We’ve all grown up on a staple diet of Spiderman comics, action figures and movies and so when our favourite superhero says, “With great power comes great responsibility”, we cheer in knowing foresight-Spiderman will get it right. But, really have we ever given this quote a second thought beyond the cinematic moment? What really does power entail? Sadly, more often that not instead of being associated with de facto accountability it is connoted by unflattering adjectives like ‘corruption’, ‘intoxicating authority’ or even ‘insatiable greed’. And nowhere is this synonymy more pronounced than within the field of ‘Politics’; an enticing and dangerously influential ‘art’. Politicians have long been known to indulge in mud slinging, strategic manoeuvring and in many cases covert operations in order to either gain, sustain or exploit their positions of power. From the Nixon-Watergate scandal and the Clinton-Whitewater fiasco to examples of election rigging and embezzlement in developing countries, political history is mired with instances of authority abuse. However, there’s more to the story than meets the eye for history is also witness to the repercussions that such power brings. It comes at a great price regardless of one’s moral convictions and in many cases the cost is unfortunately no less than life itself.
Be it the result of political opposition, public disapproval, internal family rivalry or a well hatched plan, political assassinations have sporadically reminded us of the viciousness of such power and its acute execution. Although some may say that such attempts may seem like ‘divine justice’ when perpetrated on corrupt officials, the truth is most onslaught victims were the darlings of the masses and fell to the isolated few. President Kennedy, assassinated in 1963 was a charismatic leader respected by all whilst others like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia were deeply admired and idolized. Nevertheless, despite these qualities these political figures became prey to outlying dissent largely stemming from opposition to power status quos and governments. It goes without saying though that not all such assassinations/attempts have been without public support or will and in many cases they have been the only way to end tumultuous reigns. Of these the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on 20th July in 1944 and the death of Pakistani military dictator Zia ul Haq in a ‘mysterious plane crash’ in 1988 widely believed to be an act of ‘sabotage’, are pertinent examples. Whilst Hitler and Zia both are famous for having led oppressive regimes in the past century, modern day politicians too violate the law and bend the rules when considered necessary especially in undemocratic societies where it is inevitably easier.
In the “Songs of Blood and Sword” written by Fatima Bhutto, one who is painfully aware of political sirens having had her grandfather (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) executed and her father (Murtaza Butto) and aunt (Benazir Bhutto) assassinated in its lure, she exposes politics in its ugliest form. Murtaza Bhutto was killed by the police whilst his sister’s government was in term in 1996 due to internal rivalry and a perceived growing threat to the then ruling Prime Minister from her brother. This however is just one jarring example of the many pointed out by the author that aim at underlining the lengths to which politicians are ready to go in their quest. From strategic killing and forged alliances based only on self interest to brokered deals in back rooms and swift executions, these covert operations seek to serve only one master.
Power; a patron that isn’t known to waive its price-be it in the form of sacrifices like marred personal relationships, broken homes, forgone integrity or the loss of life sometimes even in the face of responsibility.