Today is the 6th anniversary of the death of Pakistan Peoples Party leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. She was assassinated on December 27, 2007 after addressing an election rally at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. It is believed that her assassination was ordered by Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani wing of the Taliban called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Mehsud was later killed in a US drone strike in 2009. His successor Hakimullah Mensud unleashed a reign of terror in Pakistan and met the same fate this year.
Few Pakistanis know that the Taliban movement was midwifed by Benazir Bhutto and her right-hand man and interior minister Naseerullah Babar during her term in office in 1993-1996. Benazir is often referred to as the Mother of the Taliban because of her role in giving birth to the Taliban movement. Once born and nurtured by Benazir and Babar, the Taliban quickly became a force to be reckoned with. The Taliban defeated the Mujahedeen ad quickly took control of much of Afghanistan in just a few years. The Taliban became so confident that they resisted Pakistan's pressure and refused to agree to the Durand Line as international Pak-Afghan border when they were in power in Kabul in 1990s.
's contribution to the birth and growth of the Taliban movement has been described in significant detail by Ahmed Rashid in his highly trusted and best-selling book "The Taliban: Islam, Oil and The New Great Game in Central Asia"
. On page 90 of the book, the author explains at some length how Maulana Fazal ur Rehman, the leader of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F), joined the Pakistan Peoples Party coalition led by Benazir and used the opportunity to set up hundreds of madrassahs along the Afghan-Pakistan border, including Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania, the mother of all the Pakistani madrassahs, led by Maulana Sami-ul Haq. Mullah Omar, the Taliban Chief, graduated from Madrassa Haqqania before starting his movement. Tens of thousands of others came out of Haqqania and other madrassas to swell the ranks of the Afghan Taliban in 1990s.
Before Benazir decided to help create the Taliban, the Pakistani establishment (Army and ISI) favored the Afghan Mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was aligned with the Jamat-e-Islami, Maulana Fazl ur Rehman's rival Islamic political party in Pakistan. Maulana Maudoodi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami was considered a Kafir by many of Maulana Fazl ur Rehman's fellow Deobandis. Both Maulana Fazal and Benazir intensely disliked the Jamat-e-Islami leadership. Jamat-e-Islami had supported late Gen Zia ul Haq who executed Benazir's father and former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
in 1979. Maulana Fazlur Rehman saw this as an opportunity to edge out Jamat-e-Islami by aligning himself with Benazir Bhutto to create and nurture the Taliban who opposed Gulbuddin Hikmetyar. Here's how Rashid describes Maulana Fazal's role in it:
"After the 1992 capture of Kabul by the Mujaheddin, the ISI continued to ignore the (Maulana Fazal's) JUI's growing influence over the southern Pashtuns. The JUI was politically isolated at home, remaining in the opposition to the first Benazir Bhutto government (1988-90) and the first Nawaz Sharif government (1990-93). However in 1993 elections the JUI allied itself with the winning Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Benazir Bhutto, thus becoming a part of the ruling coalition. The JUI's access to the corridors of power for the first time allowed it to establish close links with the army, the ISI and the Interior Ministry under Naseerullah Babar. Babar was in search of a new Pashtun group which could revive the Pashtun fortunes in Afghanistan and give access to Pakistani trade with Central Asia through southern Afghanistan and the JUI offered him that opportunity. The JUI chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman was made Chairman of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, a position that enabled him to have influence on foreign policy for the first time. He was to use his position to visit Washington and European capitals to lobby for the Taliban and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to enlist their financial support."
Ahmad Rashid is not alone in his assessment of Benazir Bhutto's critical role in creating the Taliban. In "Ghost Wars"
, author Steve Coll says "Benazir Bhutto was suddenly the matron of a new Afghan faction (Taliban)." Najam Sethi
also agrees with it. In a 2002 interview, Benazir Bhutto herself acknowledged her role in creating the Taliban
. She said, "Once I gave the go-ahead that they (Taliban) should get the money, I don't know how much money they were ultimately given ... I know it was a lot. It was just carte blanche."
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, it's now easy to see in hindsight that Benazir Bhutto's alliance with Maulana Fazlur Rehman's JUI and their joint policy of creating and nurturing the Taliban was fatal not only to herself but also to hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis
. It seems that she learned nothing from the mistakes of her father who gave in to the demands of the religious right only to be removed from power and hanged by them.
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