Thursday, December 27, 2007

What died with Benazir Bhutto?

It's not what the assassination of Benazir Bhutto signifies in particular that matters: her merits as an individual political figure are debatable. It's what her death means in general that's most dangerous. Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation described what was expected from elections in Pakistan in which Bhutto was scheduled to take part:

President Pervez Musharraf's best chance for dealing successfully with threats from radical Islamists lies in enforcing the rule of law against the anti-democratic vigilantes in Islamabad and militants in the tribal border areas and taking a conciliatory approach toward Pakistani civilian leaders who support a democratic, progressive vision for Pakistan. If a free and fair election is held with the full participation of the mainstream secular parties, they are likely to win, thereby striking a blow against religious extremists.

In other words, the elections were supposed to blaze the narrow path between political extremisms. That path has been demolished by high explosive for now. The NYT writes: "the attack immediately raised questions about whether parliamentary elections scheduled for January will go ahead or be postponed."

There were already questions about whether Bhutto -- or any other candidate -- could create a political alternative to the dilemma of rule by the Army or rule by the Taliban. Walter Rodgers, in the Christian Science Monitor wrote only a few days ago, when the elections seemed certain to occur that whoever won, the Army would win and democracy would lose:

It now seems probable that Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections Jan. 8. It seems just as likely the result may be little more than a reshuffling of familiar faces that will not result in the institutional changes needed to put this Islamic republic on the doorstep of democracy.

The leaders of both major opposition parties, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, talk about nudging this nation of 165 million toward genuine democratic government. Yet both are already forecasting that Pakistan's intelligence services and the Army will rig the elections against them and for President Pervez Musharraf's candidates.

Now there will not even be the semblance of an electoral outcome. The effect of political assassination is to restrict effective political discourse to argument by high explosive or supersonic lead projectiles. Political murder kills not only the candidates, but the process to which they belong. Pakistani politics might not miss Benazir Bhutto as an individual, but it will surely want for the elections in general.

Elections have rarely been able in and of themselves to bring about stable democratic rule. Normally things are the other way round. It is the existence of the elements of democracy that have brought elections into existence. Whether those elements now exist in Pakistan is the question. Rogers believed that until Pakistan had an educated citizenry, credible legal culture, a semblance of upright government and a degree of religious tolerance that any electoral process would be founded upon an insubstantial base.

He might have added that meaningful elections can occur only when the armies -- in this case the Pakistani Army and the armed Islamic militants -- are committed to the processes of democracy. When every group under arms within a society is determined to settle the question of power by combat the role for the ballot is small indeed. The next few days will show whether the Pakistani Army -- for it will surely not be the Taliban -- can rededicate itself to electoral democracy. Pakistan needs its George Washington. Unfortunately it only has its Pervez Musharraf.


Blogger wretchardthecat said...

The Canadian Press reports that her attackers made real sure she was dead:

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday, apparently after being shot and then attacked by a suicide bomber as she left a campaign rally, aides said.

12/27/2007 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

The other candidate, Nawar Sharif, has had recent troubles of his own. AFP reported:

our people were shot dead at a campaign rally for former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday, police said, and Sharif's party blamed rival supporters of President Pervez Musharraf.

The Muslim League-N party said 17 of its people were also wounded in the shooting, which comes less than two weeks before what has been a bitterly contested parliamentary election. Police said three people were hurt.

The violence threatens to worsen the political turmoil in Pakistan, where Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt the January 8 vote and Musharraf's opponents have accused the president of planning to rig the election.

12/27/2007 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Of course the question is what do we do now? Someone wrote privately to say that this could be the prelude to anything. A Musharraf coup, a Taliban push and wished devoutly that the ground forces had more men. He wrote, "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, everyone’s wishful thinking notwithstanding."

12/27/2007 07:28:00 AM  
Blogger Doc99 said...

Obama may have been unwittingly prescient with his "invade Pakistan" comment.

12/27/2007 07:34:00 AM  
Blogger Boghie said...

Iran to the left...

India to the right...

Things might get interesting.

