Is assassination a tool to kill a foe or an idea?

Was every assassination that has taken place in history simply a result of the conflict between good and evil or in other words between two ideas or ideologies, or between two persons?


The meaning of assassination is ‘to kill by surprise, suddenly, or by secret assault. However, there is enough literature that illustrates that very often prior plotting had taken place in almost every attempt of assassination around the world. Therefore, I am reluctant to use the term (assassination) from a narrow perspective. If not always, very often purpose or motive, in case of the assassination of a political leader, except anarchists appears to be to capture political space/power as the motivators believe power is a ‘zero some’ game.

The victim is being perceived as a threat either to the plotters’ position, interests or to their ideology, or both. Besides, history also provides hundreds of shining examples of great men who had dared to challenge decadent ideas, and tyrant systems and paved the way for human progress through their sacrifices. Though in some cases the old and powerful order managed to eliminate the great men, their followers, and ideas, they faced defeat as social forces (objective conditions) can’t be made subservient to the wishes of a few individuals and their cronies. Suffice to mention a few here – Socrates, Jesus, Moses, Imam Hussain, Bhullah, and Galileo. Socrates’s reply to the jury who had sentenced him to death resonates even today – ‘He could never keep silent because the unexamined life is not worth living for human beings.’

Read more: Japan police chief resigns over ex-PM assassination

As far etymology of assassin, there is almost a consensus among historians regarding the origin of the word assassin. It is derived from ‘hashishin – an Arabic nickname used for a Muslim sect in the middle east during the crusades. They were followers of Hasan-al-Sabbah.’ To Europeans ‘they had a reputation for murdering rival leaders after intoxicating themselves by having hashish. However, there is no evidence that they used hashish.’

Assassination is being used as a tool to eliminate rivals 

The story of Haviland Qabil seems to be a good example to start with the topic of this article. Simply the story goes like this. ‘Habil – a shepherd, offered a healthy ram as his best sacrifice. Whereas Qabil, a farmer, is not willing to sacrifice his best crop. God accepts Habil’s sacrifice and rejects Qabil’s. Qabil out of jealousy kills his brother.’ One could draw lessons from the story from various angles. However, it appears the shepherd was more generous than the farmer and the God likes charity, because it is a kind and humane act, versus being greedy and stingy. Also, it appears jealousy and greed are two sides of the same coin. Hence bad.

That leads to a question. Was every assassination that has taken place in history simply a result of the conflict between good and evil or in other words between two ideas or ideologies, or between two persons? Before reaching a conclusion, let’s first narrate here some assassinations or executions that had taken place in Pakistan and other parts of the world. See the matrix.

Ms. Benazir Bhutto was killed on 27th December 2007

Allegedly her assassins belonged to a terrorist group. She was opposed to their ideology, and to many Pakistanis, she was a symbol of enlightenment, and her gender was enough for obscurant elements to target her. Mr. Bhutto her father though was hanged through a judicial process, it was done in a highly dubious and manipulated manner. Therefore, one could call his hanging a judicial assassination.

He was no doubt an elected tyrant, but he was responsible to transform Pakistan’s politics from ‘drawing rooms’ to streets and villages, he mobilized and empowered the people (workers/peasants) of the country and gave a unanimous constitution to the country. Powerful vested interests including mullahs and military generals perceived him as a very serious threat as they have become frightened of his popularity. On 5th July 1977, he was overthrown by a military dictator in the wake of a nationwide movement and hanged on 4th April 1979. These were not the first assassinations/killing in the country.

Read more: US accuses IRGC of planning John Bolton’s assassination

Soon after independence on 16th October 1951, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan and one of the founding fathers of the country Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated. His assassin -Said Akbara recipient of a monthly allowance from the government of Pakistan, and likely to be an ‘agent’ of the police department had been allowed to sit in the first row, right in front of the podium, from where the Prime Minister was going to address the audience. He fired two fatal bullets. The nearby people dismembered him, and the police killed him on the spot. Seventy-one years on the mystery of his assassination remained unsolved. However, most suspected the police then and now. But what was the motive behind his assassination? 

