Future Uncertain in Wake of Bhutto Assassination In the aftermath of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination, it's unclear what will happen to her party and to Pakistani politics. But author and historian Tariq Ali says some good could come of it if the party adopts a more modern structure.
NPR logo

Future Uncertain in Wake of Bhutto Assassination

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17696874/17696862" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Future Uncertain in Wake of Bhutto Assassination

Future Uncertain in Wake of Bhutto Assassination

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/17696874/17696862" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ordered a crackdown today on the rioters who took to the streets after Thursday's assassination of Benazir Bhutto. More than three dozen people have died in unrest since the opposition leader was killed. Troops have been deployed in Karachi and Ms. Bhutto's home city, Larkana. And the streets were reported deserted today.

The interior minister rejected outside help in investigating the assassination. But Ms. Bhutto's supporters are disputing the government's claim that she was not shot but rather died after hitting her head on her car when a suicide bomb went off. And an Islamist tribal leader today denied the government's charge that he was behind Bhutto's death.

This afternoon, I called up Pakistani author and historian Tariq Ali in London. He's written widely about the Bhuttos, including a play about Benazir's father. Tariq Ali does not believe the Musharraf government will get to the bottom of the case.

Mr. TARIQ ALI (Author, Historian): Of course, the question now is who did the killing. And this, in the absence of an independent judiciary in Pakistan since President Musharraf sacked the chief justice and eight other justices of the Supreme Court when he declared a state of emergency, there are no judicial figures capable in the country today of conducting an independent inquiry. They're either in prison or sitting at home.

LYDEN: Before we go forward into this cloud of mystery, I want to go back to the past a little bit.

Mr. ALI: Mm-hmm.

LYDEN: And that is to the figure of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by the military dictatorship in 1979. Give us a bit of a history lesson on the origins of Bhutto's party and the Pakistan People's Party.

Mr. ALI: Bhutto himself comes from a family of landed gentry landlords in Sindh. He himself used to joke that we're a very primitive group of people - meaning that the Sindhy landlord class is deeply reactionary - treated peasants like serfs; still exercised the droit de seigneur, which meant that the landlord have the right to deflower any women on his lands before her wedding to anyone else - quite a poor league business, very medieval.

And he came from this family. He was educated at Berkeley, then at Oxford, became a lawyer and was picked up in 1958 after a military coup. And the dictator at the time was looking for bright, young things(ph) to put in his cabinet, and Bhutto was regarded as one of them, and he became minister for commerce and industry. And he then became more and more radical and finally left the dictatorship and waged a campaign against it and was imprisoned. And that movement of '68, '69, you know, '68 produced movements all over the globe.

But the one that successfully toppled the dictatorship was the movement in Pakistan where stables and workers were on the streets for three months, fighting armed police, fighting the military until they've got rid of the dictatorship. And the People's Party grew out of that movement. It was a party of that movement because before that, Bhutto was an individual. And he then created this party. And so most of the activists of the movement joined the party, and many became his members of parliament when he won.

LYDEN: Coming to a contemporary world now, you were quite critical of Benazir Bhutto's accommodation with Washington and President Musharraf in an article you wrote for the London Review of Books.

Mr. ALI: Yes, this is true. I wanted basically to provide - to dissect Pakistan and its society. And I did feel, and I'm afraid I was very sharp about her because she had changed again from being someone not that interested in politics than the coming (unintelligible) political. Then of course, she won two elections in the country.

In her second period of office, the level of corruption was so high that it was frightening. And that has really what brought her down. And this was very depressing because it let down the people who had voted for her. And they didn't come out and vote for her again.

LYDEN: So you think it's quite possible to imagine a Pakistan without a Bhutto-like figure in it?

Mr. ALI: I certainly do. I mean, you know, there hasn't been a Bhutto-type figure. I mean, she was in self-imposed exile for several years because of the corruption charges. It wasn't a very noble thing that pushed her into exile. She didn't want to go to prison because the evidence was overwhelming. That is what pushed her into exile.

And you know, the country didn't function so well, but that's not because there wasn't a Bhutto there. I think, you know, obviously, there are gifted members of this family, you know, and if they want to come into politics at some stage that's fine. All I'm saying is that a political party should not be tied to a family. It's dangerous for the family, and it's unhealthy for the party.

LYDEN: In an article you wrote for The Guardian, you mentioned that perhaps some good might come after Benazir Bhutto's death.

Mr. ALI: If the People's Party was no longer a family heirloom and became a modern, organized political party, which debated and discussed differences openly, elected its leadership, which would may put it in a very strong position to offer some hope to a country where the overwhelming bulk of people are not religious fundamentalists or extremists, and a party which then also tries to cater to the social needs of the poor, which isn't happening in Pakistan at all. I think the People's Party could become like this. We shall see what she - what advice she's given. Her will is due to be read out this weekend.

LYDEN: Thank you very much.

Tariq Ali is the author of the forthcoming book, "The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of America."

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.