Hope Extinguished


Benazir Bhutto, 1953-2007. There are no words. The world has not known a braver woman.

Comments (14 comments)

Spanish Inquisitor / December 27th, 2007, 12:18 pm / #1

Interesting that you would need to have a category entitled “religion inspired murders”. There’s a lot of commentary in that choice of category alone.

Some might say that the motivation for the murder was more political than religious, but the fact that it was carried out via a suicide bomb tells me that without religion, it would have been less likely. Someone thought they would be rewarded by their god for volunteering to push the button on their bomb girdle.

Daniel / December 27th, 2007, 9:27 pm / #2

For a somewhat more nuanced view on Benazir Bhutto, I direct interested readers to Tariq Ali’s superb recent article in the London Review of Books.

The link is here:

Daniel / December 27th, 2007, 9:42 pm / #3

Incidentally, this statement:

“the fact that it was carried out via a suicide bomb tells me that without religion, it would have been less likely. Someone thought they would be rewarded by their god for volunteering to push the button on their bomb girdle.”

Is not accurate. As Jane’s military intelligence establishes, the most prolific user of suicide bomb attacks, at least between 1980 and 2000, were the secular Tamil Tigersof Sri Lanka, who also pioneered the technique. The figures are these:


The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka and in India 168
Hizbullah and pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon, Kuwait and Argentina 52
Hamas in Israel 22
The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in Turkey 15
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Israel 8
Al Quaida in East Africa 2
The Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) in Croatia 1
The Islamic Group (IG) in Pakistan 1
Barbar Khalsa International (BKI) in India 1
The Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in Algeria 1

As regards the twenty first century, I have no reliable data, but I would obviously be intrigued to see some.

Peter / December 27th, 2007, 9:54 pm / #4

I am sorry, but this woman represented the typical Pakistani upper class and was involved throughout her several stints as leader of that country in scandals of various severety.

Why should she be more mourned than any other crook that had to succumb to its country internecine religious inspired warfare?

BlackSun / December 27th, 2007, 11:21 pm / #5


There are all manner of groups who wanted Bhutto dead. We do not yet have evidence this was a strictly religious killing. But it is not just the technique (suicide bombing) but also what Ms. Bhutto stood for (modernity and secular values), and the nature of her opponents, that in my mind places this atrocity firmly into the RIM catetgory.


I don’t know that it is necessary to have a “more nuanced” view to be outraged at a blatant political assassination–conducted to deliberately thwart the democratic process. Or have we traveled that far down the road of cynicism, where a person’s supposed character defects are used to rationalize or somehow ameliorate the outrageousness of their murder?

Re: suicide bombing: we don’t have to look far to find evidence that your sample period is hopelessly skewed. Clearly terrorism is political theater, a weapon of the weak, asymmetrical warfare, etc. and has had many perpetrators throughout history, secular and religious. But for whatever happened in the late 20th century, the suicide bomb has now been adopted wholesale in the 00’s as a tool of militant Islam:

During this time the number of suicide attacks has grown rapidly, from an average of 4.7/year in the 1980s to 180/year in the first half of the 00s,[1] and from 81 suicide attacks in 2001 to 460 in 2005.[2] Particularly hard-hit by attacks have been military and civilian targets in Sri Lanka during Sri Lankan Civil War, Israeli targets in Israel since 1994, and Iraqis since the US-led invasion of that country in 2003.

Most agree suicide attacks have become popular because of their effectiveness in killing.