Let’s briefly discuss the issue

Almost every revolution after overthrowing the old order went through an internal power struggle. Most revolutions experienced blood baths (consider the French revolution), while some resolved differences through power sharing and in some countries, leaders were eliminated. Pakistan didn’t come into being through a revolution. It was a result of prolonged negotiations and ‘limited democracy. As observed by Prof Hamza Alavi ‘the post-colonial state was more overdeveloped than the society. The new country inherited powerful civil-military institutions, while civil society and political class were relatively underdeveloped and lacked social roots.

Many political leaders of the Muslim League had left their constituencies back in India. However, they had political and moral legitimacy and standing. Moreover, each federating unit had its own political leaders who had a substantial following in their respective provinces.

Having said that, Liaqat Ali Khan as the closest and most trustworthy comrade of Jinnah was a well-respected and perhaps the most popular political leader at the time. It appears the civil-military nexus perceived him as a threat to their position. To undermine his authority, they might have encouraged mullahs (who had opposed the creation of Pakistan) to build pressure by demanding the introduction of Shariah in the country.

A question arises, why would Liaqat Ali Khan introduce Objective Resolution in the Constituent Assembly? According to some analysts he wanted to foil the rising influence of religious bigots. Instead, it backfired and provided a ‘constitutional base to impose their ideology. Mr. Bhutto didn’t learn any lesson and committed the same mistake in 1977 at the time when Pakistan National Alliance – a coalition of nine parties had launched the Nizam-e-Mustafa movement. His appeasement of mullahs too failed miserably.

In the words of Pir Pagara, ‘Mullahs didn’t want Islam, they wanted Islamabad.’ Since then, religious parties have successfully expanded their foothold in the country. The military became its most trusted ally. And every so-called liberal/secular party considers itself incomplete and handicapped without mullahs. General Zia – the favorite Pakistan dictator of the western powers later in the 1980s made the Objective Resolution an integral part of Pakistan’s Constitution. Rest is history. Bloodbaths across the world including 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, civil war in Syria and Libya, a rise of Taliban in Malakand and Waziristan, and humiliation of the USA and NATO in Afghanistan in August 2021 are perceived to be the result of the unleashing of the bigotry.

Read more: Rao Anwar makes big revelations on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination

Based on the above discussion, it appears the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Liaquat Ali Khan is part of the same thread. The killing of Iqbal Maish – a 14-year-old human rights activist, the assassination of Rashid Rehman, Salman Taseer, and Shahbaz Bhatti and the killing of hundreds of people in the name of blasphemy is just the tip of the iceberg of the hate-based bloodbath. All that happened in a region where people have never used organized terror as a political tool against innocent populations, groups, or opponents. Despite massive and repeated oppression, no one in India used terrorism against the British during the colonial period.

Thanks to the USA and western powers to teach our bigots the use of organized terror. It is reasonable therefore to argue that the USA not only uses assassination as a tool to kill her foes across the globe but also to use its wealth and multinationals to overthrow unwanted governments. Remember, the overthrow of Allende in Chile and Mosaddeq in Iran, and recent events in Pakistan.

History of assassinations remains incomplete without mentioning the hundreds of unsuccessful attempts of the successive administrations of the USA to kill Cuban President Fidel Castro. According to Wikipedia, ‘CIA conspired to kill Castro 638 times. Here are the number of attempts made under various presidents – D. D. Eisenhower 38, J. F. Kennedy 42, L. B. Johnson 72, R. Nixon 184, J Carter 64, R. Reagan 197, G. Bush 16, Clinton 21. So, except Obama, every American President tried to assassinate Castro. These plots are very well illustrated in a British TV Channel 4 documentary – 638 Ways to Kill Castro (2006). Many of the attempts were funny.

For instance, Thallium salts were used to damage his beard, as the plotters thought his charisma lies in his beard. In another attempt, the CIA hired Castro’s ex-girlfriend Marita Lorenz. She managed to enter his hotel room with a jar of cold cream containing poison pills. Castro already knew about the plot. When she enters his room, he gave her a gun and told her to kill him. Reportedly they made love and afterward she left. The last documented attempt on his life was made in 2000 when 90 kg explosives were placed under a podium in Panama. Often CIA would hire Cuban exiles for this purpose. Castro once said, if surviving assassinations were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.”

Cuban counterintelligence agency frustrated every attempt of the CIA because it could not find any Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq from the Cuban government. On 25th Nov 2016 Castro died of natural causes at the age of 90.