12/27/2007 07:48:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Obama's idea was to raid the NWFP from Afghanistan. Recently the US military has pointed out that since all the logistics for landlocked Afghanistan come through Pakistan, the loss of Pakistan would mean the troops in Afghanistan could not be readily resupplied. Gates recently spoke against a huge commitment to Afghanistan and warned that Pakistan was now the focus of Taliban attentions.

At any rate it makes no sense to invade Pakistan as a whole from Afghanistan. Pakistan is in Afghanistan's logistical rear. Their strategic relationship is the reverse. It is Pakistan that is of central importance. Plus, any meaningful intervention in Pakistan would require more than the 2 brigades, I think, that Obama wanted committed to Afghanistan.

Personally, I can't see a huge American ground involvement in Pakistan. Maybe there's scope for "securing the nukes", and maybe we're about to find out just how well those "secret plans" to secure the nukes work. But I'm not really looking forward to finding out.

12/27/2007 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger What is "Occupation" said...

but lest us not forget INDIA...


12/27/2007 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Bob Krumm has a roundup of opinion on which Presidential candidate seemed ready for this crisis.

12/27/2007 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

I don't really think Obama's scheme is a starter, at least for the US. Invade or raid from where ? Afghanistan ? Logistially, not going to happen for reasons Wretchard points out in his comment, and as he says, Afghanistan becomes almost impossible to work if Pakistan becomes hostile.

If in some hypothetical nightmare situation, the US really puts Pakistan in the cross-hairs, it's more likely to try to do something by sea, or try to get India riled-up at Pakistan. But I can't imagine the US doing anything whatever that was hostile or even mildly disagreeable to Pakistan with the US/NATO so deep in Afghanistan, specially given the probable reaction of other powers, particularly Russia and China.

12/27/2007 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger Lucky Pierre said...

Musharraf could have picked up bin Laden at any time, but he was making billions of dollars from the US in the "Looking for bin Laden" business. Now the only thing he's looking at is the barrel of a gun with bin Laden on the other side of it.

12/27/2007 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

The trick to picking up spiders is doing it without being bitten.

Maybe Musharraf could have picked up Bin Laden anytime he wanted. But what then ? Give him to the Americans ? Surely elements of his police and the army would not be happy with that, and if the security forces openly split, Musharraf and his whole regime will be joining Bhutto, and getting Bin Laden at the price of completely upending Pakistan is no good bargain for the US.

Perhaps its better for everybody that Bin Laden wind up dead, but that official Pakistan's fingerprints be noplace to be found.

Or perhaps not. Personally, I want all the idiots active in my enemy's command structure that I can find, and I'm not sure, long run if Bin Laden isn't more useful to the wackos dead than alive. Bin Laden's 9/11 and the American reaction may have given something of a boost to jihadist recruitment in terms of useful idiots wanting to die for the cause, but it also has bought the command structure and friends such as the Taliban more close range and continuious American pressure than they are probably happy with.

Dead, Bin Laden would be a martyr to recruit more cannon fodder; or, alternatively, in captivity, he could gain political points by a good showing in court. All the while a more strategically focused but more anonymous command structure could possibly have a shot at building a real organization that could actually knock-off a couple of weaker regimes in the Muslim world.

Alive, Bin Laden -- although he has to keep his head down, and (wherever he is) can't move around or be too active -- his existence might well be precluding the development of a better organized Al Qaeda.

12/27/2007 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Pakistan: Al-Qaeda Claims Responsibility For Bhutoo's Death

12/27/2007 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Assuming Islamic Militants are responsible, I would expect them to either take credit for the act or blame Musharraf. If they blame Musharraf then they hope to divide the opposition -- civil society (such as it is) from the military. Given the nature of the security services, the production of supporting evidence should not be difficult. In fact "elements" may well have been involved.

If the movement openly takes credit, then they feel strong enough to intimidate large segments of Pakistan Soceity. That would indicate to me that they are reading too many of their own press releases.

A problem for the Taliban Types is that most Afghans see them as Pakistanis and most Pakistanis see them as Afghan. They may be a rogue elephant, but as long as they were Pakistan's rogue elephant -- destroying other people's crops and villages -- it was OK with most Pakistanis. But to come after Pakistan? Not OK. Those "elements" in the security services that cynically promoted them will decide the radicals had served their purpose and turn on them. There may be Islamic Militant True Believers in the security services, but hopefully the cynics far out number them.

