I’ve figured out who is responsible for Bhutto’s assassination

There’s been a lot of finger pointing in the few days since Bhutto’s assassination. John Edwards blamed George Bush. Mike Huckabee went so far as to blame the entire United States, apologizing on our behalf. Robert Novak thinks the United States is also to blame for the fact that it neither provided security nor did it push Musharraf to provide strong security for Bhutto. The Pakistani military might have been involved. Mark Steyn hints delicately that Bhutto’s own courage and foolhardiness may be to blame — something that is supported by the fact that, despite two prior assassination attempts, she voluntarily made herself a target by sticking it out of the top of her car, which placed her in a situation beyond protection. Al Qaeda has offered itself as a probable suspect, a claim Pakistan has hastened to endorse.

I think these assignments of blame are all too facile. I think the fault lies with the British. You see, in 1947, when the British withdrew from their Indian Empire, they acceded to Islamic demand that they create an Islamic nation — and, voila, Pakistan was born. The partition process had attendant upon it incredible violence and, as the Literary Encyclopedia (a nice source) notes, this initial violent rift seemed to set a template for the region in the next sixty years:

An estimated half a million people perished while seventeen million people were forced to move across the freshly demarcated frontiers of India and Pakistan. The blood-stained legacy of 1947 has cast an enduring shadow on inter-state relations and domestic politics in post-colonial South Asia. There are few burning issues in the subcontinent which cannot be traced, directly or indirectly, to the fateful moment when the British struck the partitioner’s axe. India and Pakistan have fought two full-scale wars over the former north Indian princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. An undeclared war, also over Kashmir, following nuclear tests by both countries in May 1998, resulted in a deadly standoff in the Kargil heights during the summer of 1999. An earlier war in 1971, preceded by a civil war in which Muslims slaughtered Muslims, led to Indian intervention and the breaking away of Bangladesh. The rise of religious majoritarianism in secular India – highlighted by the razing of a sixteenth-century mosque by Hindu militants in December 1992 and the systematic brutalization of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 – is rooted in partition, as is Pakistan’s drift towards a militant and bigoted form of Islam, a by-product of its efforts to espouse an ideology in contradistinction to India’s secular identity.

Not only did it set a template, of course, but it turned Pakistan into a swirling soup of Islamic (and other) malcontent. As is so often the case, Mark Steyn, in taking apart Bill Richardson’s silly pronouncement that we should just set up a representative government in Pakistan, points out the core problems with Pakistan:

But, since Governor Bill Richardson brought it up, it’s worth considering what exactly “the interests of the U.S.” are in Pakistan. The most immediate interest is in preventing the country’s tribal lands from becoming this decade’s Afghanistan – a huge Camp Osama graduating jihadist alumni from all over the world. That ship, if it hasn’t already sailed, has certainly cast off and is chugging out the harbor. Something called “the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan” now operates a local franchise of Taliban rule in both north and south Waziristan, and is formally recognized by the Pakistan government in the Islamabad-Waziri treaty of just over a year ago. Officially, the treaty was intended to negotiate a truce, although to those unversed in the machinations of tribal politics it looked a lot more like a capitulation, an interpretation encouraged by the signing ceremony, which took place in a soccer stadium flying the flag of al-Qaeda.

Of course, the “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” have always been somewhat loosely governed Federal Administration-wise. In the new issue of The Claremont Review Of Books, Stanley Kurtz’s fascinating round-up of various tomes by Akbar Ahmed (recently Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London and before that Political Agent in Waziristan) mentions en passant a factoid I vaguely remember from my schooldays – that even at the height of imperial power, the laws of British India, by treaty and tradition, only governed 100 yards either side of Waziristan’s main roads. Once you were off the shoulder, you were subject to the rule of various “maliks” (tribal bigshots). The British prided themselves on an ability to run the joint at arm’s length through discreet subsidy of favored locals. As a young lieutenant with the Malakand Field Force, Winston Churchill found the wiles of Sir Harold Deane, chief commissioner of the North-West Frontier Province, a tad frustrating. “We had with us a very brilliant political officer, a Major Deane, who was most disliked because he always stopped military operations,” recalled Churchill. “Apparently all these savage chiefs were his old friends and almost his blood relations. Nothing disturbed their friendship. In between fights, they talked as man to man and as pal to pal.”

