Nirj Deva, MEP for the South East and Conservative spokesman for Development in the European Parliament, argues that Western governments are partly responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s death and warns of the danger of Pakistan having nuclear weapons.
Minutes after the murder of my friend Benazir Bhutto, George W Bush and Gordon Brown issued carefully-worded statements in which they praised her “bravery” and “immense personal courage”. Whilst their sentiments must surely be appreciated by everyone who knew and respected her, one has to ask why her killing was even possible. The answer, painfully, is all too simple.
Despite their lofty words in praise of her memory, the uncomfortable truth is that western governments have consistently underestimated the dastardly and stealthy role the military regime in Pakistan has consistently played in perpetuating Islamic terrorism, both inside the country and in the wider international community.
Through their collective failure to crack down on the extremism that is Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship, Western governments have not just Benazir Bhutto’s blood on their hands today, but that of scores of civilians who have died in terrorist attacks around the world.
In September 2001, the World Trade Centre in New York was blown up by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Where were the Al Qaeda training camps? In Afghanistan, close to the border with Pakistan. Where did Bin Laden flee to hide? In Waziristan, again on the borders of Musharraf’s Pakistan. From where did the militant Taliban come time and time again to Afghanistan to kill British and American soldiers? From Musharraf’s Pakistan.
Who was supplying the arms and material to the Taliban? Musharraf’s Intelligence Services. Where did the British-born Islamic Jihadist fly to be trained to blow up London’s buses and tubes? In Musharraf’s Pakistan. Which country has the largest number of students being taught Islamic Jihadism in special Madrassa schools? Musharraf’s Pakistan. Who gave the secrets of how to make a nuclear bomb to the North Koreans, the Libyans and other rogue states thereby endangering the whole world as never before? Musharraf’s top scientist AK Khan. Who visited Bin Laden before 9/11 and offered him the technology to build nuclear weapons? Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Musharraf’s personally-appointed Director General of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Which military dictatorship clandestinely built and tested nuclear bombs and developed the missiles to deliver them in violating the non-proliferation treaty? Musharraf’s Government.
Saddam’s Iraq and Musharraf’s Pakistan were both military dictatorships. Iraq did not harbour terrorists. Musharraf’s Pakistan did and continues to do so. Iraq, lacking a nuclear bomb, was not a nuclear proliferator. Pakistan is – with a vengeance. Iraq’s schools did not teach Islamic fundamentalism. Musharraf’s Pakistan does.
Whilst we worry about Iran acquiring nuclear weaponry, the equally unstable regime in Pakistan already possesses such technology. Pervez Musharraf did not order the killing of Benazir Bhutto, nor do I believe he is personally an extremist, but he nonetheless presides over a country in which martial law reigns and opponents of the regime are brutally murdered with impunity. Musharraf has the unique distinction, rare even amongst dictators, of having conducted a second military coup, to maintain the results of his first one. It remains to see how he will respond to the violence that will no doubt follow in the weeks ahead.
In a crowning and tragic irony, his supporters’ present crackdown is on democracy activists like Benazir Bhutto and not the Taliban, armed Islamic terrorists or Al Qaeda supporters.
The ordinary people of Pakistan are decent law abiding people. They are a civilised and kind people who deserve better than this evil dictatorship that cares little for democratic discourse and more about perpetuating its own power.
Over the coming days, our television screens will be filled with tragic scenes of further bombings, rioting and carnage from both Benazir’s heartbroken supporters and the zealots celebrating her slaying. Now is the time for Western governments and Pervez Musharraf, who claimed after taking Presidential Oath of Office in November, that not only did he “want democracy” but also “human rights and civil liberties”, to act.
The more than 3000 citizens, including leaders of political parties, lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and representatives of civil society must be freed from prison.
Pakistan’s judicial independence must be restored by reinstating the judiciary through the immediate release of all representatives of the Bar Associations who have been arrested after peaceful street protests, such as Aitzaz Ahsan, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
The country’s nuclear arsenal, at constant risk from extremists must, with western assistance, be immediately secured.
All restrictions on the media must be lifted and ordinances restricting the free coverage of political events must be rescinded. Freedom of speech, movement, association and assembly must be fully implemented and all restrictions on law-abiding political parties be removed
In order to bring about these objectives, the West must support the creation of a wholly neutral caretaker government, formed in line with principles of Pakistan’s pro-democracy constitution of 1973. This interim government should, in consultation with Musharraf and opposition figures including erstwhile supporters of Benazir Bhutto and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, oversee the creation of a newly constituted Elections Commission. Supported by the West in any capacity the interim government felt necessary, elections should then be held at the earliest possible opportunity.
Shortly before her death, Benazir stated that, “given the right to a free ballot, the people would support [her] return”. Whilst nothing can return her to this earth, the people of Pakistan must indeed be given the right to live in the tolerant and democratic country Benazir Bhutto fought for her entire life. It is our responsibility in the West to do all we can to bring about that objective.