I would look for Pakistan to paint Islamic Radicalism (of a certain type, eminating from the tribal areas) as a foreign "Afghan-Arab" movement that has turned on the homeland -- weekend house guests trying to murder their hosts, as it were. That will drive a wedge between the Mountain Militants and their Flatlander sympathizers (who may have accepted "foreign tainted money" from the Saudis). Then the government can work assiduously to stamp out the Jihad in the tribal areas.

Previously, the Military tried to repair the misfiring gun and discipline the errant marksman. But now I think they will try to destroy it and execute "the foreigners and their minions." This will divide the tribal areas. Only by guaranteeing the Locals that "The Taliban" won't be around to take revenge will the Pakistanis eliminate them as a threat.

As for Democracy in Pakistan: the best predictor of future behavior is the past.

12/27/2007 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If the movement openly takes credit, then they feel strong enough to intimidate large segments of Pakistan Soceity. That would indicate to me that they are reading too many of their own press releases.
Agreed. I think AQ jumped the shark on this one.

12/27/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

Pakistan is in civil war.

I think al-Qaeda lost any chance it had for controlling Pakistan. Now, there are entire regions in Pakistan that will be flatly unwilling to ally with al-Qaeda for any reason whatsoever.

For the past few years, Pushtun activists have claimed there has been a plot to destroy the Pushtun people. Given the outrage al-Qaeda is provoking against the mountain peoples of Pakistan, all-out ethnic massacres in Pakistan look like a real possibility.

The question in my mind is the loyalty of Army chief Kayani. Is he loyal to the Pakistani constitution, the Pakistani military, al-Qaeda, or merely himself? I really don’t know.

12/27/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I don't suppose there's any possibility that Musharref arranged for the assassination to maintain his status quo, and is graciously allowing AQ to take credit.

12/27/2007 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Triton'sPolarTiger said...

Bhutto's been Dead Woman Walking since she returned to Pakistan. I'm surprised it took the wackos this long.

12/27/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Panday said...


Anything is possible. That possibility, however, seems quite unlikely. It takes a certain mindset to suicide bomb.

12/27/2007 09:51:00 AM  
Blogger Nomenklatura said...

We should not forget to consider the alternative hypothesis.

This killing changes little in Pakistan. They guy who was President before Bhutto became Prime Minister was assassinated by killers who remain unidentified. Bhutto's father ran the country for a while, before he was hung. Two of Bhutto's brothers were murdered. All of them, including emphatically Bhutto herself, were both corrupt, and eager to flirt with Islamic radicals whenever they thought it might give them an edge in their struggle for access to power and cash. Bhutto did a deal with Musharraf to work towards peaceful elections and then reneged on it within hours of being allowed back in the country.

Ironically Musharraf may be the most decent one of the lot. Naturally he is the one the 'educated left' have decided it is smart to demonize.

12/27/2007 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Bill Roggio over at writes:

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 Asia Times always impressed me as a bit sympathetic to the Jihadis, though I am admittedly (what some might call) over sensitive to that sort of thing. In any case, it is a source that should carry some weight in Pakistan.

The above would indicate a poor command and control system for AQ. On an event like this you don't want anyone singing outside the choir book, you might say. The best way to approach the "after action" here is to spin as many conspiracy theories as possible and only later take credit. You get the dogs squabbling among themselves and then remind them you can take them out one at a time.

To have an Afghan Arab gleefully take credit for the assassination of a popular Pakistani Politician is not conducive to this result. In this case if Musharraf wants to fight fire with fire he will fight Islam with nationalism. This will force Islam of the local variety to renounce "the internationalists."

This is such a classic mistake that I wouldn't be surprised to see AQ back off the claim. Of course, I could be wrong and it will work out fine for them. We shall see.

12/27/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Lucky Pierre said...

