The Indian political establishment has reacted with shock to the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a suicide attack today. Terming it “a cowardly act by desperate individuals”, a senior Congress party leader expressed hope that the people of Pakistan would overcome this tragedy with maturity and poise. “When Indiraji was killed, Rajiv was a political greenhorn, but we stood by him and he soon matured into a great leader. And when Rajiv was killed, we hoped Sonia-ji would take over immediately. If she had done so, the Congress party would have reaped a massive sympathy vote in 1991 and would have been stronger than it is today.”
“Everybody reacts to grief differently, you can’t fault Sonia-ji for not taking reins of the party after the shocking loss of her husband”, another leader intervened. “But all said and done, we were always faithful to the family that has given its all to the party. Now, with Rahul being active politically and Priyanka ostensibly ready to jump in when necessary, we feel more secure than ever, the drubbing in Gujarat notwithstanding.”
The BJP reaction has so far been muted, save for a one-line press note: “The party extends its sympathies to the family of Ms. Bhutto and the people of Pakistan”. A source close to the party leadership said the party is torn between two camps:
i) the peacenik camp, which wants to play the gentleman and express sympathies & support;
ii) the Akhand Bharat camp which wants to exploit the ensuing turmoil to invade and annex Pakistan.
Our source confided:
The peacenik camp thinks an invasion would be quixotic, but the Akhand Bharat camp has the support of the BJP Chief Ministers of (the border states of) Gujarat and Rajasthan who think a cause for invasion can be manufactured. In fact, Narendra Modi was confident that if the Indian forces marched into Pakistan, they would be greeted as liberators. And Keshubhai Patel is Okay with this plan as long as Modi doesn’t lead them into Pakistan. VHP leader Praveen Togadia has also strongly supported the invasion on the grounds that if we were to take Pakistan now, Godse’s ashes can finally be immersed in the Indus river (while it’s a part of India, as he wished). Both camps have been lobbying hard, and senior RSS, VHP and BJP leaders are currently meeting to decide on the future course of action.
Senior leaders from Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party have begun parleys to decide on the transfer of PPP leadership to one of Bhutto’s children. “It’s irresponsible to claim that any of them eat pork. They can soon learn to speak chaste Urdu and quote the scriptures as well. The PPP will stand by the Bhutto family in its hour of need“, one of the leaders said in a voice choked with emotion. “So what if they ate pork? Jinnah feasted on pork & wine, and spoke broken Urdu“, a bystander blurted out almost involuntarily and soon had to run for his dear life.
In the US, President Bush sported a stunned look and observed in a sombre tone:
More than six years ago, we asked the question, “Why do they hate us?” We now need to add to it another question, “Why do they hate those who work with us?” Three months ago, it was Abu Risha who paid the ultimate price. Now it’s the turn of Benazir Bhutto. I just posed these questions to God, I encourage you to do the same. In the meantime, I urge the people of Pakistan to show the same composure that we showed at a time of national tragedy.”
A White House spokesperson later clarified that when the President said “same composure“, he actually meant “same composure sans the Afghan bombing, suspension of civil liberties at home and so on“. A White House source confided on condition of anonymity that plans are afoot to soon launch “Operation Infinite Hatred” to hunt down every last one of the haters.
Embattled Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf won a crucial court ruling that secured his hold on power. On Thursday, the Pakistan Supreme Court dismissed the sixth and final legal challenge against his re-election. While Musharraf supporters applauded the verdict as preordained from above, critics dismissed it as a result doctored by Musharraf.
It may be recalled that after the declaration of emergency, Musharraf had altered the composition of the Pakistan Supreme Court. Critics say he packed it with his supporters, and with several former judges — including dismissed former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry — still under police custody, even Musharraf supporters grudgingly admit they have a point. This, and the detention of lawyers, seem to have become a sticky issue for his erstwhile allies in the War on Terror. A source from the British Foreign Office confirmed that Musharraf had made it “really difficult for us to continue supporting him. How could we profess respect for democracy and the rule of the law and at the same time support someone who has showed scant respect for either?” On Pakistan’s suspension from the Commonwealth, the clarified that this was meant to be a temporary face-saving measure, and would in “no way affect arms sales to Pakistan.”
In the United States, opinion seems to be divided along party lines. The Democrats seem to be veering around to the view that Musharraf’s Presidency lacks legitimacy. A party source confided: “He has gone about it all wrong. If he had packed the judiciary with his supporters earlier, the Supreme Court could have elected him President and Pakistan would still be a democracy. He is solely to blame for the mess we are in. Musharraf also lacks Zia-ul-Haq’s cunning and bestiality, and now has a tough fight ahead of him.”
