, was incoherent. The gist was simple: he had to act because the Supreme Court had ‘so demoralised our state agencies that we can’t fight the “war on terror”’ and the TV networks had become ‘totally irresponsible’. ‘I have imposed emergency,’ he said halfway through his diatribe, adding, with a contemptuous gesture: ‘You must have seen it on TV.’ Was he being sarcastic, given that most channels had been shut down? Who knows? Mohammed Hanif, the sharp-witted head of the BBC’s Urdu Service, which monitored the broadcast, confessed himself flummoxed when he wrote up what he heard. He had no doubt that the Urdu version of the speech was the general’s own work. Hanif’s deconstruction – he quoted the general in Urdu and in English – deserved a broadcast all of its own:

Here are some random things he said. And trust me, these things were said quite randomly. Yes, he did say: ‘Extremism bahut extreme ho gaya hai [extremism has become too extreme] . . . Nobody is scared of us anymore . . . Islamabad is full of extremists . . . There is a government within government . . . Officials are being asked to the courts . . . Officials are being insulted by the judiciary.’

At one point he appeared wistful when reminiscing about his first three years in power: ‘I had total control.’ You were almost tempted to ask: ‘What happened then, uncle?’ But obviously, uncle didn’t need any prompting. He launched into his routine about three stages of democracy. He claimed he was about to launch the third and final phase of democracy (the way he said it, he managed to make it sound like the Final Solution). And just when you thought he was about to make his point, he took an abrupt turn and plunged into a deep pool of self-pity. This involved a long-winded anecdote about how the Supreme Court judges would rather attend a colleague’s daughter’s wedding than just get it over with and decide that he is a constitutional president . . . I have heard some dictators’ speeches in my life, but nobody has gone so far as to mention someone’s daughter’s wedding as a reason for imposing martial law on the country.

When for the last few minutes of his speech he addressed his audience in the West in English, I suddenly felt a deep sense of humiliation. This part of his speech was scripted. Sentences began and ended. I felt humiliated that my president not only thinks that we are not evolved enough for things like democracy and human rights, but that we can’t even handle proper syntax and grammar.

The English-language version put the emphasis on the ‘war on terror’: Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln, he said, would have done what he did to preserve the ‘integrity of their country’ – the mention of Lincoln was obviously intended for the US market. In Pakistan’s military academies the usual soldier-heroes are Napoleon, De Gaulle and Atatürk.

What did Benazir, now outmanoeuvred, make of the speech as she watched it on TV in her Dubai sanctuary? Her first response was to say she was shocked, which was slightly disingenuous. Even if she had not been told in advance that an emergency would be declared, it was hardly a secret – for one thing, Condoleezza Rice had made a token public appeal to Musharraf not to take this course. Yet for more than 24 hours she was unable to give a clear response. At one point she even criticised the chief justice for being too provocative.

Agitated phone calls from Pakistan persuaded her to return to Karachi. To put her in her place, the authorities kept her plane waiting on the tarmac. When she finally reached the VIP lounge, her PPP colleagues told her that unless she denounced the emergency there would be a split in the party. Outsmarted and abandoned by Musharraf, she couldn’t take the risk of losing key figures in her party. She denounced the emergency and its perpetrator, established contact with the beleaguered opposition, and, as if putting on a new lipstick, declared that she would lead the struggle to get rid of the dictator. She now tried to call on the chief justice to express her sympathy but wasn’t allowed near his residence.

She could have followed the example of her imprisoned colleague Aitzaz Ahsan, but she was envious of him: he had become far too popular in Pakistan. He’d even had the nerve to go to Washington, where he was politely received by society and inspected as a possible substitute should things go badly wrong. Not a single message had flowed from her Blackberry to congratulate him on his victories in the struggle to reinstate the chief justice. Ahsan had advised her against any deal with Musharraf. When generals are against the wall, he is reported to have told her, they resort to desperate and irrational measures. Others who offered similar advice in gentler language were also batted away. She was the PPP’s ‘chairperson-for-life’ and brooked no dissent. The fact that Ahsan was proved right irritated her even more. Any notion of political morality had long ago been dumped. The very idea of a party with a consistent set of beliefs was regarded as ridiculous and outdated. Ahsan was now safe in prison, far from the madding hordes of Western journalists whom she received in style during the few days she spent under house arrest and afterwards. She made a few polite noises about his imprisonment, but nothing more.

