Lally Weymouth of Newsweek did a brilliant article published just two weeks before the assassination. She was in close quarters with Benazir Bhutto and then with President Musharraf. Neither one of them said anything apocalyptic, and certainly there was no indication that poised in those conventional words was the gleam of the assassin, or the fright of a victim bound. In short, from the two principals, there were no big surprises.
But Ms. Weymouth’s questions were not banal, and Musharraf rewarded her with a singular frankness. This came early in the interview, when Ms. Weymouth asked him, “Do you feel you stuck your neck out for the United States after September 11 and the United States has not stood by you?” One yearns to write that the following words were “spat out,” but that much can only be inferred:
“No, I don’t. I stuck out my neck for Pakistan. I didn’t stick out my neck for anyone else. It happened to be in the interest of the world and the U.S. . . . The problem with the West and your media is your obsession with democracy, civil liberties, human rights. You think your definition of all these things is [correct]. . . . Who has built democratic institutions in Pakistan? I have done it in the last eight years. We empowered the people and the women of Pakistan. We allowed freedom of expression.”
Musharraf cited as an example of the bias against which he works, the coverage by the Western media of the violence at the Islamabad mosque last summer: “We took action. What did the media do about it? They showed those who took action as villains and brought those madwomen who were there on television and made heroes of them.”
Weymouth then asked the sacred question: “Do you feel you could work with Benazir Bhutto?”
Musharraf: “When you talk of working with her, you imply she is going to be the prime minister. Why do you imply that? I keep telling everyone we haven’t had the elections.”
“Mrs. Bhutto charges that there are going to be ghost polling stations — that the voting is going to be rigged.”
This brought real asperity: “. . . let her not treat everyone like herself. . . . I am not like her. I don’t believe in these things. Where’s her sense of democracy when 57 per cent of the Parliament vote for me, and she says she is not prepared to work with me . . . ?”
Why, the interviewer asked Ms. Bhutto, are the terrorists so strong in Pakistan? Is it because there is support for them from the government?
Ms. Bhutto: “Yes, I am shocked to see how embedded it [terrorism] is. I knew it was bad from afar. People are scared to talk. They say I am polarizing when I say militancy is a problem.”
Two weeks later the lead story in the New York Times spoke of our policy as “left in ruins.” Nothing remained of “the delicate diplomatic effort the Bush administration had pursued in the past year to reconcile Pakistan’s deeply divided political factions.” Another Times reporter spoke of “the new challenge” the assassination posed to the Bush administration in its effort “to stabilize a front-line state” in the “fight against terrorism.”
There are reasons to object to the repository of blame in the Bhutto situation. To the charge that there was insufficient security in Rawalpindi, nothing more needs to be said than that — yes: manifestly there was insufficient security, as there was at Ford’s Theatre in 1865, Dealey Plaza in 1963, and the hundred other places in America where mayhem has been plotted. We cannot know with any confidence just what it is that the Pakistanis have to come up with to make safe the niceties of democracy about which Musharraf speaks with understandable scorn.
The scantest knowledge of Pakistani and Muslim history challenges the fatuity that this is a corner of the political world where public life can proceed with no more concern for militant interruption than would be expected in the House of Lords.
The Bush administration should announce to the waiting world that the United States cannot be charged with responsibility for maintaining order in Pakistan, and does not accept responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
© 2007 Universal Press Syndicate