Editor’s note: Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi Thursday. National Review Online asked a group of experts on the region to gauge what her murder means for her country.
I was in Islamabad, Pakistan, four days ago, but it might as well be four months or four years ago: The whole political landscape has changed with Benazir Bhutto’s murder.
In the very short term, Pervez Musharraf is likely to declare another state of emergency or even martial law. Friends calling from the Pakistani capital tonight say that cars are being torched in the street as members of Benazir’s party, the Pakistani Peoples’ Party (PPP), express their anger and grief. This could easily grow into widespread civil unrest, especially in the wake of her funeral tomorrow.
Looking beyond the next few days it seems unlikely that an election will be held on the 8th of January (though both Benazir and Nawaz Sharif were both technically barred from standing for prime minister).
As for Musharraf, he’ll be badly damaged at least in the short term.
While Benazir had plenty of enemies, including jihadis who detested the idea of a woman leader and who were furious at her newly robust pro-Western antiterrorist stance (she had said she would let U.S. troops hunt for Osama bin Laden within Pakistani territory and allow a proper international interrogation of nuclear proliferator A. Q. Khan) every conspiracy theorist in Pakistan and among the Pakistani diaspora will assume that Musharraf or people around him were responsible for the assassination. After all, Musharraf warned against Benazir’s return, predicted havoc if she came back, and didn’t really want to make a deal with her.
On the other hand it may be that a larger section of the Pakistani elite — and the Pakistani military establishment — will finally take the militant threat more seriously: too often in Pakistan the battle against militant extremism is seen as an American fight that Pakistan is involved in only because its forces are paid to do so by Washington.
But even if that is the case, the assassination of Benazir is a tragic development for Pakistan and the region as a whole.
– Jonathan Foreman is a journalist who has covered Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has generated an understandable outpouring of sympathy in both the United States and in Pakistan. However, even though it may seem churlish it needs to be stated that her tragic demise was the chronicle of a death foretold. The neo-Taliban had already launched one unsuccessful assassination attempt on her life on the very day of her return to Pakistan. They had also vowed that they would make further attempts. In all likelihood, they were behind this second and successful attempt. Sadly, even if the military was not complicit in this tragic act they bear some responsibility as they had, in the past several months allowed the neo-Taliban to re-group.
What happens next in Pakistan? Much depends on three distinct issues. First, will her supporters in the Pakistan People’s Party manage to sustain a peaceful but sustained campaign against Musharraf and the Pakistani military? Second, how will the military respond to the inevitable demonstrations that are likely to ensue both before and after her funeral which is bound to produce an outpouring of public anger and grief? Third and finally, how will the United States, the United Kingdom and other major powers react toward the actions of the military? Will they counsel restraint and hold the military to account or will they simply grant them leeway to act with impunity as long as they can maintain some semblance of public order?
— Sumit Ganguly is a professor of political science and director of research of the Center on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination is a tragedy, and likely a strategic setback as well. It is tragic because, despite the notorious corruption of Bhutto’s administration, in many ways she represented the best that Pakistan has to offer. Bhutto boldly opposed the fundamentalists’ dark vision for Pakistan and was openly pro-West. After the unsuccessful attempt on Bhutto’s life in October, she called out by name the figures whom she believed were complicit.
The most likely culprit in Bhutto’s death is al-Qaeda and aligned militant groups — the same groups who swore they would kill Bhutto when her return to Pakistan was announced, the same groups who tried to kill her in October. If al-Qaeda was indeed responsible, this is another stark reminder of the group’s regeneration in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has returned to the levels of power they enjoyed in Afghanistan before U.S. forces toppled the Taliban, and Bhutto’s death has to be considered a major victory for them. There is also evidence that Bhutto’s assassination, much like the October attempt on her life, may have been assisted by Islamic militants who have infiltrated Pakistan’s military and intelligence services.
Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has never risen to the occasion in the face of danger. He has attempted to broker compromises even following assassination attempts that targeted him. The Waziristan accords, consummated in 2006, were one sign of how Musharraf has attempted to negotiate away Pakistan’s problem with Islamic militancy: those accords essentially formalized al-Qaeda’s safe haven in the country’s Waziristan region. In no way were those accords an isolated event: Pakistan’s further concessions in 2007 included the Bajaur, Swat, and Mohmand tribal agencies.
Bhutto’s death also makes former prime minister Nawaz Sharif Pakistan’s top opposition figure. Sharif has attempted to appeal to Islamic militants, arguing that Pakistan needs to pare down its cooperation with the United States. Sharif has already capitalized on Bhutto’s death, visiting the hospital where she was declared dead, blasting Musharraf for providing Bhutto with insufficient security, and calling for a reunification of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party and his own Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
Bhutto’s assassination once again spotlights the need for the U.S. to formulate a feasible Pakistan policy, something I have called for previously.