Why the USA – a superpower, hugely large than Cuba – a tiny country starved of resources was frightened of Castro? It appears the success of the Cuban revolution would have encouraged peoples of other Latin American and African countries to cause a revolution. There is a long list of the CIA’s attempts to kill unwanted leaders across the Globe. She succussed in most countries while failing only in a few. There is a need to make a distinction between the two. It was easy for the CIA to overthrow or assassinate leaders who came to power through the vote but failed where popular revolutions had taken place. Think of the revolutions of Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and Iran. Despite massive invasions and interventions, they survived.

Read more: PM Imran Khan’s life in danger, possible assassination attempt: intel reports

Think of great men of ideas, they were killed, their thoughts were banned, and followers faced all kinds of repression for years, yet their ideas spread and made a huge impact on people across the globe. Those who believe that with the assassination of an individual, the role of his/her thoughts would also disappear perhaps suffer from some form of intellectual delusion.

One can disagree with Imran Khan, his politics, and his ideas, he is according to most political analysts the most popular and honest politician in Pakistan. He has a huge following among the youth – a youth that is worried about its future, a youth that is angry and they form 65% of Pakistan’s population. Like all of us, Mr. Khan is also a mortal but his followers as a collective are not. So are his thoughts. Mr. Khan has said repeatedly that his life was in danger and that if he were assassinated, the names of his assassins are saved. Assassinations don’t end with ideas. That is the lesson of history. Learn it.

Matrix of some major assassinations in Pakistan and South Asia

Victim Assassin Motivation
Jan 1948: Mahatma Gandhi Nathuram Godse, a Hindu fanatic member of RSS a Hindu extremist party now part of BJP Ideology based hate
Oct 1951: Liaqat Ali Khan, first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Said Akbar allegedly used by higher police officials Remains a mystery
Feb 1975: Hayat Khan Sherpao An Afghan extremist Ideology based hate
April 1979: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan through universal suffrage. The military regime, led by General Zia hanged him through the manipulated judicial process. Threat to the hegemony of vested interests – big business, civil-military and religiopolitical leaders.
Oct 1984: Indra Gandhi, Prime Minister of India Satwant Singh and Beant Singh- Sikh bodyguards Revenge
Aug 1988: Army chief and President of Pakistan In a midair crash. He had many enemies. remains a mystery
May 1991: Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India Thenmozhi Rajaratnam – a female suicide bomber of LTTE


Revenge against interference in Sri Lankan affairs
Oct 1991: Fazle Haq, Governor of KP Not known Political rivalry
Sep 1993: Ghulam Haider Wyne, Chief Minister of Punjab Local rivals Political rivalry
Apr 1995: Iqbal Masih a 14 years old activist Carpet and bonded labour mafia Hate and threat to powerful mafias involved in child labour
Sep 1996: Murtaza Bhutto, brother of sitting PM, Benazir Bhutto Almost all the assassins and witnesses were killed in subsequent years. Hate and rivalry
Oct 1998: Hakim Said Not known but fingers pointed at a fascist group Rivalry
Dec 2007: Benazir Bhutto Prime Minister of Pakistan Allegedly by a Pakistani terrorist group Gender and ideology
Jan 2011: Salman Taseer, Governor Punjab. By his own official guard Mumtaz Qadri Religious extremism and fanatism
Mar 2011: Shahbaz Bhattee, minorities minister TTP Religious extremism and fanatism
Aug 1975: Founder of Bangladesh President Mujeebur Rehman along with his immediate family members were assassinated by young army officers. Only Sheikh Hasina Wajid his daughter, the incumbent Prime Minister of the country survived.
June 2001: nine members of the royal family including the king and queen were massacred.


Assassinations don’t end the ideas. That is the lesson of history. Learn it.


Sarwar Bari is the former Secretary-General of FAFEN and he heads Pattan Development Organisation. Pattan has been working with disaster-prone and marginalized communities since 1992 when super floods hit Pakistan. Since its inception, the organization has evolved a holistic disaster risk reduction approach that stands on five themes: capacity building, gender mainstreaming, social action, governance monitoring, and defending human rights and civil liberties. Research-based advocacy is being used for public policy improvement. Currently, Pattan’s partners are working in 27 districts of Pakistan.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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