December 28, 2012

By the time her season’s greeting card and a handwritten note arrived in my office, my old friend Benazir Bhutto was already dead. The card mailed in Pakistan days before her murder,  remains on my desk to this today, a touching last link from this  remarkable lady.  So, too, the names of the men who may have murdered her.

Five years ago last Thursday,  Benazir Bhutto, twice prime minister of Pakistan, was murdered in Rawalpindi during a campaign rally.   This charismatic lady was adored, even venerated by her supporters, who called her the savior of Pakistan. She was equally hated by her foes who accused her and husband, Asif Ali Zardari, of robbing Pakistan  and acting as agents of the United States.

Shockingly, five years after her death, we still don’t know who was behind it even though her family political fief, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has held power ever since.   We are not even sure what killed her: a suicide bomber next to the vehicle from which she was waving to crowds,  a sniper, or a fractured skull caused by hitting her head on a roof latch as a result of the explosion.

UN investigators reported she had been denied proper security by the regime of then president, Pervez Musharraf whose grip on power was faltering. Washington’s plan was to replace him with US ally Benazir.

The Bhuttos and I had been at scimitar’s drawn since the 1980’s, when I exposed a major corruption scandal involving her father-in-law.  In my columns, published in North America and Pakistan, I hammered away at charges of embezzlement and kickbacks that dogged Benazir and her husband, Asif Zardari.   I was repeatedly threatened by acid attacks by Bhutto supporters.

Benazir and I met in Washington during the early 1990’s at a mutual friend’s home.  She was exiled from Pakistan and quite alone in Washington, low on both money and hope.  I offered to help her.  Perhaps it was her beauty and charm, or my weakness for underdogs.  Some Pakistani readers wrote in claiming I had been “bewitched” by Benazir. I confess  she was indeed quite bewitching.

Benazir and I brainstormed in London about what to do for long-suffering Pakistan.  We spent some days in Toronto. I drove her to visit awe-struck Pakistani supporters who looked as if a goddess had descended from heaven to their homes.  To Americans, Harvard graduate Benazir showed her liberal, westernized side; but to Pakistanis, she was as imperious and commanding as a Mogul empress.   I sat next to her one night as she went into sugar shock (I suspect she was diabetic), and began muttering hair-raising curses against her enemies, wishing their children to die and their arms rot off.

The last time I was with Benazir was in London, just before she returned on her ill-fated trip to Pakistan.  We met in a tony West End hotel, along with her security advisor and today Pakistan’s strongman, Rehman Malik, and her teenage son, Bilawal.  Malik told me how he had almost captured Osama bin Laden.  Young Bilawal was shy and tactiturn.  Today, he is being groomed to run for office when he reaches the minimum age of 25.

Benazir clearly said to me, “powerful Punjabi allies of President Pervez Musharraf are planning to kill me.”  She reeled off five names.  “If I am killed, you will know where to look.” For the record, they deny any guilt.

Musharraf, whom I had interviewed in 1999, denied any connection to the murder.  He and the US blamed Islamic militants of Lashkar Jangvi and al-Qaida.

Ironically, late one night when we were alone, I asked Benazir, “who really murdered President Zia ul-Haq,”  Pakistan’s late leader I knew and admired for standing up to Soviet imperialism.  “It’s not important who killed him,” snapped Benazir, annoyed “Who cares,” she sneered.  Benazir’s government shut down Pakistani and US investigations of Zia’s murder in a sabotaged C-130 transport.  Zia had hanged her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and that was that.

Benazir was beautiful, charming, and highly intelligent.  Her tragedy was being leader of a nation with murderous politics, wed to a husband who was rarely an asset.  The unsolved mystery of her death confirms that Pakistan remains a country without justice or law.



copyright  Eric S. Margolis 2012




This post is in: Asia, Pakistan


  1. Pakistan operates as a system of governments within governments and is essentially ruled by the military. The manner of Bhutto’s assassination points to the role of a state agency, possibly rouge elements within the ISI. Bhutto was a US favorite to lead the country back toward democracy and one of her core mandates was to dismantle the ISI.
    Fingers were raised at insurgents linked to the Taliban, who in turn denied any involvement, a claim that is believable given the media attention such groups would crave had they carried out such a high-profile operation. The pattern of attack was eerily similar to the first attempt against her in Karachi; sniper bullets followed by an explosion, indicating a sophisticated modus operandi where street lights close to her procession were disabled to provide cover for the gunmen.
    And perhaps the biggest mystery and unanswered question remains the dissolving agent used to wash down the crime scene within hours of the assassination, erasing all forensic evidence. Why would the government wash the crime scene with forensic-dissolving foam?

  2. solum temptare possumus says:

    Perhaps justice wends slower in Pakistan than in India (I wonder how fast the court trials in India will be for the rapists, now that the girl has died!). But if it is not helpful to the ruling government and its ally the USA, it will never find the light of day.
    With no enshrined Rights similar to the US Bill of Rights or Canadian Charter, and so much unenforceable lawlessness and violence among various political and religious factions, the future appears bleak.
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    • Mike Smith says:

      The ” enshrined rights ” of the US Bill of rights is really just talk isn’t it ?

      Originally these ” rights : only applied to White men,
      even today, do you think Black and Hispanic folk receive equal rights under US law ?
      How about Islamics, and people who might look Islamic ?

      How about prisoners under their control sent to torture by third parties or offshore bases in order to skirt their ” laws ”

      Unfortunately only lip service is normally paid to the spirit of such laws, and thing wind up fairly bleak unless you are with the reigning overlords. Perhaps Pakistan is in better shape though, because at least the worm does turn there occasionally.

  3. “The unsolved mystery of her death confirms that Pakistan remains a country without justice or law”. This made me think of JFK`s assassination and the similarities between the two.

  4. It is very true that the justice system in Pakistan is very questionable, but that also goes both ways.
    Benazir’s father was executed for the murder of Nawab Kasuri, the father of a political rival, and probably a bystander in an assassination attempt on his son. While the trial resembled one of those that happen at Gitmo today, in a 3 to 1 ruling the Supreme Court of Pakistan sentenced him to death.
    With Benazir Bhutto and her husband Zardari… I think it is very likely they were criminals, taking nearly half a billion dollars out of their ” dealings ” representing Pakistan.
    While found both guilty and innocent of the same corruption charges in Pakistan, evidence of corruption was brought forward by the Swiss, French, and Polish governments.
    I think her return to Pakistan was a error, probably one of ego. The divided nature of the politics in Pakistan would never have accepted such a polarizing figure to return to power. Pakistan and Argentina are very different countries, and Peron’s third term wasn’t really a success either. The coup launched against her father probably prevented a civil war, and her enemies would have made attempt after attempt on her life until they were successful.
    While I have never heard of a unity leader from this very divided country, one thing is very true. Pakistan will remain a wild card beyond foreign control until the factions come together, and with China, India, and the US all trying to exert their control over them… this may be the only thing maintaining their independence.

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