December 29, 2007

Musharraf Calls The Bluff

Plenty of speculation has arisen over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, fueled in part by a posthumous message from Bhutto herself accusing Pervez Musharraf of wanting to kill her. The rapid burial custom of the Muslim religion gave rise to accusations of cover-up on the part of Musharraf. He has now answered by offering to exhume the body for further examination:

The Pakistani government has offered to exhume the body of murdered opposition leader Benazir Bhutto if her party requests it. ...

The government has claimed the former leader died after hitting her head on her car's sunroof during the suicide attack, a version of events that the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has said he has no reason to contradict.

But Miss Bhutto's party dismissed the official account, branding it as "ludicrous" and a "pack of lies". One aide who bathed Miss Bhutto's body before her burial said she saw a gunshot wound in her head.

People have plenty of rational reasons to mistrust Musharraf, but it's difficult to see how he prospers with Bhutto's assassination. Between her and Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf would most want to deal with Bhutto. He also needed the elections to go as scheduled for political cover abroad, and Bhutto had all but guaranteed that they would proceed without having to reshuffle the judiciary again. Killing both -- Sharif got attacked as well -- would only send the nation into a chaotic tailspin that Musharraf can't afford with the insurgencies already active in the nation.

Musharraf needed stability to consolidate his power. He needed Bhutto alive to do that, even while she opposed him politically. He doesn't benefit at all from her death, and in fact looks much weaker than he did than before the assassination. It also could drive a wedge between the US and Musharraf, depending on his reaction.

Who does it help? Obviously, it helps al-Qaeda and the Taliban, especially because of the perceived weakness of Musharraf. They just assassinated the second-highest-profile politician in the country, after two failed attempts. They got the elections all but canceled after Sharif reinstated his boycott, now not having Bhutto to undermine it. The radical Islamists have sent a clear message to Pakistanis to stay away from democracy and to fear their reaction to it.

If the situation careens out of control, it will tempt the US and NATO to take action inside Pakistan to keep the terrorists from gaining control. This could be exactly what they want -- a step that could unite Pakistanis against us and on the side of the radicals, events that would force Musharraf out of power entirely and place their nuclear arsenal in the hands of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. It doesn't take much to set off a powder keg, as Gavelo Princip realized in 1914. That destabilization didn't help the European monarchical establishment, and this assassination doesn't help Musharraf.


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» Conspiracy theories from Public Secrets: from the files of the Irishspy
Following up on my post yesterday about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I read Ed Morrissey's thoughts on the idea that President Musharraf masterminded the whole thing to rid himself a rival. He finds the idea nonsensical, and I have [Read More]

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