December 30, 2007
Did Bhutto Martyr Herself?By James Lewis
What would you say about a politician who refused to tolerate sensible security measures just a few weeks after a major assassination attempt came within a hair's breadth of killing her, using a baby wrapped in a bomb? That bomb in Karachi killed an estimated 140 people, including the child. Bhutto only survived because by some miracle --- or by some intuition of danger --- she bent down behind the metal shielding of her open truck a few seconds before the bomb went off.
Then she went right back to riding in an open car, right in the middle of the street mobs.
Israeli security sources can't understand why she wasn't better protected.
There she was, touching hands with a wild, chanting mob for hours and hours, reaching out from the sunroof of her protected vehicle to reach out to the masses. The assassins took advantage of that vulnerability, according to press reports. Anybody could approach her, and did. It makes no sense to a Western mind. The US Secret Service would never, ever allow a US president to do that. The Secret Service protection detail would resign before letting it happen.
That's the deep psychological puzzle of Benazir Bhutto. It's not that President Musharraf and Bhutto didn't hate each other. No doubt they did. In fact, Bhutto said that if she were killed, Musharraf would be to blame. She accused Musharraf for giving her inadequate security, and then routinely did irrationally risky things, given the circumstances. She refused Musharraf's offer of helicopter transport. She talked openly with Westerners about the likelihood of assassination attempts.
She had enemies galore. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and vast numbers of militant Muslims hated her --- for being a woman, for being a leader, for being Westernized and modern, for being wealthy, fortunate and educated, for seeming likely to win the next election, for her record of awesome corruption, for a hundred other reasons.
No doubt she had legions of enemies in the Pakistani army, intelligence services, and Interior Ministry, who were afraid she might purge them if she won the January election.
Anybody who wanted stability wanted to protect her. Washington and London wanted her to win the election. Benazir Bhutto represented modernity and a chance for stability in Pakistan. Now there is anarchy, in a country that has plenty of radioactive materials for dirty bombs, and networks of Islamists who have infiltrated the government. This is their chance, and they know it.
A message attributed to Al Qaida rejoiced:
The nuclear weapons themselves are said to be disassembled, with parts hidden in different locations. They cannot be exploded without being assembled first. But there may be other dangerous radioactive materials that can be put on a truck with explosives, to make a crude dirty bomb. That may be the biggest threat.
The Musharraf government claims it offered Benazir Bhutto helicopters for transportation, but she refused. That would make sense. Certainly the US would insist that Musharraf protect her. And President Musharraf could only lose by the huge uproar her assassination would cause. Musharraf isn't interested in civil anarchy.
Refusing protection is consistent with her imperious and risk-taking personality. In an interview after the Karachi assassination attempt she said to MSNBC:
The whole thing is like the Charge of the Light Brigade, galloping right into the Russian artillery during the Crimean War. French Marshall Bosquet famously said,"It is magnificent but it is not war."
Suicidal heroism isn't war, and it isn't politics. It's another psychology from another time. You can't build a modern Pakistan if your leaders are bent on martyrdom.
The US government could have offered her improved security ---- and probably did. Her own political party could have offered her better security --- and probably did. The idea that she had to appear in wild, adoring crowds, with minimal protection, just doesn't hold water. She risked death because she decided to. Her psychology can only be understood in a Muslim context of family and clan, of the psychic wound caused by the violent deaths of her father and brothers, and of family honor and vengeance.
Significantly, Benazir Bhutto's autobiography was titled Daughter of Destiny. That refers to her life-shaping relationship with her father, Zulfikar Ali-Bhutto. That relationship defined her life. In her mind, her destiny was inseparable from her father. When he was executed by hanging, a dishonorable death by Muslim standards, her life obligation was to seek vengeance to restore the family honor. That may have been half conscious, but it is still embedded in the Pakistani culture of tribal vendetta. Her emotional enemy was the Army, in the person of General Musharraf, and perhaps even the modern nation state. Benazir Bhutto was a modern woman in her conscious thinking; in all other ways she was deeply attached to a premodern psychology in which the individual must die out of loyalty to family. The New York Times wrote in its obituary of her:
Pakistan is not yet a nation. Like Iraq, it is still a gigantic tribal confederation with a modern overlay. For millions of people the primary loyalty is to family, clan, and religion. The Pakistani Army and government is the one institution that constantly tries to override that tribal reality, just as in Turkey and Iraq.
A modern nation is trying to emerge from ancient quicksand, then falling back, then trying to emerge again. Benazir Bhutto's life reflected that double loyalty to the past and the future.
The legacy of Bhutto's martyr's death may be a national fallback into a more primitive state of tribal warfare, much like the chaotic Hobbesian warfare in Iraq before General Petraeus' counterinsurgency surge.
Before the time of nuclear weapons and dirty bombs, chaos in Pakistan would not have endangered the outside world. Today it must be on the top of our security agenda. The modern world has no choice but to support the only cohesive national force in Pakistan.
There will be a martyrdom cult around Benazir Bhutto, unified in death with her father. The first reports suggest that President Musharraf is going to be the target of her party. But Musharraf and the Army are the only hope for stability, combined with a civilian government that is not Islamofascist.
Keep your fingers crossed.
James Lewis blogs at dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/