Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bhutto's Assassins and Destructive Conspiracy Theories

New footage has appeared of Benazir Bhutto's shooter, alongside a man alleged to have been the suicide bomber. This seems to disprove the Government's account and the coroners report that she was killed after colliding with the sunroof lever due to the outward force of the blast. You can see the video from Dawn Television below:

That said, the specifics are immaterial. Whether she died by gunshot, or by the blast, the fact remains that she was standing outside the sunroof and that she was killed by her assassins. Whether her death was caused by gunshot, shrapnel, or the force of the explosion has no logical bearing upon the actual blameworthiness of the government. It neither assists Musharraf nor does it reflect worse upon him. The shrapnel/bullet/sunroof debate (started by the somewhat pointless Sherry Rehman) is therefore pointless, and is not an appropriate topic for public discussion, not least because it has zero bearing on any one parties culpability. It should be determined upon by the investigating authorities, regardless of their inevitable shortcomings.

Exhortations to dig up Benazir's body just a day after her burial to resolve such a ridiculous dispute are indicative of the madness that is now pervasive. The governments immediate declaration of willingness to accede to such demands is further indicative of their sheer desperation to acquit themselves of a charge that should never have been made against them in the first place.

Just to put this particular sub-debate in context, it has somehow become wound up with the broader conspiracy theory proposed by many that Musharraf actually orchestrated Benazir's death (rather than the softer version wherein he was simply negligent in permitting it). I have reproduced Robert Fisk's astoundingly daft version below:

"So let's run through this logic in the way that Inspector Ian Blair might have done in his policeman's notebook before he became the top cop in London.
Question: Who forced Benazir Bhutto to stay in London and tried to prevent her return to Pakistan?
Answer:General Musharraf.

Question: Who ordered the arrest of thousands of Benazir's supporters this month?
Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who placed Benazir under temporary house arrest this month?
Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who declared martial law this month?
Answer General Musharraf.

Question: who killed Benazir Bhutto?
Er. Yes. Well quite."
Just to clarify, Fisk thinks that the above Q & A speaks for itself in terms of Musharraf's apparently obvious culpability. Fisk's regrettably simplistic efforts notwithstanding, it is close to impossible to actually reason out a comprehensive scenario where it was in Musharraf's interest to kill Benazir. A simple glance at the state the Country is in today should establish that. Secondly and more importantly, even if one outcome did benefit a party it may legitmatley raises a suspicion, but it should not result in an irrefutable charge being made against that party, which is essentially what a conspiracy theory does. A paucity of information should result in a simple "I don't know" rather than a convoluted conspiracy theory.

That said, it should be noted that there is some information in the current instance. This conspiracy theory exists notwithstanding an apparent initial admission by Al-Qaeda, an alleged confession tape by Baitullah Mehsud, and a belatedly thin denial by the latter which incredibly states that "it is against tribal tradition and custom to attack a woman". Baitullah Mehsud apparently lives in an alternate dimension where his brain has been replaced by a walnut, where honor killings don't take place and where suicide bombs have somehow always been intelligent enough to focus their explosive force exclusively upon men and not women. That is not to suggest that Baitullah Mehsud is actually guilty or that the government was correct in identifying him, but rather that his explanation is just about as implausible as they come.

I would submit that the creation and proliferation of conspiracy theories following Benazir's assassination is extremely damaging and detrimental to Pakistan for two reasons:

1) Armchair conspiracy theories and baseless punditry place the burden of proof upon the government to somehow prove their innocence in the matter. Rather than rupturing further, Pakistan's society and state should be galvanizing in outrage against religiously bigoted militancy or at the very least against the use of such horrific violence against our own people. Conspiracy theories however misdirect public anger, with the kind of catastrophic effects were now witnessing across Sindh. The Jihadis (who are a real problem regardless of their culpability for this crime) are effectively rewarded through the instigation of a conflict between their biggest opponents, namely the PPP and the Army, or Musharraf and the PPP (or Punjab and Sindh, depending on which fault line you want to use as perspective). If they are responsible, it's two birds with one blast, and plenty of innocent Pakistanis to follow.

2) Conspiracy theories are not premised upon evidence but rather the lack thereof. The absence of evidence to prove the 'official' hypothesis somehow 'proves' the idiotic conspiratorial hypothesis, i.e "there's no evidence, therefore there must be a cover up". Contending that conjecture stands proven because of the absence of evidence is circular and stupid. We should only be drawing conclusions when real proof, i.e. a motive plus incriminating evidence, is established.

By reversing the burden of proof, conspiracy theories create new issues and new sub-disputes which cannot essentially be resolved (e.g. the pointless sunroof v bullet dispute although that can be resolved, albeit only by exhuming the body). In the future, this debate will stalemate and become knotted, locking innocent parties in a poisonous blame game and preventing the country from moving on and forward. Moreover, the entrenchment of such conspiracy theories prevents people from obtaining closure in the future and prolongs their grief.

Why then do Pakistanis love to subscribe to such investigative jiggery pokery? Well, there has traditionally been a vacuum of credible information in Pakistan. Moreover, the government has historically been positively in-credible and understandably, conspiracy theories tend to flourish in such an environment. Less understandably, that proclivity is further assisted by our individual penchants for gossip, our desire for self-importance and our unflagging ability to draw macro conclusions from bizzare & unreliable anecdotal information received from an uncle.