Victor Davis Hanson
We don’t know exactly who assassinated Ms. Bhutto, but, given the infiltration of the Pakistani secret services by Islamic extremists, it seems likely that al-Qaeda-like jihadists, with the deliberate blind eye of the government, were responsible. Same old, same old in the Middle East: The jihadists are cruel and crazy, the dictatorial alternative is duplicitous and illegitimate, and the democratic third way is weak and vulnerable.
Pakistan is a nuclear dictatorship, with a thin Westernized elite sitting atop a vast medieval Islamist badlands that it cannot control. Today’s events show that the very notion of a pro-Western politician coming to power legitimately is unlikely for the immediate future.
Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee, among others, have suggested that it’s about time to consider incursions into Pakistan to strike al-Qaeda. That would be like putting a needle into a doughboy: The problem is not a particular region, or a particular Pakistani figure, but Pakistan itself, founded as an Islamic state, and by nature prone to extremism. It is the most anti-American country in the region and we should accept that and move on.
Our relations were always based on the flawed idea its Islamic and autocratic essence made it a good bulwark against communist Russia and socialist India. But the world has changed, and we should too. It is long past time to smile and curtail aid — and quit arming it with weapons that are more likely to be used against our friend India as bin Laden.
I would imagine once most of the “reform” candidates are killed or cowered, the emboldened terrorist animals will turn on their government feeders — even as the Pakistani street somehow blames us.
– Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
She was a beautiful and idealistic young woman who came to Pakistan’s rescue in 1988. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, encouraged her as an up and coming politician to study the lives of history’s great women leaders, from Joan of Arc to Indira Ghandi, so she could prepare to lead her tumultuous country. Benazir would become an imperious, venal, and corrupt leader during her two terms in office, bringing Pakistan to the brink of financial ruin on more than one occasion. Her death now brings this teeming, nuclear-armed nation to the brink of complete state failure.
I knew Benazir well. I am often blamed by her supporters for having helped bring her government down in 1996 by exposing her hypocrisy and corruption in two Wall Street Journal oped pieces. We remained in touch over the years after she went into exile, even developing a grudging respect for each other over time. She was a terribly conflicted person who deep in her heart wanted to save Pakistan from its evils, but was unable to put her personal lifestyle choices aside in doing so. And she — God Bless her — married the wrong man.
I remember asking her in a meeting in Islamabad at the prime minister’s residence in early 1996 as I presented her with evidence of her family’s corruption why she didn’t go and spend three or four days a week living in the villages of Pakistan with its suffering people so she could show her commitment to healing their pain. Her answer was typically imperious — “prime ministers don’t do that…”
But I firmly believe that she loved Pakistan, and for all her faults, had returned there this time to turn a new page in its troubled political history. We should remember her for her courage to stand up in the face of incalculable odds against her to bring some semblance of sanity to the disaster that Pakistan has become.
Gen. Musharraf must immediately call for an independent international investigation into her assassination, led by a blue ribbon panel that determines the extent or not of complicity from Pakistan’s police and intelligence services. This is the most critical decision he can make to avoid appearance of conflict to his ongoing service as president, and to prevent Pakistan’s descent into civil war, or worse, an Islamist coup by army generals who view this moment in Pakistan’s history as their chance to seize the reigns of power, and control of the country’s formidable nuclear arsenal.
– Mansoor Ijaz, a New York financier of Pakistani ancestry, jointly authored a ceasefire plan between Muslim militants and Indian security forces in Kashmir in 2000 and met with Prime Minister Bhutto on more than a dozen occasions in Islamabad, Dubai, and London since 1994.
Is Pakistan a failed state? Experts debated that question long before today’s events. Pakistan is certainly a tragic state, where brilliant, accomplished, cosmopolitan moderns live in sometimes uneasy association with a vast peasant heartland, and the fiercest tribes in the Muslim world. Today Pakistan’s unruly juxtapositions lie raw and exposed.
Does Bhutto’s assassination portend the end of democracy, Sharif’s triumph, chaos, or civil war? An electoral triumph for Sharif, Musharraf’s bitter foe, the Islamists’ strongest mainstream ally, and no friend of democracy (whatever he now says, and whatever the West now chooses to believe) seems unlikely. The election will probably be called off, and for good reason. In any case, Pakistan has never been a genuine liberal democracy, so on that score less will change than meets the eye.