The go-between from Washington arrived at very short notice. Negroponte spent some time with Musharraf and spoke to Benazir, still insisting that they make up and go through with the deal. She immediately toned down her criticisms, but the general was scathing and said in public that there was no way she could win the elections scheduled for January. No doubt the ISI are going to rig them in style. Had she remained loyal to him she might have lost public support, but he would have made sure she had a substantial presence in the new parliament. Now everything is up for grabs again. The opinion polls show that her old rival, Nawaz Sharif, is well ahead of her. Musharraf’s hasty pilgrimage to Mecca was probably an attempt to secure Saudi mediation in case he has to cut a deal with the Sharif brothers – who have been living in exile in Saudi Arabia – and sideline her completely. Both sides deny that a deal was done, but Sharif returned to Pakistan with Saudi blessings and an armour-plated Cadillac as a special gift from the king. Little doubt that Riyadh would rather him than Benazir.

With the country still under a state of emergency and the largest media network refusing to sign the oath of allegiance that would allow them back on air, the polls scheduled for January can only be a general’s election. It’s hardly a secret that the ISI and the civilian bureaucracy will decide who wins and where, and some of the opposition parties are, wisely, considering a boycott. Nawaz Sharif told the press that in the course of a long telephone call he had failed to persuade Benazir to join it and thereby render the process null and void from the start. But now that he is back in the country it’s unclear whether he will still go ahead with the boycott or try and negotiate a certain number of seats with the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, who had betrayed him by setting up a faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, the PML-Q, to support Musharraf. Perhaps a shared bout of amnesia will bring them together again.

What will Benazir do now? Washington’s leverage in Islamabad is limited, which is why they wanted her to be involved in the first place. ‘It’s always better,’ the US ambassador half-joked at a reception, ‘to have two phone numbers in a capital.’ That may be so, but they cannot guarantee her the prime ministership or even a fair election. In his death-cell, her father mulled over similar problems and came to slightly different conclusions. If I Am Assassinated, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s last will and testament, was written in semi-Gramsci mode, but the meaning wasn’t lost on his colleagues:

I entirely agree that the people of Pakistan will not tolerate foreign hegemony. On the basis of the self-same logic, the people of Pakistan would never agree to an internal hegemony. The two hegemonies complement each other. If our people meekly submit to internal hegemony, a priori, they will have to submit to external hegemony. This is so because the strength and power of external hegemony is far greater than that of internal hegemony. If the people are too terrified to resist the weaker force, it is not possible for them to resist the stronger force. The acceptance of or acquiescence in internal hegemony means submission to external hegemony.

After he was hanged in April 1979, the text acquired a semi-sacred status among his supporters. But, when in power, Bhutto père had failed to develop any counter-hegemonic strategy or institutions, other than the 1973 constitution drafted by the veteran civil rights lawyer Mahmud Ali Kasuri (whose son Khurshid was until recently the foreign minister). A personality-driven, autocratic style of governance had neutered the spirit of the party, encouraged careerists and finally paved the way for his enemies. He was the victim of a grave injustice; his death removed all the warts and transformed him into a martyr. More than half the country, mainly the poor, mourned his passing.

The tragedy led to the PPP being treated as a family heirloom, which was unhealthy for both party and country. It provided the Bhuttos with a vote-bank and large reserves. But the experience of her father’s trial and death radicalised and politicised his daughter. She would have preferred, she told me at the time, to be a diplomat. Her two brothers, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, were in London, having been forbidden to return home by their imprisoned father. The burden of trying to save her father’s life fell on Benazir and her mother, Nusrat, and the courage they exhibited won them the silent respect of a frightened majority. They refused to cave in to General Zia’s military dictatorship, which apart from anything else was invoking Islam to claw back rights won by women in previous decades. Benazir and Nusrat Bhutto were arrested and released several times. Their health began to suffer. Nusrat was allowed to leave the country to seek medical advice in 1982. Benazir was released a little more than a year later thanks, in part, to US pressure orchestrated by her old Harvard friend Peter Galbraith. She later described the period in her memoir, Daughter of the East (1988); it included photo-captions such as: ‘Shortly after President Reagan praised the regime for making “great strides towards democracy”, Zia’s henchmen gunned down peaceful demonstrators marking Pakistan Independence Day. The police were just as brutal to those protesting at the attack on my jeep in January 1987.’

Her tiny Barbican flat in London became the centre of opposition to the dictatorship, and it was here that we often discussed a campaign to take on the generals. Benazir had built up her position by steadfastly and peacefully resisting the military and replying to every slander with a cutting retort. Her brothers had been operating on a different level. They set up an armed group, al-Zulfiqar, whose declared aim was to harass and weaken the regime by targeting ‘traitors who had collaborated with Zia’. The principal volunteers were recruited inside Pakistan and in 1980 they were provided with a base in Afghanistan, where the pro-Moscow Communists had taken power three years before. It is a sad story with a fair share of factionalism, show-trials, petty rivalries, fantasies of every sort and death for the group’s less fortunate members.