Additionally, we are extremely willing to believe whatever we like about people we don't like. Consequently, many Pakistanis simply don't like to make well reasoned and slightly obvious conclusions where it's entirely more gratifying to blame people we already hate. Which is why Musharraf somehow orchestrated the Lal Masjid uprising and Benazir's assassination, and which is why the Jews are somehow responsible for 9/11 (and Benazir's assassination, because those we hate love each other obviously).

So by that logic, I hate Atif Aslam, he is therefore responsible for pretty much everything bad because when people are sad they buy his crappy power ballads, and unless he can prove that he didn't secretly orchestrate everything by instructing someone who instructed someone else to instruct someone else to carry out something which caused everything to get messed up, he's clearly guilty.

Chalo. Now lets go burn some banks.


Anonymous said...

What the hell is wrong with Fisk? I thought he was intelligent!

Its most likely the Jihadis, be that Al Qaeda or their ilk. I also think the govt acted prematurely in issuing the evidence and drawing conclusions in front of the media as to the sunroof or whatever, but that they did so because they were eager to manage the issue in the media rather than let suspicions against them fester in the public. So much for that. Youre right though, its sad that people are mad enough to seriously accuse Mush. He's at his weakest now.

BB was a sitting duck. Amin Fahim said it right. Had she stayed in the car like he did, none of this would have happened. Short of locking her up (which they did earlier) theres nothing mushie couldve done to save her if shes going to insist on soaking in the adulation of hundreds of people in their immediate proximity.

Ahsan said...

great post, nb, and welcome back. agree with everything you was INCREDIBLY frustrating to argue with people (notably my dad and my brother) on this issue. only in pakistan is the conspiracy theory given the credence of the real substantive explanation, and the real substantive explanation treated like a conspiracy theory (i.e. with condescending disdain..."oh, you believe THAT? haha, you're so naive." if i'm so moved, i may write a post on this myself, but you seem to have covered all the bases so there's not much else for me to add.

Saim said...

Well I still think you are leaving a very important issue aside.

How the fuck did the assassin get to within 3 meters of her car?Were there no layers of security, or was this something that the PPP took responsibility for itself?

I am not saying that the govt. had a hand in this, the most likely culprits are the jihadis.I do feel that the govt. may have been lazy in providing the adequate amount of security in order to hinder her campaign, with the result an absolute disaster.But then again, I'm only an arm chair conspiracy theorist!:P

NB said...

@Anonymous - Frankly I dont read much Fisk. I hear alot about him (good things) from my other freinds, but I personally find found his articles a little boring. I read this one last night, and it was inexplicably dumb. Needless to say im now confused as to his intelligence as well.

@Ahsan - Thanks dude. Sorry I havent been writing btw, but every time i want to write something, something else happens. Im too slow for Pakistan it seems.

@Saim - Thanks for the comment. Dont get me wrong its always important to think critically and test the veracity of the official account.

And yeah while it is absolutley a relevant question as to how he got so close, i feel its something that government and the PPP have to answer jointly, because theyre both responsible, and both have failed Pakistanis. I think that the PPP leadership is aware of this on some level.

In terms of her security, it really is Benazir herself who has a lot to answer for. As Anonymous mentioned above, Makhdoom Amin Fahim himself said that this wouldnt have happened if she hadnt exited the car. Its all very well to request signal jammers which prevent Improvised Explosive Devices, but IED's are only neccesassry once primary secuirity measures (such as ensuring a cordon between the potential target and the crowd)have been taken. I dont think youd have seen an IED in Iraq if the Americans were readily exposing themselves on foot to throngs of people on a daily basis without even wearing bullet proof vests and helmets.

Ultimatley none of the security measures requested, from the additional police mobiles to the jamming equipment would have made any difference if BB was going to insist upon exposing herself at arms length to large groups of people.

Anonymous said...

If Musharraf is talking, he is lying.

If Busharraf is talking, he is lying.

If the dictator is talking, the dictator is lying.

Anonymous said...

heres a new one i just heard:

her husband had her killed so that he could take over the party, then pakistan, then the world muhahaha (i just added the last part). what do you think about that? are most people smart enough to think otherwise?

NB said...

Haha no, they're probably not smart enough.

That notwithstanding, the notion that the culprit is Zardari wont gain much currency simply because thats not a theory that emotionally resonates with the people passionately seeking to apportion blame. They quite like Zardari actually. Hes Bhuttos stalwart widower and Bilawals dad! Im of the opinion that Pakistanis make emotional decisions, and logic is merely an afterthought which is belatedly used as a facade to justify those emotional decisions.

The people who would beleive that Zardari did it would have to A) hate Zardari with a focal passion B) be intensely stupid, because Zardari (like Mushy ironically) was unquestionably in a better position with BB alive. I think we can both agree that such people will exist, but not in high numbers.

I will also add that thats not to say that Zardari isnt already a murderer. Check out the following link. It describes how Zardari (probably) murdered Murtaza Bhutto, in part because the latter shaved half his mustache off.

Anonymous said...

This is why I love Tariq Ali (also, his anti-Bush rants on BBC and CNN!). Thanks for recommending it. You can find the full article here: