Pakistani state prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfikar Ali would have been considered inordinately courageous for pursuing just one of the two cases that he indeed was. Either one has enough potentially lethal consequences. To have done both was to openly court death. And die he did.
Ali was gunned down in Islamabad today. A high profile lawyer, Ali was involved in investigating charges that former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was allegedly behind the December, 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He was also involved in the trial of seven members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba accused of involvement in the November, 2008 attacks on Mumbai that killed more than 160 people.
It takes gumption of a very high order to challenge two of the most deeply entrenched power structures of Pakistan and that too simultaneously. The brazen daylight murder comes barely eight days before Pakistan elects a new government. It is ironic that Bhutto was assassinated while campaigning for the last election and the man investigating her murder was killed before this one. But irony is no longer relevant in Pakistan. From a distance the whole place seems like Ironistan.
In a somewhat related development, Bhutto’s son Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, who is the head of the currently ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), is expected to stay away from the country on the election day. The Dawn newspaper reports that the 24-year-old Bilawal has left the country for an undisclosed location.
"Central party leader Taj Haider also confirmed that consensus had been reached in the party and that, in the wake of serious threats to Bilawal’s life, the party has advised him not to lead the election campaign in person," the newspaper said.
It quoted Haider as saying, “We have already lost Benazir Bhutto and will not risk losing Bilawal. The threats to his life are very real.”
Whether or not one likes Pakistan and whether or not one thinks that a lot of its current bloodletting is its own creation, one has to acknowledge the sheer commitment of its public figures to whatever genuine political cause they espouse. Most of Pakistan’s high profile public figures, and even those who are not high profile, seem marked by some malcontent or the other. And yet they go about doing what they must.
I am sure no one would have thought any less of the prosecutor had he chosen to take on just one of the two cases. Perhaps his logic was that doing either one essentially exposed him to the same level of mortal danger because he could not be killed twice. I suppose those used to leading a life in the shadow of abrupt mortality have a way of shutting those thoughts out.
Pakistan’s history is so soaked in vendetta killing that it seems it no longer matters who kills whom and why. The time to process one murder or one crisis is so short because the next one follows almost immediately. Crises have to jostle for attention in Pakistan.
I have been thinking about creating a television series about Pakistan that deliberately, and even gratuitously, focuses only on positive stories about the country. It is hard to believe that that there are no corners in Pakistan where something uplifting does not happen every day.(Excuse the odd construction of the previous sentence.) There must be people who break into singing for no apparent reason or burst out laughing at inane jokes or gossip about a neighbor’s sex life or wear trendy clothes or paint great paintings or write fine poetry. You know normal, ordinary things that a society secure in its skin might do. It is time for intervention of a civilized kind because the time for schadenfreude is over.