Dec 30, 2007

[World Affairs] The Power of Bhutto as a Symbol

Flickr: funkfaerie - Symbolic Disappointment
Symbolic Disappointment
by funkfaerie.

Perhaps it's because I'm such a big Dune fan that I learned to appreciate some of the finer nuances of politics and manipulating large populations through symbols. You have to admit, Herbert's universe has always been amazingly diverse and complicated with different factions running their own agendas.

I couldn't help but apply this same line of though to the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakisan and democratic advocate. Perhaps it's also because I'm currently reading the last of the three Legends of Dune books, which cover the events of the Butlerian Jihad against the thinking machines. In this particular conflict, there were a lot of symbolic acts and martyrs created just to support the jihad.

It certainly makes you think.

No matter how you look at it, the death of Benazir Bhutto can serve any number of purposes. She's just too high profile a target not to have some impact on the way things flow in any number of ways. Of course the country is now rampant with conspiracy theories with many of them holding some water in terms of their merit or possibility of being true.

Chief suspect these days based on the initial pronouncements of the Pakistan government and supported by some US Intelligence agencies is that this was a terrorist strike from groups like Al-Qaeda or the remnants of the Taliban. Symbolically, Bhuto represents the main thrust of the democratic efforts in Pakistan in the eyes of many of its citizens. It doesn't matter how little she achieved in the past during the two instances where she was Prime Minister of the country but more that she is one of the most visible driving forces in the opposition pushing for a return to democracy. They've publicly claimed credit for the killing across the web and in other venues, but then one can't blame them for taking credit at any time for something this significant.

However, one has to consider that this isn't Al-Qaeda's style when it comes to their own symbolic acts of terrorism. They're more known to strike large crowds and groups, trying to affect as many people as possible. They're not commonly known to practice assassinations in this manner. This is not to discredit Bhutto as a target of Islamic terrorists, just pointing out that this would be a new direction them.

We could go the route of Bhutto's own speculations before her death that the chief suspect would remain to be President Musharraf, current ruler of Pakistan who relies on the military to keep safe his power base. It wouldn't be totally impossible for him to be considered the guilty party given it has remained largely uncertain if the January 8 parliamentary elections will even push through. He had imposed military rule last month in order to re-establish order (and get rid of some pesky lawyers and supreme court justices as well) and the current state of unrest would be another excuse to do this.

While international pressure remains for him to pursue democratic efforts, especially from their chief War on Terror ally, the United States. Still, one cannot deny that the current environment hardly fosters the immediate continuation of the democratic process and any results from a rushed election would definitely be called into question.

However such an overt action would only hurt him and possibly trigger a civil war if the people believe he is the guilty of killing Bhutto and thus removing him from power. That might be what the perpetrators want - a way to remove Musharraf from power, even at the cost of Bhutto's life. Such is the power of symbols in human society and I wouldn't put it past any Machiavellian-inspired patriot to force Bhutto into becoming a martyr. This could also be part of a general destabilization plot by the Islamic terrorist groups who want to stop the democratic process and maintain civil unrest in the country, thus further pushing Musharraf to rely on a strong police and military action to keep the peace.

In the end, we can't help but look back at Bhutto herself, an amazing and brave woman who returned to her country knowing full well the power her death held as a symbol. She was a willing martyr in many ways given she knew she was bound to be the target of many enemies and still she returned to face them all, just in the name of democracy. While I doubt this is the path to democracy she envisioned, I can't help but feel that ultimately, her death may serve to bring democracy back to Pakistan far better than any of her efforts in life. Such is the irony of sweeping philosophical and political change, at times.

I feel bad for her 19 year old son Bilawal Bhutto, who is being eyed as a potential successor to her previous mantle as party leader for life for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). While he is terribly inexperienced as a politician, this action as well serves more as a symbol of the continuation of her legacy. He's no longer an individual faced with a difficult choice - he too has become a symbol in his own right, a representative of the family name and a reminder of her legacy.

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