Dec. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan's biggest city of Karachi was completely shut down this evening after rioters burned dozens of cars and set fire to stores to protest the killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

12/27/2007 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger icecoolsushobhan said...

only democracy can save Pakistan: democracy is the one thing than terrorists fear the most

12/27/2007 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The cult of the "Martyr" is extremely exaggerated. Whoever killed Benazir Bhutto, good on them, they correctly perceive and understand reality. Whoever hesitates in killing Bin Laden, woe onto them, because they do not perceive and understand reality.

12/27/2007 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Neo Conservative said...

The Islamic grieving process begins.

STAGE ONE -- Take to the streets... go absolutely apeshit... set everything on fire.


12/27/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Lucky Pierre said...

The assassination of Pakistan’s opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is creating great concern around the world over the country’s sizeable nuclear arsenal.

O RLY? But Iran doesn't concern anyone because Bush is pushing for sanctions.

12/27/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

That possibility, however, seems quite unlikely. It takes a certain mindset to suicide bomb.

As the dreadful Palestinians have shown us, it takes kidnapping or otherwise threatening other members of one's family to get someone to blow himself up. It's not just suicide for the sake of 72 virgins any more -- it's killing yourself to save your children, or your parents, or your spouse.

And I wonder how much a smallish bribe of, say, $500,000 would buy in the way of suicidal volunteers. We can be certain/sure that Musharref has managed to skim that much out of the aid money we've been showering him with the last five years or so.

How many people have blown themselves and their babies up in the last few weeks trying to take Bhutto out? Surely not *all* of them were in it for the virgins alone, mindset-wise.

12/27/2007 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

I have tried not to think about it, but I have to agree with the commenter who described Bhutto as "dead woman walking."

I couldn't figure out if she actually expected to survive, or had she simply decided that martyrdom was her fate. It seemed to be a pre-ordained ending to her return.

The situation in Pakistan, Iran, Syria, India... (insert long list here) ... is as opaque to most Westerners now as Japan was prior to World War II.

As much as I've tried to keep up with events, it really isn't possible to assimilate everything a person would need to know to make sense of even a small group of countries.

Does anyone in this group happen to know a genius or two?

12/27/2007 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

I mean, besides Wretchard...

12/27/2007 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Lucky Pierre said...

Nahncee: How many people have blown themselves and their babies up in the last few weeks trying to take Bhutto out? Surely not *all* of them were in it for the virgins alone, mindset-wise.

It's just evolution in action. You need a ruthless but trusted set of people around you to wield power for long in countries ruled by the Religion of Peace.

12/27/2007 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Neo andertal said...

I posted this on Bill’s site. I think it is appropriate here too.

Pakistan has two primary political problems right now. The two problems play into each other but are not necessarily the same.

First, there is no real consensus to rule in Pakistan. I’m not just talking about democratically picking a ruling party or even appointing a military government. An even more basic issue is there must be agreement among all significant factions that they will accept institutions of governance and means for transfer of power. This is a problem that has been in the making for the last thirty years. There is a long standing game of trying to eliminate the opposition by arresting, killing, or exiling opposition leaders. Three decades of this has left neither the military, nor civilian parties, nor religious parties with any agreed on consensus to rule. It is not just a poisonous argument about who will rule but all sides refusing to recognize the institutional basis for any other to rule. Without that democracy is impossible and even a military government can be difficult to maintain.

The second problem is the militant Islamist movement. The militant Islamist movement lives off of the aspirations of conservative Muslims but is not in itself the same as conservative Islam. As I have said before, this is not your fathers and grandfathers conservative Islam. Zia’s actions three decades ago and his support for Islamic parties may have set Pakistan on this road, but the mix of politics and terrorism wasn’t quit as deadly or as globalized as the current version. Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren’t just conservative in outlook but are rather a radicalized political movement built around the total rejection of modern political and social institutions and the aspiration of carrying out the ultimate war against all they deem un-Islamic. Al Qaeda has successfully capitalized on Pakistan’s political weakness to further its goals. Initially they capitalized on the Soviet -Afghan war set up their movement and gain legitimacy. In the last few years they have successfully capitalized on Pashtoon nationalism and the American presence in Afghanistan to launch a militant movement within the Pashtoon population on the Pakistani side of the boarder. Now they have pushed a vulnerable Pakistani political system to the brink of disaster.