But the motivation of recent attack campaigns is a matter of some controversy. One scholar, Robert Pape, attributes over 90% of attacks prior to the Iraq Civil War to the same strategic goal: the withdrawal of the occupying forces from a disputed territory; [3] while another, Scott Atran, believes that since then the overwhelming majority of bombers have been motivated by the ideology of Islamist martyrdom, and that these attacks have been much more numerous. In just two years – 2004-2005 – there have been more suicide attacks, “roughly 600, than in Pape’s entire sample.”[4]

I also did a little checking on Tariq Ali. His article in the LRB is interesting, though he plays fast and loose with allegations of back-channel dealings and corruption that I think need much better documentation. His view of Bhutto seems less nuanced than jaundiced. He’s an interesting figure, and I’d like to know how credible he is among historians, political scientists, and Pakistan experts. As an avowed leftist, his anti-western attitude also seems overly partisan. I’m as eager as anyone to expose American corruption and mendacity. But there’s enough to expose without discrediting oneself through hyperbole. I’m frankly as suspicious of the extreme left as I am of the extreme right. Flawed as Bhutto might have been, I don’t see her as an American stooge. I do see that she could have lived a quiet life in Dubai or Europe, and instead decided to take the risk of a lifetime which ended in her assassination.


Again, I hear you saying she deserved it. I am sickened. Are you so ready to throw in the towel on a popular and western educated woman who was about to be elected prime minister (for better or worse) and has now been cut down? This vicious act has similar ramifications for Pakistan as the killing of John F. Kennedy had for the U.S.

Kennedy was also a member of the U.S. upper class who was a flawed figure and by your standards may have also deserved the assassin’s bullet.

That’s the trouble with assassination. We will never know how Bhutto would have conducted herself as prime minister. Or whether she would have continued some questionable practices or redeemed herself and saved her country. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a perfect politician. How did Bhutto measure up? The people of Pakistan damn well deserved to find out.

Misha Vargas / December 27th, 2007, 11:25 pm / #6

A comment to Daniel:

Your information is interesting, but does not contradict Spanish Inquisitor’s proposal. A very modest proposal, I think. Perhaps you could give it a rereading?

Do you not see how the belief in martyrdom followed by eternal paradise could increase the likelihood of someone participating in a suicide bombing?

Peter / December 28th, 2007, 8:27 am / #7

I did not say she deserved it. I have the impression you like to read this into my statement because I do not agree with you that this woman is a loss for her country.

She and some of those assciated with her were accused and and proven to be corrupt when holding office in the past, and with that history there is great chance she will have acted in the same manner.

What I find sickening is the childish hope that just because someone is educated and holds publicly announced principles high, indicates in any which way that this person will live up to those principles once in office.
Bhuto has repeatedly proven not to be capable of an ethical behaviour, and I find mourning her – alyhough the assasination itself is completely indefensible – just shedding crocodiles tears.

She was just a politician, and not a good one at that. What is the fuss? Just supported by belief in a person who has proven not to be worth that belief.

BlackSun / December 28th, 2007, 12:34 pm / #8


I still hear you saying that the allegations agains Ms. Bhutto (true or not) make her murder less abhorrent and somehow palatable.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Hasn’t the thought crossed your mind that the charges of corruption she endured were attempts at character assassination by a male-dominated conservative religious political establishment who wanted her out of the way?

That she was pardoned and allowed to return to the country by Musharraf, an archrival, is telling. Even though that arrangement was brokered by the U.S. it still leaves the original charges in question.

Political assassination is the ultimate insult to democracy. No matter who the victim is or what their failings might be, it makes a mockery of the idea that voters have any power whatsoever.

Sanctioning or tacitly agreeing to these tactics is to endorse thuggery and de facto dictatorship.

Here are two other views by people who get the larger implications.

BlackSun / December 28th, 2007, 1:38 pm / #9


Here is a response to the LRB article from the People’s Party of Pakistan:

Unfair to Ms Bhutto

From Nazir Dhoki

Tariq Ali’s assertion that Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan was at the instance of some foreign country is insulting to the welcoming rally of nearly three million people and to the memory of the 179 people killed and nearly six hundred injured in the attack on the rally (LRB, 13 December). Ms Bhutto had announced her plans to return long before General Musharraf struck at the judiciary and long before the promulgation of the National Reconciliation Ordinance admitting that the cases against her were politically motivated and not tenable. To say that Ms Bhutto saw 179 innocent people butchered to ‘demonstrate her popularity to the world’ is something that even the most biased writer should be incapable of asserting.

