December 27, 2007

What Next For Pakistan?

With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the policy of the US towards Pakistan will have tremendous difficulties to overcome. The Bush administration hoped to have Bhutto and Musharraf enter into a political alliance that would accomplish two goals simultaneously: to promote democracy and marginalize the radical Islamist terrorists. While the initial response from the White House shows caution, the assassination deals a bitter blow to both:

The Bush administration on Thursday condemned an attack on a political rally that aides to Benazir Bhutto say killed her.

"We have seen the press reports. We're seeking confirmation, but we do not have any definitive word one way or the other about former Prime Minister Bhutto's condition," deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

To be sure, Bhutto provided her own contradictions. She represented democracy in Pakistan, but delivered corruption and no small level of incompetence. Her value to the US came from the symbolic value of having her participate in free elections, and her ability to reach the middle-class, more secular strain of Pakistanis on whom the US wanted to rely for stability and opposition to radicals. Her past record became a secondary issue in the present chess game in Pakistan.

That game just got canceled. Now the US has to hope that another charismatic figure can arise from the assassination that can ally with Musharraf without cementing his dictatorship. Since none came to the top prior to Bhutto's return, the chances of that seem remote. Anyone without a significant profile abroad would likely find themselves on the inside of Musharraf's prisons. Nawaz Sharif won't do; he has all of Bhutto's failings with almost none of her virtues. He's more likely to ally himself with the radical Islamists than with the man who deposed him in 1999.

Musharraf will almost certainly cancel the elections now, and not without at least some justification. That will lead to questions about whether Musharraf didn't play a part in the assassination, at least passively, by shorting the security for Bhutto as a means to get rid of his most significant opposition. Another round of martial law will create another backlash, both at home and abroad. And while we would join in the condemnation, we will be left with the knowledge that we have no other option in Pakistan except Musharraf.

One last point needs to be made. We have noted Benazir Bhutto's failings on occasion, but cowardice was not among them. She knew that she would become the target of just such an attack if she returned to Pakistan, and not only did she return anyway, she campaigned openly to support democracy. Whatever else she did, she gave her life to make Pakistan a freer nation and one that could hold its head high among the nations of the world. She proved herself a better woman than many men in that troubled country.

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty reminds readers of a Bhutto statement at the Council on Foreign Relations, four months before her assassination and two months before her return to Pakistan:

I think General Musharraf did the right thing recently in admitting that militants are using our soil, but he said the army has nothing to do with it. But nonetheless, the issue for me is that we cannot cede parts of Pakistani territory to anybody; not just the Taliban, to anybody. That in Pakistan we have one army, one police, one constitution, one government. We cannot allow parallel armies, parallel militias, parallel laws and parallel command structures. Today it's not just the intelligence services, who were previously called a state within a state. Today it's the militants who are becoming yet another little state within the state, and this is leading some people to say that Pakistan is on the slippery slope of being called a failed state. But this is a crisis for Pakistan, that unless we deal with the extremists and the terrorists, our entire state could founder.

That slope just became a little more slippery with the assassination of Bhutto today.


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This was the kind of news I didn't want to see first thing on the Internet: Pakistan Opposition Leader Bhutto Killed. The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed thousands of supporters in the Rawalpindi, a city 8 miles south [Read More]

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