Something has to give. Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren’t strong enough to topple the Pakistani government alone. They need at least the support lower level officers within the Pakistani army and/or support of a significant portion of the Punjab population. I’m not sure recent tactics by the Taliban will endear them to either the army or the Punjab population. Their other possible route will be to set everyone else upon each other. We will soon see how successful they are at that.

Pakistan’s other alternative is that the major factions within society get their act together and find a way to start working with each other. This won’t be easy at all, given so much bad history between the various parties. Al Qaeda didn’t create Pakistan’s issues. They are forcing them though.

12/27/2007 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Neo andertal,

I think you are fundamentally right. Ali Ertaz at Pajamas Media argues that Bhutto's death has forced a crisis (

Edwards wants an international tribunal to calm things down, a la Hariri, which is also Ertaz's idea. I think Edwards is actually on the right track on this one. My only problem is that any "internationa" tribunal will take time to assemble. And I'm not sure we've seen the end of the cycle of violence just yet.

The main problem though is that the fix will require taking a big risk because it will need to be thoroughgoing, involving perhaps even a breakup of Pakistan or a prolonged effort to build a consensus. Who's got the power to do that? Maybe the US. But only if it has bipartisan consensus that it is the right thing to do.

12/27/2007 07:29:00 PM  
Blogger ledger said...

I am saddened by Bhutto’s murder and I agree with Wretchard’s statement that Pakistan needs a George Washington. But, I recognize reality and a George Washington will not appear.

The reality of Packistan is a state infested with murderous terrorists groups that have yet to be brought under control.

Trying to make Pakistan a democracy at this time is like trying to sow a wheat field in a rocky jungle.

Before the wheat can be sown, the field must be cleared of rocks and debris, predators and leveled for planting. That has not happen and sowing of democracy will not take root.

Thus we are left a Pakistan which the world has presented us with and we must make the best of what we have to work with.

In this context we should always keep our own national interests in mind.

Because of the pandemonium this would be an excellent time to start thinning out the rat’s nest of terrorists.

This could take any number forms including covert action. The focus should be on eliminating known Islamic militants and their financiers.

With some quick action we could liquidate a few “clerics” and rich tribal pirates who promote jihad against the west. Now is the time to cut the re-supply lines and destroy some of the larger weapons caches – mysterious explosions in the night.

Who knows, maybe we will get lucky and secure or destroy a few nukes in the process.

In short it is good time to chip away at center of Terror Industrial Complex of the Middle East (including wealth oil barons who aid them - there as got to be a few of them in Paki now).

Maybe this will strengthen Musharraf and bring eventual peace and maybe it will not. One thing is certain; eliminating enemies who cross over into Iraq to kill our guys is a positive event.

It is hard, dangerous, stinking work – but it has to be done. Given the disgust and confusion of Bhutto’s murder it’s a good time for liquidation of our enemies.

12/27/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger Neo andertal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/27/2007 09:39:00 PM  
Blogger watimebeing said...

Neo Andertal,
Thanks that is the best brief description of Pakistan's problems I have read.

Right now there seems to be no consensus that any consensus is necessary or possible. I do not see Nawar Sharif as having the foresight or the credibility to unite the Paks.
The President's creds are deep into the ash can as well. Some one may rise to lead, but it has to be sooner, or Bhutto's own PPL will splinter and hope for consensus i fear will splinter as well.

12/28/2007 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger Zenster said...

mad fiddler: The situation in Pakistan, Iran, Syria, India... (insert long list here) ... is as opaque to most Westerners now as Japan was prior to World War II.

One reason for this is the lack of familiarity that most Westerners have regarding differences between high context and low context cultures. If anyone is interested, here's a link to my, admittedly, lengthy post over at Gates of Vienna about this. (Scroll to nearly the bottom where my multi-part post begins.)

The mindset of high context cultures like those of Japan, China and the MME (Muslim Middle East) is so foreign as to be almost alien to most Westerners. Without a solid understanding of the yawning gulf that separates them from Western low context cultures, there is little chance of perceiving what drives either Islamic terrorism or the Muslim mind.

12/28/2007 04:01:00 PM  

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