In contrast, President Bush congratulated Musharraf on his judicial victory. As a Republican strategist confirmed that “[t]he President spoke with Musharraf and empathized with him as only a judicially elected President can.” “The President has for long emphasized the importance of the judiciary in a democracy, and Musharraf seems to have finally grasped it”, he added. He also castigated the Democrats’ reluctance to respect the latest court verdict; “disregarding Supreme Court verdicts seems to have a become a habit with the Dems”, he noted with thinly disguised contempt.
A highly placed source in the Pakistan government sought to demystify the realpolitik behind this rapidly evolving drama. “You see, these Western Governments make a lot of hue and cry about democracy, but have short term memories. When Zia [ul Haq] staged a coup and presided over the judicial execution of [Zulfikar] Bhutto, the United States and Britain imposed sanctions for a while but quickly befriended the new ruler to counter the Red menace. Similarly, status quo will now be quickly restored for the sake of fighting Islamic fundamentalism. Of course, Musharraf will in the meantime have to swallow gratuitous insults and advice (from the West), and show composure. He often fulminates against them in private meetings, which serves a cathartic purpose and is good, but is way too smart to antagonize them like Saddam.”
BJP leader Yeddyurappa is all set to be sworn in as the Chief Minister of Karnataka, in a culmination of the BJP’s biggest political coup in the South so far. A beaming Yeddyurappa took time off his busy schedule to grant an interview.
Q: What are your thoughts on becoming the Chief Minister?
A: I am delighted at this opportunity to serve the people of Karnataka. This is a victory for the common man, and in particular, all Hindus of Karnataka.
Q: Could you comment on your name change?
A: (smiling shyly) Changing names is nothing new in politics, where people often change political parties and money changes hands almost all the time. Atalji had changed his middle name from Bihari to Behari, and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had added an extra a just in time before the 2001 Assembly elections (which she won to become CM). Here in Karnataka, my predecessor Kumaaraswamy had added an extra a in his name and tasted political success. In light of this, and our political reversal last month (when JD(U) initially declined to support us), I began contemplating a name change. It was then that my astrologer suggested replacing the i in my name with a d. Thus, Yediyurappa became Yeddyurappa, and I’ve now become CM!
Q: What are your plans for the state?
A: My astrologer has advised me that Anugraha (Karnataka CM’s official residence) flouts some rules of Vastu Shastra, so my first task after being sworn in on Monday would be to redesign Anugraha. I’ve already discussed this with an architect friend from the party who has promised to finish the redesign in a month. Simultaneously, I’ll introduce a bill in the Assembly to demolish the adjacent Cauvery house. It has brought nothing but ill-luck to its occupants, and I wouldn’t want such an ill-omen in close proximity to my residence. (I hope the Tamil Nadu Government will not misinterpret this gesture as a coded message on the Cauvery water dispute)
We also plan to revolutionize the educational system in Karnataka. Murli Manohar Joshi-ji has kindly consented to preside over a newly constituted committee to design an astrology curriculum for students of all ages — from high-school to university.
Q: What are your thoughts on the communal situation in Karnataka?
A: Elections aren’t due until April 2009, so I’ve strictly instructed my partymen to not indulge in any large-scale violence against Muslims (and if they do, to at least not gloat about it to an outsider) for the time being.
Q: Your thoughts on the Tehelka expose.
A: I do not want to comment on it, it’s an internal matter of the sovereign state of Gujarat. I mean, the law will take its own course. This interview is over.
Three months after his controversial comments advocating American bombing of Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama today calling for a regime change in Pakistan. “We’ve given Musharraf $6 billion in security-related assistance since 2001, but the return on investment has been sub-par to say the least. If he is not up to the job, we have to find someone who is”, Obama said, and castigated the Bush administration for what the NYT referred to as the belief that “a power-sharing deal with Ms. Bhutto might be the only way that General Musharraf could keep from being toppled“.
Obama’s comments took most of the assembled reporters by surprise, but veteran political commentators saw an attempt at an image-makeover. One of them explained: “You see, Obama faces a tough match-up against Clinton. He needs to show the American people that he can act tough, that he won’t be averse to deploying tens of thousands of American youth in never-ending wars. Three months ago, he goofed up big time when he said he’s open to negotiating with dictators. And he is still making amends.”
Meanwhile, a source close to the Democratic Leadership Council expressed impatience at Obama’s softness vis-a-vis the terrorists. The source noted: “Obama’s campaign has suffered from a series of missteps, and his call for a regime change in Pakistan is probably the only silver lining so far. He now needs to show this was no flash in the pan, and toughen up on Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. I don’t want to be too harsh on Obama, and am certainly glad he’s no Kucinich, but if you want to match-up to Rudy (Guiliani), you better come up with plans for some preemptive wars.”
