On the 27th of December 2007 the ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated during an election rally in Rawalpindi upon her return from self-imposed exile.  In the seven years since speculation has run rife, yet no individual or organisation has been found guilty for her death which removed potential reform for democracy and women’s rights.  As the seventh anniversary of Bhutto’s death draws near, the prospect of revealing the truth is becoming increasingly distant as the prospect of a decisive trial disintegrates. Although overlooked by mainstream Western media, Bhutto’s life and death should still be remembered as a noteworthy example of instability and injustice in Pakistan.

Throughout her political career Bhutto became a crusader figure for democracy and resistance to Pakistan’s traditional military regime. As the leader of the Pakistani People’s Party, she aspired to challenge military rule through transforming the nation into an economically developed, democratic and socially tolerant modern state. Bhutto enjoyed electoral success in 1988 and 1993, becoming the first and only female Prime Minister of Pakistan. Bhutto’s view of Pakistani politics notably characterized the right-wing Islamic Afghan jihad as the virus which infected numerous individuals and governmental institutions during ul-Haq’s regime. She publicly and explicitly identified the extremist jihadist apparatus as a danger not only to democracy, but to the nation state of Pakistan and worked to reverse extreme Islamic policies.

By 1999, General Pervez Musharraf had risen to power in a military coup and coined Bhutto’s rule as an ‘era of sham democracy’. However his military regime was widely unpopular and support for Bhutto continued to exist. Disaffection of public opinion reached its climax in November 2007 when he declared a State of Emergency and Martial Law, suspended the constitution and dismissed the Supreme Court. Public protests were sparked, serving as a movement to nurture popular support for Bhutto once again. In response to threats to his sovereignty, Musharraf went on to sign the power-sharing deal of the National Reconciliation Ordinance with Bhutto which would see her return from exile to participate in the national elections of January 2008. Upon her return, Bhutto publicly stated that she was willing to risk her own life at the hands of the corrupt militants in order to save the nation of Pakistan and fight for democracy. In light of her assassination by gunshot and suicide bomb not long after, it appears Bhutto eerily foretold her own death.

In the immediate aftermath, al-Qaeda and the Taliban seemed a likely explanation for her death. The Huffington Post posted this article recently commending Bhutto for her foresight of the dangers from the jihadis which led to her downfall. An Interior Ministry spokesman also stated that the killing had been ordered by Baitullah Mehsud, a terrorist allied to al-Qaeda. However, Mehsud passed the baton of blame onto Musharraf whom he believed to be attempting to divert attention away from his own responsibility for reasons of self-preservation. The Pakistani people responded with calls for a strong government which would impeach Musharraf and bring about constitutional reform. This was a duty which the re-elected PPP failed to fulfil as they struggled in the absence of Bhutto’s political leadership, despite their vision of ‘democracy for revenge’ in the years after her death.

In Pakistan today, Nawaz Sharif is the Prime Minister after being elected due to his important promise of an end to Musharraf’s escape form impeachment through self-imposed exile. When Musharraf returned to Pakistan in 2013, he was put under house arrest and disqualified from standing in elections. He has also found himself fighting an array of charges put forward by Sharif which included criminal conspiracy to murder, facilitation of murder and treason. The charges run parallel to the suspicion of the UN Commissioner Heraldo Muñoz who in 2010 reported that Bhutto’s death could have been prevented had Musharraf cooperated in providing sufficient protection. Bhutto herself even wrote in October 2007 that she had ‘been made to feel insecure’. The fact that the police were ordered to hose down the site of the assassination investigation further supplements the aura of suspicion surrounding the General.

Whilst the first ever indictment of an army chief has made history in a country where the military has controlled political power for 66 years, the trial of Musharraf is rapidly losing its ground. The case has been pushed aside by the deepening contention surrounding the charges of treason. When Musharraf’s defence pushed for 600 other military figures to be tried alongside Musharraf for their collaboration in the 2007 State of Emergency, the Supreme Court agreed. Therefore the trial will undoubtedly collapse with this burden, and especially as the Court becomes increasingly tentative in its actions against the army in attempts of pacification. Also Musharraf’s charges are becoming increasingly confused with suspicion of the jihadists. As Muñoz stated, there were many people present in the political climate of Bhutto’s time who wanted to do a powerful female harm.

Musharraf has continued to enjoy political influence in spite of criminal charges. He regularly uses social media platforms to rally his supporters, an example of which would be his recent expression of the belief that the 2014 Peshawar school attack was a result of India’s supposed support and training of the Taliban. He also gives interviews and hosts dinner parties for his supporters at his home in Karachi whilst dodging the gradually diminishing charges.

Therefore, Bhutto’s assassination to this day remains in a cloud of mystery and contest, serving to reflect the enduring instability of the Pakistani system and turmoil of the expansion of jihadis. It is important we remember this woman as a symbol of bravery and democracy.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.