In March 1981 Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto were placed on the FIA’s most wanted list. They had hijacked a Pakistan International airliner soon after it left Karachi (a power cut had paralysed the X-ray machines, enabling the hijackers to take their weapons on board); it was diverted to Kabul. Here Murtaza took over and demanded the release of political prisoners. A young military officer on board the flight was murdered. The plane refuelled and went on to Damascus, where the Syrian spymaster General Kholi took charge and ensured there were no more deaths. The fact that there were American passengers on the plane was a major consideration for the generals and, for that reason alone, the prisoners in Pakistan were released and flown to Tripoli.

This was seen as a victory and welcomed as such by the PPP in Pakistan. For the first time the group began to be taken seriously. A key target inside the country was Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain, the chief justice of the High Court in Lahore, who, in 1978, had sentenced Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to death, and whose behaviour in court had shocked even those who were hostile to the PPP. (Among other charges, he had accused Bhutto of ‘pretending to be a Muslim’ – his mother was a Hindu convert.) Mushtaq was in a friend’s car being driven to his home in Lahore’s Model Town area when al-Zulfiqar gunmen opened fire. The judge survived, but his friend and the driver died. The friend was one of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat: Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, a dodgy businessman who had ostentatiously asked General Zia to make him a present of the ‘sacred pen’ with which he had signed Bhutto’s death warrant. The pen became a family heirloom. Zahoor Elahi may not have been the target but al-Zulfiqar, embarrassed at missing the judge, claimed he was also on their list, which may have been true.

It is the next generation of Chaudhrys that currently provides Musharraf with civilian ballast: Zahoor Elahi’s son Shujaat organised the split with Nawaz Sharif and created the splinter PML-Q to ease the growing pains of the new regime. He still fixes deals and wanted an emergency imposed much earlier to circumvent the deal with Benazir. He will now mastermind the general’s election campaign. His cousin Pervez Elahi is chief minister of the Punjab; his son, in turn, is busy continuing the family tradition by evicting tenants and buying up all the available land on the edge of Lahore. It has not been divulged which member of the family guards the sacred pen.

The hijacking meanwhile had annoyed Moscow, and the regime in Afghanistan asked the Bhutto brothers to find another refuge. While in Kabul, they had married two Afghan sisters, Fauzia and Rehana Fasihudin, daughters of a senior official at the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Together with their wives they now left the country and after a sojourn in Syria and possibly Libya ended up in Europe. The reunion with their sister took place on the French Riviera in 1985, a setting better suited to the lifestyles of all three siblings.

The young men feared General Zia’s agents. Each had a young daughter. Shahnawaz lived in an apartment in Cannes. He had been in charge of the ‘military apparatus’ and life in Kabul had exacted a heavier toll on him. He was edgy and nervous. Relations with his wife were stormy and he told his sister that he was preparing to divorce her. ‘There’s never been a divorce in the family. Your marriage wasn’t even an arranged one . . . You chose to marry Rehana. You must live with it,’ was Benazir’s revealing reply, according to her memoir. And then Shahnawaz was found dead in his apartment. His wife claimed he had taken poison, but according to Benazir nobody in the family believed her story; there had been violence in the room and his papers had been searched. Rehana looked immaculate, which disturbed the family. She was imprisoned for three months under the ‘Good Samaritan’ law for not having gone to the assistance of a dying person. After her release she settled in the United States. ‘Had the CIA killed him as a friendly gesture towards their favourite dictator?’ Benazir speculated. She raised other questions too: had the sisters become ISI agents? The truth remains hidden. Not long afterwards Murtaza divorced Fauzia, but kept custody of their three-year-old daughter, Fatima, and moved to Damascus. Here he had plenty of time for reflection and told friends that too many mistakes had been made. In 1986 he met Ghinwa Itaoui, a young teacher who had fled Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 1982. She calmed him down and took charge of Fatima’s education. They were married in 1989 and a son, Zulfiqar, was born the following year.

Benazir returned to Pakistan in 1986 and was greeted by large crowds who came out to show their affection for her and to demonstrate their anger with the regime. She campaigned all over the country, but felt increasingly that for some of the more religious-minded a young unmarried woman was not acceptable as a leader. How could she visit Saudi Arabia without a husband? An offer of marriage from the Zardari family was accepted and she married Asif in 1987. She had worried that any husband would find it difficult to deal with the periods of separation her nomadic political life would entail, but Zardari was perfectly capable of occupying himself.

A year later General Zia’s plane blew up in midair. In the elections that followed the PPP won the largest number of seats. Benazir became prime minister, but was hemmed in by the army on one side and the president, the army’s favourite bureaucrat, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, on the other. She told me at the time that she felt powerless. They wouldn’t let her do anything. ‘Tell the people,’ was my advice. Tell them why you can’t deliver on your promises to provide free education, proper sanitation, clean water and health services to improve the high infant mortality rate. She didn’t tell them; in fact she did nothing at all apart from provide employment to some of her supporters. Being in power, it seemed, was satisfaction enough. She went on state visits: met and liked Mrs Thatcher and later, with her new husband in tow, was received politely by the Saudi king. In the meantime there were other plots afoot – the opposition was literally buying off some of her MPs – and in August 1990 her government was removed by presidential decree and Zia’s protégés, the Sharif brothers, were back in power.