The benign interpretation of Musharraf’s recent moves is that he’s doing a Major Deane. The reality is somewhat bleaker: Today, even that 200-yard corridor of nominal sovereignty has gone and Islamabad’s Political Agent is a much shrunken figure compared to his predecessors from the Raj. That doesn’t mean “foreign” influence is impossible in Waziristan. Osama bin Laden is, after all, a foreigner, and so are many of the other al-Qaeda A-listers holed up in the tribal lands. Jihadists arrested recently in Britain, Germany and Scandinavia all spent time training in Waziristan, as do Chechen rebels. If another big hit on the US mainland is currently in the works, it’s safe to say it’s being plotted somewhere in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Interestingly, modern India, which was also carved out of the former British Empire, hasn’t devolved into this corrupt, violent soup of extremism. It’s had its moments, of course, and there are certainly aspects of Indian culture that don’t easily yield to Western admiration, but it is, on the whole, a successful Democracy. I’m too historically ignorant to draw any conclusions from that fact but, perhaps, some of you who better understand Indian, Pakistan, Islamic, Hindu, Cold War or Tribal history can do better in this regard than I can.

UPDATE:  And a reminder that democracy, as we understand it, doesn’t exist in Pakistan, comes in this story about the “annointing” of Bhutto’s famously corrupt husband and her utterly untried teenage son as the new party leaders:

Pakistan’s largest and most storied political party chose Sunday to continue its dynastic traditions, anointing the 19-year-old son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to be her ultimate successor but picking her husband to lead for now.

The selections mean that the Pakistan People’s Party, which casts itself as the voice of democracy in Pakistan, will stay in family hands for a third generation.

The word “dynastic” in the above quotation nails the situation and does not bode well for the future of Pakistan’s putative “democratic” party.


17 Responses

  1. Greetings:

    So, the Muslims get a pass on their invasion of the area….?

  2. In my first draft, Denis, they didn’t. Then, I decided that I wasn’t up to the task of looking at 1300 years of territorial history (since Muslims first invaded in 712), so I deleted that part. I tend to believe that traditional Islam is antithetical to a stable liberal democracy, but that seemed to be too facile a conclusion here considering my ignorance about the region — and especially about the region’s intense tribalism, something that might even transcend its Islamism (or that certainly is a toxic mix with Islamism).

  3. I tend to believe that traditional Islam is antithetical to a stable liberal democracy, but that seemed to be too facile a conclusion here considering my ignorance about the region

    One solid theological argument you could look up is Zarqawi’s, PBUH, claim that democracy and tolerance towards other religion is a slap in the face of Allah. How can you be a servant to Allah’s will if you dare to contradict Allah and embrace other heathen religions, Book? Is not Islam full of rules, laws, and commandments that came from Allah that you must abide by or become unfaithful to Allah?

  4. Greetings:

    A while back, I read an article on the Middle East Quarterly web site about the tribal culture of that area. It described the nature of a tribal herding culture such as that of the Arabian Peninsula and how that culture viewed its womenfolk and its flocks.

    Part of my concern about the current clash of our civilizations is that when I think about how the Middle East has held onto the tribal aspects of its culture while the rest of the world has moved on, I can’t help but conclude that there is an insidious synergy between the culture and the religion. I believe that this would apply to the “South Asia” area also.

    My explicit point is that, while these difficulties seem to be coming from a religious source, it may very well also be the tribal culture driving it. If I am understanding what is going on in Iraq, say, it may be very important to understand when and how the underlying sands are shifting from Islam to the tribe and how much.

  5. Should just be honest and call themselves the exiled royal family. It would prevent contradictions which would occur when you add in Western democracy, which even Westerners dislike at times.

  6. The tribal aspects of the region cannot be ignored. In many ways the tribal customs go beyond Islam and Sharia. Remember also Afghanistan was created from whole cloth by the Brits as well. I consider both Afghanistan and Pakistan to be more of the same than two different countries.

    Talibanlike religious views are actually quite popular amongst many Pakistanis due to their tribal customs. The very picture of Ms. Bhutto in the clothing, and dress she wore would have inflamed many of these type of people.