While some in the Obama camp felt a hawkish posture could alienate people of color, others were more optimistic. “For one thing, critics can’t call him racist — one of the main accusations against the incumbent”, one of them triumphantly observed. “For this reason, I think the business class would much rather prefer a black handler than a white one, someone who can go hard at people of color and illegal immigrants without worrying about the dreaded R word (racist).” Another one angrily retorted: “But they can sure call him a House Negro, and with good reason!”
While not always cordial, the spirit of discussion and debate — so integral to a successful democracy — is alive and well in the Obama camp. And this can only augur well for the future.
Christian evangelical leader Pat Robertson gave a big boost to Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential bid calling him an “acceptable candidate … who can win the general election.” A shared affliction with prostate cancer and loathing of Islamofascism is believed to be behind the surprising endorsement.
“I still hold homosexuality and abortion as the prime causes of the 9/11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina, and that the recent fires in Southern California were a warning from the Lord (as to the kind of raging fires that burn in hell and devour such sinners), but wouldn’t hold against Rudy his softness on these issues”, the Reverend clarified.
On his part, Giuliani welcomed the endorsement and renewed his commitment to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court. “I might not hold daily monologues with God like President Bush does, but I do believe in God and look up to Him for guidance and for help”, he said.
While neither side mentioned it, Venezuela adds an intriguing subtext to this alliance. In August 2005, Robertson gave a call to “take out” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Stung by the criticism that followed, he subsequently rescinded the assassination call but sources close to him say his views on Chavez remain unchanged. One of them explained: “The Reverend has become increasingly disillusioned with the Venezuelan people, and is convinced they cannot install a democracy on their own. He has also given up on the Venezuelan Supreme Court — freeing the coup planners was perhaps its crowning moment of glory. When he broached this issue with Giuliani, the former NYC Mayor said he doesn’t have much control over the Venezuelan judiciary but committed to leaving no stone unturned to introduce democracy in Venezuela. Since then, the Reverend seems to have gotten a spring in his step. He often ends his sermons with a cryptic message: We all know what happened to Allende.”
Not surprisingly, the Reverend’s endorsement has caused tremors in the Republican camp. “Every once in a while, I am left speechless,” Senator John McCain said. “This is one of those times.”
Fellow contender Governor Mitt Romney looked forlorn and desolate, and repeatedly muttered “How? Why?”. University of Massachusetts political scientist John Wayne was equally at a loss for an explanation, and reminded that Ann Romney’s shared love for horses with the Reverend was expected to tilt the scales in her husband’s favor. “Venezuela couldn’t have been a difference-maker, since Romney is as committed to democracy as anyone else”, he observed. The Massachusetts Governor had indeed issued a statement this July condemning Chavez’s “assault on democratic institutions and his people’s freedom” and urged “the friends of freedom in Latin America to speak clearly and forcefully to defend liberty, democracy and human rights”. McCain has been equally critical of Chavez, accusing him of using “the cloak of electoral legitimacy to establish a one-party dictatorship in Venezuela.”
A Giuliani supporter sought to put a stop to all speculation: “We know President Bush talks to God daily. So does the Reverend. Perhaps they had a four-way conversation call where God anointed America’s Mayor as Bush’s successor, and chose the Reverend as His Messenger. It’s only in Godless America that we would deny this and instead discuss the issue ad nauseam”. Perhaps.
In a nationally televised speech aired on November 3, 2007, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf explained his firm resolve to arrest what he called “the saddest part of everything that saddens me the most” — the recent “downward trend” [in] Pakistan’s upsurge“. A tense looking Musharraf asserted that “inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan” and that martial law is Mashallah (what Allah wishes). Television networks were ordered off the air immediately after the President’s speech.
“My first coup eight years ago was the first step in the transition toward democracy in Pakistan, and this coup is the culmination of that process. Pakistan needs my iron hand to progress toward democracy, stepping down this late in the transition process would only aid our enemies“, the President said. Alluding to criticism from the West, the President noted that those who wage war to make peace should find no contradiction in his actions. Dictatorship in the pursuit of democracy is no vice, he defiantly declared.
He castigated the Pakistani opposition for misusing its civil liberties, and the Supreme Court for taking the notion of judicial independence too seriously. “Allah is watching you all“, he warned. “Perhaps Pakistan needs a Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice“, he casually added, perhaps as a reaction to the alarmingly high presence of women amongst the protestors.
Knowledgeable sources close to the President revealed “he is kicking himself” for not finishing off former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who he once had on the mat on treason (and tax evasion) charges. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is reportedly alarmed at the President’s repeated use of “conviction” in his address to the nation. She has apparently taken this as a veiled threat from Musharraf to either put up with martial law or face conviction on corruption charges (which he had recently annulled).
Reaction from the West has been muted so far, with only President Bush venturing to advice his Pakistani counterpart.