Bhutto's Mixed Legacy in India

Another South Asian political dynasty loses an heir to assassination

February 09, 2009, 11:23 AM

NEW DELHI, India, Dec 28, 2007 — -- For India, Benazir Bhutto was the Pakistani prime minister who once urged a crowd to cut an Indian governor into little pieces. But she was also the "daughter of democracy," a kindred spirit to India's own female leaders.

Today, she is being hailed in India for how she could have changed Pakistan. And she will now forever be linked with India's ill-fated political dynasty.

Her "intent to break Indo-Pak relations out of the sterile patterns of the past was exemplary," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said after Bhutto died on Thursday when a suicide bomber shot her and blew himself up outside her car. "The manner of her going is a reminder of the common dangers that our region faces from cowardly acts of terrorism and of the need to eradicate this dangerous threat."

When Bhutto's political career began, India saw the canny and charismatic leader as a secular, liberal opportunity: a prime minister who might bring less religion and less militancy to the Indian-Pakistani dialogue.

But many say that's not what happened. "She was very directly responsible for the jihad, directly inciting terrorists to intensify terrorism in India," Ajai Sahni, the executive director of the New Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management, told ABC News. "I would find it very difficult to find a single element with her relationship to India that is positive and for the betterment of her country or the region."

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they were violently divided 60 years ago. Under Bhutto, the Taliban formed and, helped by Pakistan's intelligence service, swept across Afghanistan and later hosted Osama bin Laden. Her government helped foster anti-Indian terrorism in the disputed Kashmir region.

Today, In Sringar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, police fired tear gas at protestors who were shouting "Long Live Pakistan" and "Long Live Bhutto," Reuters reported. And in response to her death, the Indian government put its border troops on a higher state of alert and canceled the major bus and rail services to Pakistan, the Home Ministry announced.

But many analysts believe Bhutto's death will not have an immediate impact on India's security.

"The terrorism apparatus in Pakistan will remain as it is," Vikram Sood, the former head of India's External Intelligence Agency -- India's version of the CIA -- told ABC News. "Right now, they are more involved with the western front," where the Taliban controls a large swath of rugged territory along the border with Afghanistan. "But should the situation deteriorate further, one would fear a diversion" to India and Kashmir, Sood said.

"This may marginally accelerate the dynamic of violence and disintegration in Pakistan," Sahni said. "But, broadly you will have more of the same. More violence, more tendencies toward terrorism, and an aggravation of the Talibanization of Pakistan."

India has nurtured its relationship with the military regime in Pakistan with special attention to preventing Pakistani instability from spreading into Kashmir. The two countries have been in peace talks for three years, and attacks across the border have fallen significantly during that time.

"More practical steps have been taken for India and Pakistan in the last three years than have been taken in the last 50 years. … The relationship has never been as good as it's been the last few years," C. Raja Mohan, a professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told ABC News.

But critics said India should be publicly calling for Pakistan to fully embrace democracy. And 17 years after she asked Pakistanis in Kashmir to cut the governor there into little pieces, much of India viewed Benazir Bhutto as Pakistan's best chance for change.

The light "has gone out of Pakistan," the Hindustan Times editorial board wrote today. "With it, so seems any chance of peace, never mind of democratic peace, in that unfortunate, unfortunate land."

Bhutto's death is all too familiar in this part of the world, where the headlines today repeated a story that has been told often in South Asia: a popular member of a political dynasty has been assassinated.

In Pakistan, the dynasty was launched by Bhutto's flamboyant father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He founded the Pakistan People's Party -- the group that his daughter led -- and in 1972, became Pakistan's first popularly elected prime minister, later signing the agreement that created India and Pakistan's current borders.

In 1979, he was executed by hanging in the same city where his daughter was killed.

At the time, the matriarch of Indian politics, Indira Gandhi, was prime minister. Her father, Jawaharlal Nehru, had been India's first prime minister, and she was on her way to serving a fourth consecutive term when she was shot by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. She died in the arms of her Italian daughter-in-law, Sonia.

Indira's son Rajiv became prime minister. He was killed by a suicide bomber in 1991. Today, his widow Sonia is the most powerful politician in India.

Bhutto "was full of admiration for Mrs. Gandhi," Union Minister Ambika Soni told the Indian Express. "For the way [Sonia] had taken over the mantle of the party and maintained the legacy of her family and contributed to both the party and the country. Benazir told me that her family was trying to do the same in Pakistan, and it was not easy."

As one Indian newspaper wrote today, "Pakistan without Benazir is like India without Indira."

But Bhutto shared more with Indira Gandhi than a mutual fate. Bhutto's father taught her to study the lives of great women as inspiration. She always said she had three role models -- her father, Joan of Arc and Indira Gandhi.

"'Well, if Nehru's daughter can become prime minister of India, my daughter can become prime minister of Pakistan,'" Bhutto once told the Times of London, quoting her father. "Of course, I come from a region that has produced women leaders, and so he would talk to me about Indira Gandhi and Mrs. Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Golda Meir [of Israel] and also Joan of Arc."

Asked by the Times whether she considered herself a feminist while she studied at Harvard in the early 1970s, Bhutto said, "I was certainly emboldened by their writing because at that time at college there was still a debate between those women who wanted to get married and those of us who wanted to have careers."

It was Bhutto's career drive that made her the youngest prime minister in Pakistan's history and the first elected leader of a Muslim country. In the end, her drive to change Pakistan made her a target. She was just 54 years old.

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