Nazir Dhoki
Media Office, Pakistan People’s Party, Islamabad

And a salient quote from Mansoor Ijaz:

I knew Benazir well. I am often blamed by her supporters for having helped bring her government down in 1996 by exposing her hypocrisy and corruption in two Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pieces. We remained in touch over the years after she went into exile, even developing a begrudging respect for each other over time. She struck me as a terribly conflicted person who deep in her heart wanted to save Pakistan from its evils, but was unable to put her personal lifestyle choices aside in doing so. But I firmly believe that she loved Pakistan, and for all her faults, had returned there this time to turn a new page in its troubled political history. We should remember her for her courage to stand up in the face of incalculable odds to bring some semblance of sanity to the disaster that Pakistan has become.


Benazir Bhutto was a brave woman. She was the face of modernity that Pakistan needed to salvage its descent into a sea of Islamist darkness. She should be remembered as a guardian of Pakistan’s identity as a modern Islamic nation. Her death need not be the beginning of Pakistan’s end.

Peter / December 28th, 2007, 7:36 pm / #10

To cut it short – assasinating Mrs. Bhutto is indefensible. But to mourn her as a saviour is also indefensible, as she had the chance to prove herself several times – and failed morally and ethically.
Mourn her as an innocent victim of political and religious hatred. Agreed.
Nothing more than that. She was tainted potential, some hope was permitted, but my general distrust towards all professional politicians has so far with very, very few exceptions been proven more than justified.
Politicians, once in power, regularly change their moral and high horse “virtue” for the one called “conveniance” and “material self interest”.
No matter her possible role – one should never forget that the real power is with the guns, not the person of either Mrs. Bhutto or Sharif or Musharraf.

Democracy are at present is only a goal – doubtfull if even ultimately one permitted to achieve by those who wield or are trying to wield the power – and she might or might have been allowed to move toward this goal.
The way things turned out: she was clearly not permitted, and she was a brave person, no matter her other qualities or lack thereof to even try, as it was clear right from her arrival in pakistan that she was a target.

Antony C. / December 29th, 2007, 2:39 am / #11

Stimulating comments. Good points, all round.
To add my tuppence- the beginnings of suicide bombings in mass effect were demonstrated during WWII by the Japanese. Beside the obvious Kamikazee pilots, thousands of ‘regular’ soldiers were trained as anti-tank weapons. With the now infamous “belt” strapped to them, they were trained to lay under moving tanks and detonate themselves. The motivation for this of course was to serve their all-powerful Emperor, a quasi-god figure throughout the nation and supported as such for centuries. This in itself shows the dangerous mindset of entrenched, unquestioned religiousity.
As for the incident at hand. Any political diversions caused by a single individual by violence, causes only disruption and serves those who wish to see chaos.
Usually, and unfortunately, this tends to be extremist religious groupings who make their mark in battle rather than at the polling station.

Tommy / December 29th, 2007, 8:50 am / #12

Interesting back and forth here. As I wrote on my own blog, Bhutto was a very flawed person, but the real tragedy of her assassination was that it was an attack not just on her personally, but against the very idea of democracy itself. The conspirators behind the plot to kill her did not want to even allow the people of Pakistan the chance to decide for themselves if they wanted to return Bhutto to power.

Daniel / December 29th, 2007, 4:42 pm / #13

Interestingly, the Beirut-based journalist Robert Fisk and the PPP themselves are blaming General Musharraf for Bhutto’s murder.

Fisk’s piece is here:

On a side note: I agree with the poster who said that “religiosity” is a dangerous thing. The only thing I would add is that, clearly, “religiosity” is not the same thing as religion, and it is possible that those who sincerely believe themselves to be atheists, are in fact in thrall to religious modes of thought. What I mean to say is: “religiosity” and magical thinking in general is hardly confined to those who self-identiify as religious. If only things were so simple!

Daniel / December 29th, 2007, 4:54 pm / #14

PS – As regarding this comment: “I don’t know that it is necessary to have a “more nuanced” view to be outraged at a blatant political assassination…”

I cannot but agree. If outrage is all that one wishes to convey, then details are indeed unimportant.

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