Bill Roggio notices that al-Qaeda has claimed credit for assassinating Benazir Bhutto.
Al Qaeda's central command is taking credit for today's successful assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A senior al Qaeda military leader in Afghanistan has contacted Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist for the Asia Times and Adnkronos International with close connections to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and bragged about killing Bhutto. "We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen," Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, told Mr. Shazad. The attack was reportedly ordered at the highest levels of al Qaeda.
But that doesn't mean that no one in Pakistani uniform is involved. In Pakistan, al-Qaeda sympathizers are sometimes to be found in the ranks of the armed forces themselves. Roggio writes:
Based on the sophistication of the Bhutto assassination, al Qaeda and the Taliban were very likely assisted by infiltrators and sympathizers in the Pakistani military and Inter Services Intelligence agency.
Of course, al-Qaeda has also publicly claimed responsibility for attacking the World Trade Center on several occasions but that has not convinced those who believe the CIA, the Mossad or even unknown private parties are responsible. While it would be fair to say al-Qaeda was at least one of those who wanted Bhutto dead, her death presents a opportunity for those looking to push their own political agendas.
There have been calls to "redeploy from Iraq, switch our focus to Afghanistan, as well as the border to Pakistan" which more or less beg the question of how forces in Afghanistan can be supplied through Pakistan for the purpose of intervening in Pakistan itself. Afghanistan is bordered to the east and southeast by Pakistan, the west by Iran, and to the north by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan. The nearest ocean is 275 due south. In November, 2007, the American Forces Press Service reported the existence contingency plans to supply coalition forces in Afghanistan if Pakistan is lost.
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said ... the supply line issue “is a very real area of concern for our commanders in Afghanistan, because 75 percent of all of our supplies for our troops in Afghanistan flow either through or over Pakistan.” This includes about 40 percent of the fuel shipped to U.S. forces, which comes directly from Pakistani refineries. No ammunition goes through Pakistan, the press secretary said. “Supplies to our troops in Afghanistan continue to flow freely through Pakistan, and for that we are grateful,” he said. “But the U.S. is not taking the passage for granted. Planners are working on contingency supply lines to our troops if it becomes necessary to alter the way we now support our troops.”
One sure formula for creating a military disaster is to deploy large numbers of American troops at the end of a long supply line through Pakistan and then proceed to involve it in a Pakistani civil war. But I digress. There are other ways to commit suicide. Bill Richardson calls on his website for the US government to force President Musharraf to step down from office.
We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible.
It's hard to quarrel with Richardson's idea that a "broad-based coalition ... of all the democratic parties should be formed immediately" but saying so won't make it happen. And should the call to "force the enemies of democracy to yield" include the Taliban and al-Qaeda? Aren't they the ones who just claimed credit for the murder of Benazir Bhutto? See, we've forgotten that little possibility already?
Therefore what should we do? The first is to accept Jules Crittenden's common sense assertion that "this war is far from over. This war is no artificial Bush creation or figment of anyone’s imagination, and should still be very much part of our own election, wishful thinking notwithstanding." One of the real problems with the War On Terror is that unlike the Cold War of the late 20th century there is no bipartisan consensus on how to wage it. Even today -- even after the death of Benazir Bhutto -- events abroad are being weighed, not for the peril they represent in their own right, but as opportunities to score points in the 2008 elections. The second is to forge a broad national strategy around the idea that Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is now the major theater of operations in Southwest Asia. Such a strategy may require military components, but for the moment it requires mostly competent political, intelligence and information operations. It may require joint diplomacy with China, India and Russia; it will require adroit political maneuvering within Pakistan. But above all it will require that we remember the names of our enemies -- the same ones who attacked Manhattan on September 11 -- require we remember their connections eastward to the centers of Islamic radicalism and their addiction to totalitarian processes. But my guess is that many will simply find the mental challenge too hard. Why can't we just "move on"?