Exclusive to STR
January 2, 2008
On the morning of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, I sat oblivious to world events in a small restaurant/bar in Columbus, Ohio. As I ate my Turkey Rueben Special, I glanced up at Fox News on the television, which was headlining two stories: Benazir Bhutto had been killed in Pakistan, and a killer tiger had escaped from the San Francisco zoo and attacked someone.
I sat shocked at the news of the former prime minister's death. The bartender, who had looked up occasionally, asked me, "Wait, how did the tiger get to Pakistan?" I looked at him. Humbled with disbelief, I put my head in my hand and replied, "I don't know. Super tigers?"
The confusion of a man working in a bar that has Fox News on the television 24/7 does not surprise me. In a country where barely half of the citizens could point to Pakistan on a map, the general incompetence in regards to Pakistani politics does not surprise me. And, for that matter, if Fox News ran a story about anti-democratic tigers running amok killing off popular leaders in the Middle East , that would not surprise me either. After all, al-Qaeda has been training super tigers in secret camps for years!
What did surprise me was that the only time I saw the name President Musharraf on television that morning was when Fox News mentioned that President Bush had called Musharraf to offer "his condolences." All across the board, the major media networks had placed the Pakistani President in some kind of role of reluctant authority, as if he were saddened by Bhutto's murder.
Yet, when I turned on NPR later that day, Musharraf's name was mentioned in a different light -- mentioned by people actually IN Pakistan. First, on Fresh Air, host Terry Gross spoke to Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, via telephone about the situation on the ground, which revealed that people were rioting "looting election offices and attacking police" because it was widely believed that the Pakistani President and his government were complicit in the attacks.
Afterwards, NPR's All Things Considered talked to a friend of Bhutto's, Mark Segal, a lobbyist in Washington, who had received an email from Bhutto only weeks before her death. She had professed, after the attacks intended for her in October were unsuccessful, that the government was failing to adequately ensure her safety, and that Musharraf and elements of his intelligence community were somehow intentionally denying her security. In other words, Bhutto herself felt that the government would play a role in her death.
After all, as Rashid pointed out on Fresh Air, it was Musharraf, who, after the bombings in October, declared emergency rule, suspended the constitution, removed Supreme Court judges, put Bhutto under house arrest and most importantly, moved the election from the fall to January. Bush may as well have given Musharraf a high-five.
In the days that ensued, everyone from members of the Pakistan People's Party to Pakistani cricket stars came out and said the government was somehow involved. It was Musharraf's government who stood to lose the most from a democratically elected Bhutto. Even the other opposition leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, declared he would not participate in the upcoming election, evidence that he also believes the government is dangerously corrupt.
Meanwhile, Pakistani government officials have since said the attack was an act of terrorism by radical members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda -- two organizations that have become the go-to names when bad things happen. 9/11? Al-Qaeda! Spain bombings? Al-Qaeda! Bhutto assassination? Al-Qaeda! Killer tiger? Al-Qaeda!
It is clear what will happen from here. The Pakistani government will continue to blame the assassination on terrorism, while the Pakistan People's Party will continue to allege that the government was complicit, but the truth about Bhutto's assassination will not be discovered. The U.S. will continue to push for elections, enforcing our "if we don't do business as usual, the terrorists have won" routine, keeping the devious, murderous madman Musharraf in power, because at least he's our devious, murderous madman. And the mainstream media, such as Fox News, will continue to not investigate the situation, only reporting what the Bush administration wants people to know, continuing to allow the largely ignorant public to confuse pertinent facts and never get the real story.
We must make an effort to find what many in Pakistan already know -- if a killer tiger did attack Bhutto, its name was Musharraf.