    Having said that, the idea of nationality, and government in Pakistan. Pakistan could be rightly said to be an aglommeration of disparate tribes loosely held together into a nation state. It will take a lot of time for the various groups to mesh into a whole, if ever. Even to this day, some of the tribes in the south and north don’t really recognize federal control.

    Bottom line: We need to walk very slowly and carefully with Musharaf. He’s not a prince but he’s holding together this ticking bomb of a country in a semi-rational way.

  7. […] [Discuss this topic with Bookworm at Bookworm Room] Share Article Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto    Sphere: Related Content Trackback URL […]

  8. I blame the Harappans. If they hadn’t started agriculture in the Indus River valley 5,000 years ago, none of this would have happened.

    Oh, and Bush. Because of…
    …well, it’s got to be his fault somehow!

  9. Blame all the people who passed through the Indus valley civilization down through the years. Starting with the fusion of the Indo-Aryans with the locals.Then point a finger at the Greeks,Scythians,Arabs,Afghans,Turks, Mongrels and of course BW’s favs The British. But really folks it all started when Homo Sapiens (wise men- no oxymoron intended) became overly nomadically ambitious and left the Cradle of Civilization Africa (no oxymoron intended) and wandered into that area 70,000 years ago. Moving on .
    Bhutto new the risks and made her choice.In her mind being martyered was the next best thing to becoming Prime Minister. And of course let us not forget the wealth that would of been returned to her if she was successful.ly repatriated. The die was cast in October . She was no Ceaser but she had one thing in common with him in that a lot of people didn’t like him or her.She might as well of pulled the trigger or detonated the bomb herself. It is a sad tragedy but she has nobody to blame but herself and the killer(s) .

  10. Don’t you have to add caste thinking to the analysis of this muddle that is Pakistan? I read somewhere that the military has been the path to power for those Pakistanis who were immigrants from India after partition, so the generals are regarded as upstarts by their feudal “betters,” It seems that there is layer after layer of conscious religious belief, unconscious social values, defensiveness toward Western culture, mass illiteracy, and inability or unwillingness to analyze or criticize their own society. Of course if Bush would just get of his lazy a.. and wave his magic wand, we could all get back to serious things like Brittany and Paris.

  11. You can blame “tribalism” all you want (we, in Chicago, understand “tribal areas” very well…they are known as “hoods”, ;’-) but the fact remains that most of the world is tribal and it seems that it’s by far in those tribal areas dominated by Islam or where Islam crashes into the infidel world that this stuff happens. So far, the only Islamic country that has transcended the violence inherent to the Religion of Pieces (read their book!) is post-Attaturk Turkey (and, maybe, Malaysia)…and that, too, may be changing.


    In Pakistan approx. 50 % of the people are 15 and over in age with a literacy rate of 63% male and 30% something female.Blind leading the blind and stupid is as stupid does.With a fundamentalist relgion and the pot stirrers you have the perfect storm as you saw a few days ago in Pakistan .

    Who were the infidels in the American Tribal Civil War ? Who were the infidels in The World War I Tribal war ? I agree with the tribalism comment but not to worry we defeated the fascists and communist tribes and we will defeat Islamofascism and at the same time eliminate poverty,hunger,aids ,global warming,water shortage ,illiteracy and religious fundamentalism in general. No problem !

  13. If you have gotten tired of Swamp’s SAE about tribes, you can go here for a breath of fresh air.

    Steven Pressfield on Tribes

  14. Think you’ve figured out who is responsible for Bhutto’s assassination? I wouldn’t be too sure. It seems there was a lot of disinformation and spin swirling even before Bhutto’s corpse got to be at room temperature.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t shed any tears over Bhutto’s death. She was hardly the gleaming flesh blood incarnation of the Statue of Liberty bestowing the blessings of freedom and democracy to the Pakistani people that she is made out to be. Take a look at what Robert Fisk says about her:

    “Of course, given the childish coverage of this appalling tragedy–and however corrupt Ms Bhutto may have been, let us be under no illusions that this brave lady is indeed a true martyr–it’s not surprising that the “good-versus-evil” donkey can be trotted out to explain the carnage in Rawalpindi.

