Friday, December 28, 2007

After Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest amid a wave of unrest following the assassination (the New York Times has the story).

What's next, now, for Pakistan and the world? USA Today provides some background analysis on the fallout to U.S. strategy from Bhutto's murder:

For the United States, Harvard-educated Benazir Bhutto was a combination of white knight and Trojan horse — the key piece in a belated-but-promising attempt to bring stability to the world's most dangerous nation.

The hope was that the popular former prime minister could recapture the job after parliamentary elections next month, then strengthen democratic institutions, helping to keep Pakistan's nuclear weapons away from its large radicalized Islamic population.

That strategy was left in ruins Thursday by Bhutto's tragic assassination.

Not only did the killing remove Bhutto from the picture without any obvious successor, it further weakened strongman President Pervez Musharraf, who for all his dictatorial ways is a foe of the extremists. Pakistan is now at risk of escalating street violence and stepped-up suicide bombings that would invite a new, harsh crackdown by Musharraf. Such a spiral would encourage more political instability. It would also complicate efforts to find Osama bin Laden, believed to be hiding in Pakistan, and to uproot al-Qaeda training camps there.

While the killing underscored the limits of U.S. influence, it doesn't mean giving up on the only strategy that can prevent the cauldron that is Pakistan from exploding. In the short term, the United States has no choice other than to support Musharraf. For the longer term, it must find new champions of democracy.
Here's the Wall Street Journal's assessment:

We will learn more in coming days about the circumstances of Bhutto's death, apparently a combined shooting and suicide bombing at a political rally in Rawalpindi in which more than 20 others were also murdered. But there's little question the attack, which had every hallmark of an al Qaeda or Taliban operation, is an event with ramifications for the broader war on terror. With the jihadists losing in Iraq and having a hard time hitting the West, their strategy seems to be to make vulnerable Pakistan their principal target, and its nuclear arsenal their principal prize.

In this effort, murdering Bhutto was an essential step. Hers is the highest profile scalp the jihadists can claim since their assassination of Egypt's Anwar Sadat in 1981. She also uniquely combined broad public support with an anti-Islamist, pro-Western outlook and all the symbolism that came with being the most prominent female leader in the Muslim world. Her death throws into disarray the complex and fragile efforts to re-establish a functional, legitimate government following next month's parliamentary elections, which seemed set to hand her a third term as prime minister.

This is exactly the kind of uncertainty in which jihadists would thrive. No doubt, too, there are some in the Pakistani military who will want to use Bhutto's killing as an excuse to cancel the elections and reconsolidate their own diminished grip on power. In the immediate wake of the assassination, members of Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party have accused President Pervez Musharraf of being complicit in it. But whatever Mr. Musharraf's personal views of Bhutto--with whom he had an on-again, off-again political relationship--his own position has only been weakened by her death. It would be weakened beyond repair if he sought to capitalize on it by preventing the democratic process from taking its course.

Musharraf would be weakened by the very forces he surreptitiously promoted in his balancing game between radical Islam and the West. So far, though, it appears he's committed to fighting the terrorists and upholding Pakistan's rule of law.

I'll likely have more comment on Pakistan later. I will note now that the domestic political debate is already in full steam, and the hard-left forces are out to further demonize the Bush administration's war policy. FireDogLake's going so far as to blame the administration for Bhutto's decision to return to Pakistan, and hence Bush shares complicity in her murder.

Of course, there's no credibility to these anti-administration attacks - they're simply more nihilist screeds, designed to help bring to power in the U.S. forces aligned with those who we are fighting internationally.

Bhutto planned on a return to Pakistan, believing it was her destiny to support democratization of her people. The real culprits are the forces of terror who want to overthrow the Pakistani regime and install a fundamentalist dictatorship in Pakistan, which would lead to even more death and destruction.