By the time she was re-elected in 1993, she had abandoned all idea of reform, but that she was in a hurry to do something became clear when she appointed her husband minister for investment, making him responsible for all investment offers from home and abroad. It is widely alleged that the couple accumulated $1.5 billion. The high command of the Pakistan People’s Party now became a machine for making money, but without any trickle-down mechanism. This period marked the complete degeneration of the party. All that shame-faced party members could say, when I asked, was that ‘everybody does it all over the world,’ thus accepting that the cash nexus was now all that mattered. In foreign policy her legacy was mixed. She refused to sanction an anti-Indian military adventure in Kargil on the Himalayan slopes, but to make up for it, as I wrote in the LRB (15 April 1999), her government backed the Taliban takeover in Kabul – which makes it doubly ironic that Washington and London should be promoting her as a champion of democracy.

Murtaza Bhutto had contested the elections from abroad and won a seat in the Sind provincial legislature. He returned home and expressed his unhappiness with his sister’s agenda. Family gatherings became tense. Murtaza had his weaknesses, but he wasn’t corrupt and he argued in favour of the old party’s radical manifesto. He made no secret of the fact that he regarded Zardari as an interloper whose only interest was money. Nusrat Bhutto suggested that Murtaza be made the chief minister of Sind: Benazir’s response was to remove her mother as chairperson of the PPP. Any sympathy Murtaza may have felt for his sister turned to loathing. He no longer felt obliged to control his tongue and at every possible opportunity lambasted Zardari and the corrupt regime over which his sister presided. It was difficult to fault him on the facts. The incumbent chief minister of Sind was Abdullah Shah, one of Zardari’s creatures. He began to harass Murtaza’s supporters. Murtaza decided to confront the organ-grinder himself. He rang Zardari and invited him round for an informal chat sans bodyguards to try and settle the problems within the family. Zardari agreed. As the two men were pacing the garden, Murtaza’s retainers appeared and grabbed Zardari. Someone brought out a cut-throat razor and some warm water and Murtaza shaved off half of Zardari’s moustache to the delight of the retainers, then told him to get lost. A fuming Zardari, who had probably feared much worse, was compelled to shave off the other half at home. The media, bemused, were informed that the new clean-shaven consort had accepted intelligence advice that the moustache made him too recognisable a target. In which case why did he allow it to sprout again immediately afterwards?

Some months later, in September 1996, as Murtaza and his entourage were returning home from a political meeting, they were ambushed, just outside their house, by some seventy armed policemen accompanied by four senior officers. A number of snipers were positioned in surrounding trees. The street lights had been switched off. Murtaza clearly understood what was happening and got out of his car with his hands raised; his bodyguards were instructed not to open fire. The police opened fire instead and seven men were killed, Murtaza among them. The fatal bullet had been fired at close range. The trap had been carefully laid, but as is the way in Pakistan, the crudeness of the operation – false entries in police logbooks, lost evidence, witnesses arrested and intimidated, the provincial PPP governor (regarded as untrustworthy) dispatched to a non-event in Egypt, a policeman killed who they feared might talk – made it obvious that the decision to execute the prime minister’s brother had been taken at a very high level.

While the ambush was being prepared, the police had sealed off Murtaza’s house (from which his father had been lifted by Zia’s commandos in 1978). The family inside felt something was wrong. At this point, a remarkably composed Fatima Bhutto, aged 14, decided to ring her aunt at Prime Minister’s House. The conversation that followed remains imprinted on her memory and a few years ago she gave me an account of it. It was Zardari who took her call:

Fatima: I wish to speak to my aunt, please.

Zardari: It’s not possible.

Fatima: Why? [At this point, Fatima says she heard loud wails and what sounded like fake crying.]

Zardari: She’s hysterical, can’t you hear?

Fatima: Why?

Zardari: Don’t you know? Your father’s been shot.

Fatima and Ghinwa found out where Murtaza had been taken and rushed out of the house. There was no sign on the street outside that anything had happened: the scene of the killing had been wiped clean of all evidence. There were no traces of blood and no signs of any disturbance. They drove straight to the hospital but it was too late; Murtaza was already dead. Later they learned that he had been left bleeding on the ground for almost an hour before being taken to a hospital where there were no emergency facilities of any kind.

When Benazir arrived to attend her brother’s funeral in Larkana, angry crowds stoned her limo. She had to retreat. In another unusual display of emotion, local people encouraged Murtaza’s widow to attend the actual burial ceremony in defiance of Islamic tradition. According to Fatima, one of Benazir’s hangers-on instigated legal proceedings against Ghinwa in a religious court for breaching Islamic law. Nothing was sacred.

