I felt so compelled to write something when I got two text messages that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack. (At the time of writing, I received the third sms.)
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani opposition leader, killed in suicide attack
By SALMAN MASOOD AND GRAHAM BOWLEY
Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack at a political rally being held near Islamabad on Thursday, according to Pakistan’s state news agency. (IHT)
I am deeply saddened by the news. I do not know Ms Bhutto personally. But I do know that she was no Aung San Suu Kyi. I am aware of the corruption allegations against her. If I were a Pakistani, I would probably be very critical of her.
I am sad because I believe politics should be the substitute for violence in resolving human contests for power and other resources. As Mao Tze-Tung put it, “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.”
No one should die for politics.
Ms Bhutto’s father died in political violence too. He was tried, convicted and executed in 1979 for ‘murder’ after being overthrown as the Prime Minister in a military coup.
It reminds me of the widows and children of assassinated leaders in India, Bangladesh and Sri Langka. I am quite sure that Ms Bhutto would not be the last leader assassinated in Pakistan. Many more bloodsheds would follow. President Musharraf was attempted at least twice.
Why do people need to die for politics? I would like to argue that this happens when you have winner-takes-all politics and no rule of law. When the stake is so high, when the losers or losers-to-be feel that they are pushed to the wall, or when the winners or winner-wannabees believe they can get away with what they do, incentives are just too strong for someone to resort to political violences.
A good political system, which produces true political stability if you like, is one that recognizes the legitimate interests of every segment or bloc in the society and ensures that everyone is taken on board in decision making. The winners will get more benefits than the losers – that’s the reward for victory – but not everything. The losers will lose some benefits to the winners – that’s the punishment for defeat – but not everything.
Most importantly, the victory and defeat for now is not the victory and defeat forever. Because there will be unlimited games to play in the future – with the citizenry and electorate being the judge, no one will resort to extreme measures. The winner will treat the losers with respect because they want to be treated fairly someday when they loose. The losers will cooperate with the winner because they want the same cooperation from the opponents someday day when they win.
That’s why you do not see political violence happening often in democracies. And rallies rarely turn into riots. That’s true political stability.
Yes, assassination happen too in democracies. A few US presidents, from Lincoln to Kennedy were assassinated. Others like Reagan were attempted. Never mind conspiracy theories like those surrounding Kennedy’s death, the assassins were generally recognized as not sent by other political elites. The acts were mostly isolated actions carried by individual fanatics or psychopaths. You therefore have no riots or political unrests after the death of a president. The country would mourn but also move on.
(In the cases where assassinations are carried out by foreign powers or organizations, wars may break out.)
The same unfortunately may not be said for a country like Pakistan. I am mourning for Pakistan, not only that she has lost a prominent daughter along with at least twelve others children, but she will likely loose more sons and daughters in coming days.
Please join me to pray for the families of Ms Bhutto and her country.
Please pray also for all other countries that are not democratic or have not had their democracies consolidated, that no one gets inspired by what happened in Rawalpindi.
Where you do not yet have liberal democracies, a time bomb is always waiting somewhere to be lighted.