05:21 GMT +325 April 2019
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    Benazir Bhutto's death deals a blow to Musharraf

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov)

    The assassination of the first female prime minister of an Islamic state and the leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is a tragic event of an enormous magnitude.

    Considering the role she and her party played in the country's political life, her assassination may put Pakistan on the brink of a political disaster.

    By the Islamic yardstick, Bhutto's political portrait is controversial; some even consider her personality horrible. She was born into the family of an influential politician and one of the nation's largest landowners in 1953 - Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the Pakistani president and prime minister in 1971-1977. She received her initial education in Karachi, attending a Christian missionary college among others. When she was 17 (in 1970), she went to the United States and studied at Harvard's Radcliffe College as well as in England at Oxford University.

    In 1977, Bhutto returned to Pakistan where her father was president, but he was arrested after a military coup in the same year on charges of assassinating a political opponent and executed two years later.

    Benazir led the party her father founded and was arrested more than once. She even had to leave Pakistan for Britain. Finally in 1988, the PPP won the parliamentary elections and Benazir was appointed to head the government, having become the youngest prime minister in Pakistan's history. But in 1990, her rule came to an infamous end - the then president demoted Bhutto on charges of corruption.

    In 1993-1997, Bhutto headed the government again, but her party lost the parliamentary elections, and in 1999 she had to leave Pakistan again on charges of corruption.

    Her political biography had a natural outcome. Bhutto had a host of supporters admiring her for her social policies, in particular her support of the poor, but she also had even more enemies - starting from those who hated her for corruption (which gave power in the country to clans) and finishing with influential clergymen, not to mention Islamic extremists.

    Bhutto's return to Pakistan last October was a triumph and a scandal at the same time. On the day of her return when the escort was moving along one of the central roads of her native Karachi to the greetings of numerous supporters, two explosions killed more than 140 people. Bhutto was not harmed, but Pakistani security-related services were said to be involved in the terrorist attack. President Pervez Musharraf was also suspected. These suspicions have not been cleared to this day.

    But it was at least absurd to suspect Musharraf of involvement in Bhutto's assassination. He had a much bigger stake in Bhutto's heading the cabinet after the parliamentary elections. He could not fail to understand that her party was bound to win the elections after an eight-year exile, and possibly, by a landslide. For this reason, Musharraf desperately needed an alliance with the PPP. Pakistan's main sponsors - the United States and Britain, who regard Bhutto and the PPP as democracy incarnate, would have never forgiven Musharraf any other coalition.

    Finally, by giving up his general's uniform, Musharraf managed to consolidate the power of a civil president, as well as his personal power; he actually precluded any encroachments on it on behalf of his military and civilian opponents. He set up a national command department to ensure the security and reliability of nuclear facilities. One can imagine what powers the department has received with the presence of nuclear weapons in the country and the threat of the extremist forces coming to power.

    The president headed the new department, while the prime minister was appointed his deputy. In this context, Musharraf also made Bhutto his supporter. This position of his was shared by his supporters.

    Literally, a day before Bhutto's assassination, Pakistani Ambassador to Russia Kamal Kazi told me that Bhutto was going to be the next prime minister and that other options were unlikely. We talked about the role of women in modern Pakistan, and the ambassador said that his guests would be able to see the Pakistani Prime Minister without a veil. It was clear whom he meant.

    Benazir himself was not at all benevolent to Musharraf. Was it because of the usual election rhetoric or did she position herself as the future president? It is not up to the prime minister to make such statements as "I'll free Pakistan of militants" or "Why do we need foreign friends?" It was also obvious that Benazir Bhutto tried to keep her exalted supporters in a state of tension with her populist slogans. It seemed that this tactic was more than an element of her political show. Maybe, she hoped to take revenge for the death of her father, which she had blamed on the military.

    For all her indisputable merits, she was bound to realize the outcome of destabilization. Nevertheless, her election policy, even if it were merely tactic could not promote stabilization. But this is all in the past. What will the current situation bring?

    It is too early to say that a civil war is inevitable, if only because Musharraf will himself hand over power to the military and keep his presidential position. This scenario would be a relief. Stability in India and Afghanistan largely depends on Pakistan, and the situation will not change in principle as long as President Musharraf remains in power. Both Delhi and Kabul have made that clear more than once. Given the current political alignment in Pakistan, other scenarios seem unlikely.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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