Anyone who witnessed Murtaza’s murder was arrested; one witness died in prison. When Fatima rang Benazir to ask why witnesses were being arrested and not the killers she was told: ‘Look, you’re very young. You don’t understand things.’ Perhaps it was for this reason that the kind aunt decided to encourage Fatima’s blood-mother, Fauzia, whom she had previously denounced as a murderer in the pay of General Zia, to come to Pakistan and claim custody of Fatima. No mystery as to who paid her fare from California. Fatima and Ghinwa Bhutto resisted and the attempt failed. Benazir then tried a softer approach and insisted that Fatima accompany her to New York, where she was going to address the UN Assembly. Ghinwa Bhutto approached friends in Damascus and had her two children flown out of the country. Fatima later discovered that Fauzia had been seen hobnobbing with Benazir in New York.

In November 1996 Benazir was once again removed from power, this time by her own president, Farooq Leghari, a PPP stalwart. He cited corruption, but what had also angered him was the ISI’s crude attempt at blackmail – the intelligence agencies had photographed Leghari’s daughter meeting a boyfriend and threatened to go public. The week Benazir fell, the chief minister of Sind, Abdullah Shah, hopped on a motorboat and fled Karachi for the Gulf and thence the US.

A judicial tribunal had been appointed by Benazir’s government to inquire into the circumstances leading to Murtaza’s death. Headed by a Supreme Court judge, it took detailed evidence from all parties. Murtaza’s lawyers accused Zardari, Abdullah Shah and two senior police officials of conspiracy to murder. Benazir (now out of power) accepted that there had been a conspiracy, but suggested that ‘the hidden hand responsible for this was President Farooq Ahmad Leghari’: the intention, she said, was to ‘kill a Bhutto to get rid of a Bhutto’. Nobody took this seriously. Given all that had happened, it was an incredible suggestion.

The tribunal said there was no legally acceptable evidence to link Zardari to the incident, but accepted that ‘this was a case of extra-judicial killings by the police’ and concluded that such an incident could not have taken place without approval from the highest quarters. Nothing happened. Eleven years later, Fatima Bhutto publicly accused Zardari; she also claimed that many of those involved that day appear to have been rewarded for their actions. In an interview on an independent TV station just before the emergency was imposed, Benazir was asked to explain how it happened that her brother had bled to death outside his home while she was prime minister. She walked out of the studio. A sharp op-ed piece by Fatima in the LA Times on 14 November elicited the following response: ‘My niece is angry with me.’ Well, yes.

Musharraf may have withdrawn the corruption charges, but three other cases are proceeding in Switzerland, Spain and Britain. In July 2003, after an investigation lasting several years, Daniel Devaud, a Geneva magistrate, convicted Mr and Mrs Asif Ali Zardari, in absentia, of money laundering. They had accepted $15 million in bribes from two Swiss companies, SGS and Cotecna. The couple were sentenced to six months in prison and ordered to return $11.9 million to the government of Pakistan. ‘I certainly don’t have any doubts about the judgments I handed down,’ Devaud told the BBC. Benazir appealed, thus forcing a new investigation. On 19 September 2005 she appeared in a Geneva court and tried to detach herself from the rest of the family: she hadn’t been involved, she said: it was a matter for her husband and her mother (afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease). She knew nothing of the accounts. And what of the agreement her agent Jens Schlegelmilch had signed according to which, in case of her and Zardari’s death, the assets of Bomer Finance Company would be divvied out equally between the Zardari and Bhutto families? She knew nothing of that either. And the £120,000 diamond necklace in the bank vault paid for by Zardari? It was intended for her, but she had rejected the gift as ‘inappropriate’. The case continues. Last month Musharraf told Owen Bennett-Jones of the BBC World Service that his government would not interfere with the proceedings: ‘That’s up to the Swiss government. Depends on them. It’s a case in their courts.’

In Britain the legal shenanigans concern the $3.4 million Rockwood estate in Surrey, bought by offshore companies on behalf of Zardari in 1995 and refurbished to his exacting tastes. Zardari denied owning the estate. Then when the court was about to instruct the liquidators to sell it and return the proceeds to the Pakistan government, Zardari came forward and accepted ownership. Last year, Lord Justice Collins ruled that, while he was not making any ‘findings of fact’, there was a ‘reasonable prospect’ that the Pakistan government might be able to establish that Rockwood had been bought and furnished with ‘the fruits of corruption’. A close friend of Benazir told me that she was genuinely not involved in this one, since Zardari wasn’t thinking of spending much time there with her.

Daniel Markey, formerly of the State Department and currently senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained why Washington had pushed the marriage of convenience: ‘A progressive, reform-minded, more cosmopolitan party in government would help the US.’ As their finances reveal, the Zardaris are certainly cosmopolitan.