As for chaos and civil war, Pakistan has already got a low-level version of both. It’s easy to see how the assassination of Bhutto could worsen things, yet it’s not entirely certain that it will. One of the reasons Pakistan is called a “failed state” is that the government has very little reach. Practically no-one pays taxes. In the heartland and the tribal areas alike, life is governed by local social forms that have little to do with the state. So while Bhutto’s assassination could certainly set off demonstrations and turbulence, it’s also possible to imagine the vast majority of Pakistani people coming to terms with it as a distant echo from a state that has little effect on their lives. We just don’t know.
At a minimum, Pakistan’s low-level civil war will go on. The Taliban and al-Qaeda seem lately to be giving less attention to Afghanistan and more attention to Pakistan itself. They would like to sow chaos in Pakistan as a whole, expand their base there, and perhaps use chaos to grab hold of some nuclear material. Will the military clamp down, as it has with some success in Swat, or will the army be paralyzed by its internal divisions, and by covert sympathy for the Taliban? We just don’t know.
Pakistan remains a powder keg. Unlike Somalia, where there is no educated and modernized class, and the state has been in total collapse for years, Pakistan embodies all the strengths, and all the weaknesses of modern Muslim social life. That is Pakistan’s tragedy, and our problem.
– Stanley Kurtz is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and has written extensively about Pakistan.
James S. Robbins
No one should be surprised that an assassin finally caught up with Benazir Bhutto. People have been trying kill her since her return to Pakistan. Yet she had a habit of waving to the crowd from the top hatch of her secure vehicle. Anyone plotting to kill her would know this. Early reports indicate that she was shot almost immediately on emerging from the protection of the vehicle, so that suggests the shooter was waiting for the expected opportunity. If you feel the need to have an armored vehicle, why takes such foolish risks? Bhutto either had a death wish or thought she was bullet proof.
– James S. Robbins is the director of the Intelligence Center at Trinity Washington University, senior fellow for national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council, and author of Last in Their Class: Custer, Picket and the Goats of West Point. Robbins is also an NRO contributor.
It goes without saying the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto less than two weeks before elections will have disastrous consequences for Pakistani politics. Bhutto, as leader of the Pakistani Peoples’ Party (PPP), was the frontrunner to be the next prime minister of Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf, who cemented his position as President by usurping the constitution by declaring the highly unpopular state of emergency in early November, will wrongly be accused of being behind the assassination of Bhutto. The attack on Bhutto’s procession occurred in the military garrison city of Rawalpindi, and was conducted with near-military precision. But there should be little doubt that this was an attack by the Taliban, al Qaeda, and sympathizers within the military and Inter Services Intelligence.
The U.S. invested a great deal of political capital trying to get Bhutto back into Pakistan and involved in the political process. Bhutto has vowed to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal regions and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. She also said she would allow or further investigations of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear black market network. It is unclear who in the PPP will serve as Bhutto’s successor, and if this person has the clout to carry out such policies.
Musharraf, who has alienated much of the public, is now further isolated from the people. Nawaz Sharif, who has been accused of accepting bribes by none other than Osama bin Laden in the past and leads the rival political party Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz, is positioning himself as the next leader of Pakistan. Sharif, who has been barred from running for office, is waging a slick campaign to be seen as the only alternative to Musharraf. He was seen at Bhutto’s bedside as she died at the hospital in Rawalpindi.
Among other things, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination highlights the futility of Washington’s earlier quick-fix efforts to moderate Pakistani politics by backing a Bhutto-Musharraf power sharing deal. Such condominium was hardly in the cards and hopes otherwise ignored the roots of Pakistani political instability, starting with the military’s active support of Muslim fundamentalists to help out in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Also, the lack of secular politics that extend much beyond cult worship (even Ms. Bhutto, insisted on being name head of her political party “for life”) has hardly helped. Compound this with Saudi-funded Muslim fundamentalist schooling in Pakistan and Washington’s support of whomever has been in power in Islamabad and you get the mess you’ve got.
Now, we need to reassure Pakistan’s military that Washington won’t sell Pakistan out just to get strategically closer to New Delhi. A good start here would be to stop pushing the Indian nuclear deal so hard (it’s stalled in India anyway). Encouraging Saudi Arabia to stop funding fundamentalist schools in Pakistan would also help as would backing the fortunes of Pakistan’s tribal leaders and middle class over the economic, religious, and political machinations of Pakistan’s military intelligence services.
Certainly, stabilization, to say nothing of democratization of Afghanistan requires a revived effort to achieve the same in Pakistan and, then, there’s Pakistan’s nuclear weapons — both good causes to rethink how best to smarten up our support of our Pakistani friends.
– Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, D.C.