    Who would have imagined, watching the BBC or CNN on Thursday, that her two brothers, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, hijacked a Pakistani airliner in 1981 and flew it to Kabul where Murtaza demanded the release of political prisoners in Pakistan. Here, a military officer on the plane was murdered. There were Americans aboard the flight–which is probably why the prisoners were indeed released.

    And even though a lot of people are willing to pin the blame on Musharraf, who very well may be responsible, I don’t believe that this alone should justify overthrowing or undermining his regime. Contrary to what is publicly stated, Musharraf does covertly allow US special forces to operate in the Waziristan region. He just doesn’t openly acknowledge this. Musharraf has also killed more Al Qaeda than all the coalition forces combined. After Saddam Hussein’s secular socialist Baathist regime and Iran’s Shiite theocracy, Musharraf’s regime is the greatest enemy Al Qaeda has ever had.

    I don’t think the narrative presented about tradition Islam and violence is particularly convincing. “Traditional” Islam bears as little relation to the Islam practiced by most Muslims as the traditional Calvinism of the Puritans does to the beliefs of Presbyterians today, or for that matter the traditional Jewish mysticism of the 19th century Kabbalists and Lubbavitchers does to mainline Jews.

    Think Islam as it is widely practiced is incompatible with democracy? Go tell that to the East Pakistanis who voted to secede in the elections of 1970, or the Lebanese or Turks, both of whom live in a secular, if somewhat imperfect, democracy.

    The main backers of traditional Islam are of course our allies in Saudia Arabia. And we have been willing to use the adherents of traditional Islam as useful idiots, arming, equipping and recruiting them to fight the CIA’s ghost war in Afghanistan in the 1980’s. Israel did a similar thing by sponsoring Hamas and helping to get them started by providing them with extensive clandestine support in order to weaken the heretofore secular PLO. Does anyone else see how these shrewd calculations can come back to bite people in the ass?

    The trouble is that religious zealots, unlike most people, earnestly do believe there are more important causes than their own life. And they are willing to lay down their lives fighting to advance or defend these causes. Their willingness to fight and die earns them respect and amplifies their influence among people who do not share their beliefs but who do share a common cause with them. That’s why Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian revolutionaries wield power and command a modicum of respect from the largely secular peoples in their respective communities. It’s also why neocons love Chritian Zionists even though they hate their back-assward ideology.Think most Palestinians, Shiite Lebanese or Iranians are true fanatics? Think again.

    Judging from the history presented of India, I’m guessing the author of this piece doesn’t have many Desi friends. India is extraordinarily corrupt and has had a long history of strife and insurrection with Marxist rebels and with the Tamil tigers in addition to Muslim. Also, India was the first of these two nations to develop and detonate a nuclear bomb. It has never signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and has come close to initiating war with Pakistan. In fact it well might have done so were it not for US support of Pakistan.

    Besides, who in his right mind would have expected the ethnic cleansing that accompanied the formation of India & Pakistan, as well the dissolution of East Pakistan not to result in strife?

    Sadly this is where identity politics leads to – sectarian strife waged to advance the interests of one’s own tribe against the next. Let us keep expounding on the virtues of diversity and keep vilifying the evil white western male and in a hundred years it could even happen here. Heck we’re already seeing the Lakota Indian nation want to secede.

  15. Stanley Kurtz has an excelent piece on Pakistan in today’s Opinion Journal. It was originally published at Claremont Review.

  16. Spare a little blame for the sainted, non-violent Gandhi, too. He was the guy who required the creation of Pakistan because he wasn’t going to tolerate the continued presence of those Islamic pains-in-his-fundament in his country any longer.

    Can’t live with ’em, can’t get rid of ’em – but he did, with a little manipulation of the British. (“Little old non-violent me is going to kill them all if you don’t find a place to put them.”)

    For me, it’s always kind of screwed up his candidacy for sainthood. Half a million dead is a pretty low estimate, too; I’ve read it was up to three times that.

  17. Interesting that you say that about Gandhi, JJ. I’ve never been a Gandhi fan because he was so virulently antisemitic. It messed with my ability to view him as a secular Saint and kept me very jaundiced about him. He did great things and, in many ways, he was a great man, but he was no saint, and he was a very practical, highly manipulative politician.

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