What then is at stake in Pakistan as far as Washington is concerned? ‘The concern I have,’ Robert Gates, the US secretary for defense, recently said, ‘is that the longer the internal problems continue, the more distracted the Pakistani army and security services will be in terms of the internal situation rather than focusing on the terrorist threat in the frontier area.’ But one reason for the internal crisis is Washington’s over-reliance on Musharraf and the Pakistani military. It is Washington’s support and funding that have given him the confidence to operate as he pleases. But the thoughtless Western military occupation of Afghanistan is obviously crucial, since the instability in Kabul seeps into Peshawar and the tribal areas between the two countries. The state of emergency targeted the judiciary, opposition politicians and the independent media. All three groups were, in different ways, challenging the official line on Afghanistan and the ‘war on terror’, the disappearance of political prisoners and the widespread use of torture in Pakistani prisons. The issues were being debated on television in a much more open fashion than happens anywhere in the West, where a blanket consensus on Afghanistan drowns all dissent. Musharraf argued that civil society was hampering the ‘war on terror’. Hence the emergency. It’s nonsense, of course. It’s the war in the frontier regions that is creating dissent inside the army. Many do not want to fight. Hence the surrender of dozens of soldiers to Taliban guerrillas. This is the reason many junior officers are taking early retirement.

Western pundits blather on about the jihadi finger on the nuclear trigger. This is pure fantasy, reminiscent of a similar campaign almost three decades ago, when the threat wasn’t the jihadis who were fighting alongside the West in Afghanistan, but nationalist military radicals. The cover story of Time magazine for 15 June 1979 dealt with Pakistan; a senior Western diplomat was quoted as saying that the big danger was ‘that there is another Gaddafi down there, some radical major or colonel in the Pakistani army. We could wake up and find him in Zia’s place one morning and, believe me, Pakistan wouldn’t be the only place that would be destabilised.’

The Pakistan army is half a million strong. Its tentacles are everywhere: land, industry, public utilities and so on. It would require a cataclysmic upheaval (a US invasion and occupation, for example) for this army to feel threatened by a jihadi uprising. Two considerations unite senior officers: the unity of the organisation and keeping politicians at bay. One reason is the fear that they might lose the comforts and privileges they have acquired after decades of rule; but they also have the deep aversion to democracy that is the hallmark of most armies. Unused to accountability within their own ranks, it’s difficult for them to accept it in society at large.

As southern Afghanistan collapses into chaos, and as corruption and massive inflation takes hold, the Taliban is gaining more and more recruits. The generals who convinced Benazir that control of Kabul via the Taliban would give them ‘strategic depth’ may have retired, but their successors know that the Afghans will not tolerate a long-term Western occupation. They hope for the return of a whitewashed Taliban. Instead of encouraging a regional solution that includes India, Iran and Russia, the US would prefer to see the Pakistan army as its permanent cop in Kabul. It won’t work. In Pakistan itself the long night continues as the cycle restarts: military leadership promising reforms degenerates into tyranny, politicians promising social support to the people degenerate into oligarchs. Given that a better functioning neighbour is unlikely to intervene, Pakistan will oscillate between these two forms of rule for the foreseeable future. The people who feel they have tried everything and failed will return to a state of semi-sleep, unless something unpredictable rouses them again. This is always possible.

30 November

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n24/ali_01_.html

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Open letter to an SWP’er on “terrorism”

September 10, 2006 at 5:24 pm (anti-fascism, assassination, fascism, history, islamism, Jim D, Marxism, SWP, terror, trotskyism)

The mass-murder on September 11th 2001 was a turning point for me: not because of the atrocity itself (vile as it was) but because of the reaction of the SWP and SWP-inluenced “left”. I am willing to concede that some of the reaction in the West may have been hypocritical – as though Western lives count for more than ‘third world’ lives. But, equally, there was a strong sense on sections of the “far-left” that because the victims were American, their lives didn’t matter, either.The scarcely-concealed gloating, the disgusting “Bitter Fruit” headline of Socialist Worker (a publication I have never purchased since then)…and a prominant SWP’er trying to persuade a firefighter delegate at Birmingham Trades Council, to boycott fundraising for New York firefighters: I realised then , that the SWP and people like them were not just “misguided comrades”, they were the enemy. But, being in the Socialist Alliance, I had to carry on working with them, much as it turned my guts. By 2004, I was involved in an extended e-mail bunfight (nothing changes, does it?) with an SWP’er, one John Game who I understand is some sort of academic at SOAS: gawd help his students. The man had clearly read much too much Foucault, and too little Marx, Engles, Lenin or Trotsky. Still ‘an all, at least he’d read something, unlike most SWP’ers. Anyway, I got into a row with him on the Socialist Alliance e-mail list in 2004.

