03 March 2011

Pakistani Politics Still Violent

"A Pakistani government minister who had said he was getting death threats because of his opposition to a controversial blasphemy law was shot to death Wednesday.

Shahbaz Bhatti was the only Christian member of the Cabinet in Pakistan, where 95 percent of people are Muslim. He served as the government’s minister of minority affairs....

The Taliban claimed responsibility. “(The) assassination of Bhatti is a message to all of those who are against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” said Ihsanullah Ihsan, a Taliban spokesman."

Two months ago, a governor of a Pakistan state — Salman Taseer — was murdered for the same reason.

From here.

How do you run a democratic civilian government when senior government officials who take positions on issues (never mind waiting around to see how the political and legal process resolved the dispute), that somebody else in the system doesn't like, are routinely murdered or executed?

It has been this way for a long time. Pakistan's first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in 1951, after which the first President, Iskander Mirza declared martial law and discarded the constitution, which lead to his removal from office in a coup by General Ayub Khan, the same day, October 7, 1958.

Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan's People's Party became President after a democratic election on December 20, 1971, was replaced in a coup in July 1977, and was executed for complicity in a 1974 political murder on April 4, 1979.

President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq was killed when his plane exploded in August 1988. Suffice it to say that it certainly sounds like suspicious circumstance.

Benazir Bhutto (the late Zulifikar Ali Bhutto's daughter) became Prime Minister in 1988, was removed by the President based on corruption charges August 1990, returned to power October 1990, and was removed for more corruption charges November 1996.

A coup removed the civilian regime entirely over dissatisfaction with the decisions on military matter being made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999, and the leading General Pevez Musharraf declared himself to be President on June 20, 2001. Between then and 2007, he survived four assassination attempts.

More than 140 people died in a suicide bomber's unsuccessful attempt to kill Benazir Bhutto as she campaigned for President after eight years in exile on October 18, 2007, and she was successfully assassinated December 27, 2007 after a political rally, in which the leaders of the regime of Pakistan in power at the time is accused of being complicit.

Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari lead the Pakistan Peoples Party to an electoral victory Febraury 18, 2008, and after street protests and a threatened impeachment, General Musharraf stepped down in August, and Zardari was sworn in as President.

This, of course, just includes the highlights, without mentioning assassinations and assassination attempts on lower level figures, and a constant low level parade of other political killings and suicide bombings. For example, seven more famous political assassinations in Pakistan can be found here (many of which are discussed with more narration here.) I've also omitted multiple wars, some still in progress today. The separation of Pakistan from India was not bloodless. One bloody civil war split Bangladesh and Pakistan into separate countries in the 1970s. There have been wars with India over the Kashmir and out of general mutual antipathy. There have been subnational insurgencies and violent counterinsurgencies in the country's "frontier provinces" since 1958, and one of them is in progress right now.

Xe Services, which is currently embroiled in revelations related to the arrest of a U.S. CIA contractor who used to work for them, was accused in 2009 of having conducted political assassinations of its own without Presidential approval. This is in addition to the many Presidentially authorized CIA assassinations of people believed to be involved with the Taliban, mostly with drone deployed missiles, pursuant to the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force by Congress following 9/11.

Pakistan is not Yemen. It is a developing country with a viable middle class and more than a hundred million people, with one of the oldest histories of civilization in the world, and a substantial GDP, that has nuclear weapons, not a sparsely populated poor nation in the middle of a desert. In theory, it is a nation of Muslims who have a lot in common with each other in a "nation-state" sense.

Even without any new provocations, it would take a lifetime just to settle the scores for all the political killings that have occurred so far. A simple change of President pursuant to election results in the ordinary manner, without assassinations, impeachments or coups, that takes place in the United States every four to eight years, most of the time, is almost unprecedented in Pakistan.

As much as we can become concerned with minor happenings in Pakistan, the very basics of orderly, peaceful civilian government of any kind seem elusive.

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