Game seemed to be attempting to deny that the term “terrorism” had any meaning and arguing that socialist shouldn’t even use the term. In the aftermath of the Madrid bombings, I sent him the following missive. It’s not great but I think it still stands up. I’ve tidied up the grammer and spelling a little bit, but otherwise it’s as sent on 17 March 2004:

“John,

“I’ve been off the air for a day or so, and I see from my in-tray that the debate has moved on since your first reply to me, but I’d like to comment on what seem to me to be your main points…

“1/ Terrorism and ‘terrorism’.

“The point about the quotes (what I somewhat misleadingly called ‘scare quotes’) is that they suggest either that the writer doesn’t accept that there *is* a terrorist threat at all, or that they think it shouldn’t be called “terrorist”. I suspect that you fall into the second catagory, and I’ll take that up next. But just for now, it’s worth noting the (until recently) widely-held view that terrorism is somehow not real, that it’s all been got up by the government as an excuse to attack civil liberties or a justification for war. This denial of reality is not unique to the ‘left’ – it’s widely held by liberals (read the Guardian letters page or Michael “Repeat after me: ‘there is no terrorist threat'” Moore’s latest book) and, indeed, Tories like Simon Jenkins. Read Jenkins’ piece in the present issue of the Spectator, published on the same day as the Madrid bombings: ‘Daily life offers many risks but that from terrorist attack is extemely slight’.

“I would like to think that the Madrid tragedy has finally demolished that argument, but it’s amazing how impervious to fact and reason the deniers can be. It’s an important matter because (as you seem to acknowledge from the glance I’ve so far taken of a later posting from yourself) if and when an attack happens in Britain, we need to have prepared our political response. Clearly, we can’t do that if we refuse to believe that it could happen at all.

“2/ The Marxist tradition.

“As you say, the word ‘terrorism’ has a meaning within the Marxist tradition. It also has a meaning (or rather, meanings) in everyday parlance and meanings for people of different classes and different politics. I would put it to you that events like Madrid (and 9/11) meet any criteria for the meaning of the word. You seem to think otherwise, for reasons that I’m not quite clear about but that seem to involve the fact that western governments often use the term selectively and hypocritically.

“As you are probably aware, the Marxist who wrote extensively and authoritatively on the subject was our old friend Leon Trotsky. Two points strike me about Trotsky’s writings on terrorism : firstly that he recognises that ‘our class enemies’, for all their hypocricy, are often right (or nearly right) about what constitutes terrorism:

“‘However, when they reproach us with terrorism, they are trying – although not always consciously – to give the word a narrower, less indirect meaning. The damaging of machines by workers, for example, is terrorism in this strict sense of the word. The killing of an employer, a threat to set fire to a factory or a death threat to its owner, an assasination attempt, with revolver in hand, against a government minister – all these are terrorist acts in the full and authentic sense’.

“Secondly (I think): that throughout his writings on the subject, Trotsky is invariably referring to acts carried out by progressive individuals and groups against the class enemy. The perpetrators are, to paraphrase him, ‘misguided comrades’.

“In his famous, and very moving, article ‘For Grynszpan’, Trotsky is outspokenly sympathetic towards the young Jew who shot a Nazi official in 1938, calling him (Grynszpan) ‘the precious flower of mankind’. Indeed (argues Trotsky) it is only our sympathy and unequivocal solidarity with the young comrade that gives us the right to criticise him: ‘All our emotions and sympathies are with the self-sacrificing avengers even though they are unable to discover the correct road’.

“Can you imagine Trotsky writing anything similar about the perpetrators of 9/11 or Madrid? Is there any meaningful comparison? I should have thought that to ask the question is to answer it. The kind of terrorism that Trotsky (and all classical Marxists) criticised – assasination of individual Tsarist and military officials, capitalists and (later) Nazis, by revolutionary socialists and democrats, had neither means nor ends in common with al-Qaeda-type attacks.

“The murder of hundreds (on 9/11, thousands) of civilians, most of them workers, is not ‘individual terrorism’ in the sense that Trotsky used the term. It is more properly compared to the atrocities of imperialism. And the political and social goals for which Islamic fundamentalists fight (in so far as we can deduce them) can be fairly compared with classic European fascism.

“Al-Qaeda and their followers are not misguided leftwingers or ‘anti-imperialists’ (in any prgressive sense) but fanatical reactionaries whose aim is the destruction of any and all forms of democracy, the labour movement and all the most prgressive aspects of modern society. There can be no backhanded support, sympathy or equivocation about these forces. And to build an anti-war movement upon any degree of evasion or ambiguity about them is to build on sand.

“3/ Condemnation

“I guess my (and the AWL’s) attitude to condemnation pretty much follows from the above. As you rightly note, this is not primarily because of ‘abstract moralism’ (though I do think that a moral objection to 9/11 and Madrid is perfectly proper for Marxists), but a matter of political programme. We’re in the business of telling workers where we stand on all aspects of day-to-day life, all matters of concern and interest to them. We are also in the business of indicating our picture of an alternative society and world – albeit of necessity a sketchy, broad-brush picture.

“That’s why I disagree so strongly with your argument that there’s no point in condemnation because others are doing it and we ‘would (not) be adding much’. So if people are already saying something we agree with, we should stop saying it? Your argument is not even logical. But it’s also not honest: the reason you and the SWP refuse to condemn is because you don’t want to; because you think it’s wrong to do so. And, privately, you wish that others weren’t doing so. Your US comrades (more consistent and honest that the British SWP), said after 9/11: “Don’t condemn, don’t mourn”. This stance has nothing to do with Marxism, but everything to do with western liberal self-hatred and relativism.

“Much the same applies to your strange argument that ‘there is a common sense understanding that we are responsible for what our government does’ (‘common sense’? Whose ‘common sense’?) and that therefore we can condemn ‘our’ government’s actions (and the actions of its allies) but not al-Qaeda because we are not responsible for it. Again, this is gibberish, even in terms of formal logic: are you and I responsible (I presume you mean direct, personal responsibilty, rather than some sort of collective, historic, metaphysical ‘responsibility’) for fascism? For slavery? Or, come to it, for what Bush and Blair do? Does that influence whether or not we condemn them?

“No, your real argument reduces socialist politics to slogans designed to go down well with a particular ‘market’ – an advertising agency approach. Albeit an ad agency with an unusual target audience.

“As for your objecting to the suggestion that the SWP and some others inside the anti-war movement have ‘illusions in the progressive politics of bin Laden’: well, can’t you see that if you if you refuse to condemn, then the question will inevitably arise. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that the SWP leadership have illusions in bin Laden. Which makes their studied silence on the matter all the more cynical and contemptible. It’s not even comparable with those socialists (and I most certainly don’t mean the forerunners of the SWP!) in the 1970’s who refused to condemn the Birmingham pub bombings, out of a sense of solidarity with the PIRA: at least that stance took some real courage in the face of overwhelming, and often physically violent, public opinion. At the moment there is no such hysteria surrounding al-Qaeda and bin Laden. In fact a certain grudging sympathy for Islamism seems to be de rigeur in Guardian-reading circles these days.

“4/ Western responsibility

“Actually, while writing that last section, it dawned on me that an awful lot of your argument comes down to the proposition that (in the words of ‘Private Eye”s trendy vicar/bishop, “We are all guilty”. All guilty, that is, of what the ‘western powers’ do (the quotes are simply to indicate that the terminology is yours, not mine). Therefore, morally and politically, we have no right to condemn what what the Islamist enemy of those powers does, even if we don’t agree with what that Islamist enemy stands for in any positive sense whatsoever. Once again, pure relativism, laced with moralism, self-hatred and the old ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ riff. I’m sorry if that seems harsh, but I really cannot work out any other coherant explanation for what you are saying.

“You ask what I think is the connection between ‘what the western powers do and horrible things that happen’. Well, I’m quite prepared to agree that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have inflamed the sensibilities of Muslims throughout the world, and have undoubtably recruited a lot of angry young men to bin Laden’s cause. Those wars are probably the direct and immediate cause of this latest (ie: Madrid) attack. I am also willing to agree that US / British policy in the Middle East generally, and Israel / Palestine specifically, is the cause of much justified resentment and bitterness amongst Muslims and others throughout the world. Some of that anger is no doubt a factor in creating the environment in which al-Qaeda and its local offshoots can recruit and operate. But that’s not all there is to it: remember, 9/11 happened before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; and all the evidence suggests that bin Laden’s primary grievance concerned the role of the Saudi royal family in allowing US forces on sacred land and had little or nothing to do with Isreal / Palestine. Anyway, what concievable ‘solution’ to Isreal / Palestine that socialists could put forward would satisfy bin Laden? Clearly not ‘two states’, as that would leave the ‘Zionist entity’ in place. And (for equally obvious reasons) not a single ‘democratic secular state’ as, in theory, is still advocated by the SWP.

“face it, John: al-Qaeda is driven by ideological hatred for all things ‘western’, including socialism, the labour movement, democracy, womens’ equality, gay rights, etc; etc. It is not, primarily, driven by poverty, inequality or western aggression / exploitation of the ‘third world’. If that was the cause, then why have not similar movements arisen in, say, Vietnam, or anywhere in Africa except Muslim North Africa?

“There’s a lot more I wanted to write in response to your mailing (in particular about the real democratic content of the KLA’s demands and role), but that will have to wait for another day.

“Once again, apologies if the debate has, by now, moved on.

“Yours,

“Jim Denham.”

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