International Relations, War On Terror

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in an apparent suicide bombing today.

UPDATE: Pajamas Media has a roundup of links on the assassination. On CNN, Peter Bergin is speculating that there was likely some involvement with the Pakistani military due to the assassination happening in Rawalpindi. Previous assassination attempts against President Pervez Musharraf had involved low-level members of the military.

CNN is reporting that Bhutto’s husband said that she was shot in the neck before the suicide bomber blew himself up. There have been conflicting reports over whether Bhutto died from bullet wounds or shrapnel from the blast.

UPDATE: Some quick reactions: This could plunge Pakistan into civil war. Bhutto had some following with members of the Pakistani upper class who were sick of Musharraf and wanted to see Pakistan move towards democracy. With Bhutto assassinated, everything is in doubt. On the good side, perhaps this will unite the Pakistani people against al-Qaeda and the extremists in their own midst. This may force Musharraf to move harder against the extremists, especially along the lawless Pakistan/Afghan border.

For America, these events remind us that we can’t simply withdraw behind our borders. This is no time for isolationism, nor is it a time for a foreign policy based on naïvete. The brewing crisis in Pakistan could easily become a nightmare scenario for the world—if Pakistan’s nuclear weapons fall into the hands of Islamic extremists, it would be disastrous for the region and for the world.

UPDATE: Jules Crittenden has more links and insights on the fallout of Bhutto’s assassination. He suspects that this assassination was a collaborative act between al-Qaeda and Taliban linked jihadis and the Pakistani military. We would like to draw a line between the two, but Pakistani government and military is rife with radical Islamists. That line simply cannot be so cleanly made.

We have far more questions than we do answers, and the lack of answers is making a bad situation even worse. If Pakistan falls into civil war, we had better be prepared to take Pakistan’s nukes out of the equation or the results could be too terrible to countenance.


The Devil We Know

The niece of Benazir Bhutto explains why Bhutto’s return is not a positive development for Pakistan:

Perhaps the most bizarre part of this circus has been the hijacking of the democratic cause by my aunt, the twice-disgraced former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. While she was hashing out a deal to share power with Gen. Pervez Musharraf last month, she repeatedly insisted that without her, democracy in Pakistan would be a lost cause. Now that the situation has changed, she’s saying that she wants Musharraf to step down and that she’d like to make a deal with his opponents — but still, she says, she’s the savior of democracy.

The reality, however, is that there is no one better placed to benefit from emergency rule than she is. Along with the leaders of prominent Islamic parties, she has been spared the violent retributions of emergency law. Yes, she now appears to be facing seven days of house arrest, but what does that really mean? While she was supposedly under house arrest at her Islamabad residence last week, 50 or so of her party members were comfortably allowed to join her. She addressed the media twice from her garden, protected by police given to her by the state, and was not reprimanded for holding a news conference. (By contrast, the very suggestion that they might hold a news conference has placed hundreds of other political activists under real arrest, in real jails.)

Ms. Bhutto’s political posturing is sheer pantomime. Her negotiations with the military and her unseemly willingness until just a few days ago to take part in Musharraf’s regime have signaled once and for all to the growing legions of fundamentalists across South Asia that democracy is just a guise for dictatorship.

Bhutto was ejected for Pakistan for massive corruption. She was growing rich at the expense of the Pakistani people, and there’s little reason to believe that all her noble words about democracy aren’t just a way of getting her hand back in the cookie jar.

As reprehensible as we find the idea of Musharraf’s emergency rule, we have to consider the alternatives. Benazir Bhutto was in power when Pakistan was providing support to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. She was kicked out of the country for corruption on a massive scale. It is uncertain that she could hold the country together in the face of rising Islamic extremism.

Pervez Musharraf, for all his flaws, has promised that there will be elections in January. He appears to be preparing for a crackdown on the al-Qaeda infested regions of Waziristan and the restive territories along the Afghan/Pakistan border. He has already worked towards reducing tensions with India over Kashmir.

As a general principle, what Musharraf is doing is wrong. Democracy should be a key principle of American foreign policy. However, we cannot ignore the reality that Pakistani democracy could lead to nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorist groups—or even a government willing to provoke India into a nuclear exchange. The level of Islamic radicalism in Pakistan could lead to a government more like Hamas than we can accept.

Musharraf, unfortunately, is the devil we know. We should be pushing him to end his emergency rule as soon as practicable, and to treat his people with respect and only minimize civil liberties as much as absolutely necessary. We should push him to help develop civil society in Pakistan and ensure that the Pakistani government does not succumb to the same endemic corruption that ended Bhutto’s government. However, looking at the situation in Pakistan, we have to consider that right now Musharraf’s interests are closely enough aligned with our own that to lose Musharraf would be to lose a stabilizing force in the region.

If all this reeks of realpolitik, that’s because it is. However, democratic idealism has its place, but not at the potential cost of a nuclear war in Central Asia. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for our foreign policy problems, which is why we must show flexibility in dealing with the Musharraf regime. We want a democratic Pakistan, but that must not mean allowing a Taliban-like regime to possess nuclear weapons. In this case, it is better to go with the devil we know rather than the one we do not.


The Problem With Pakistan

Pajamas Media has an excellent roundup on the current state of martial law in Pakistan after President Pervez Musharraf arrested members of the Supreme Court and shut down parts of the Pakistani press. The “state of emergency,” now in its third day represents a potential crisis in the region that will have major implications for the war against al-Qaeda and America’s democratization policy.

The problem is this: while we don’t like military dictatorships, the alternative in Pakistan is not very good. Pervez Musharraf is hardly a poster boy for democracy, but he’s also responsible for combatting extremism in Pakistan and ensuring that tensions with India didn’t result in a nuclear exchange. The two things we definitely don’t want in Pakistan is a radical Islamist government who might use nukes or a radical secular nationalist government that might use nukes. Our primary interest is ensuring that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands. Pervez Musharraf, even though he’s acting like any other dictator, is at least someone who’s unlikely to spark World War III. The same cannot necessarily be said of others.

Depending on who you ask, this crisis began either when Pakistan’s Supreme Court was about to rule against Musharraf’s position as head of the army and President or when radical Islamists started causing trouble in Pakistan’s frontier regions. The former is most likely, but there’s no denying that terrorist activity in Pakistan is a major problem. Musharraf almost certainly is using terrorism as an excuse to clamp down on the Pakistani legal establishment. However, the question remains who would rule Pakistan is Musharraf were to be desposed?

The State Department is calling on Musharraf to restore civilian rule and step down as the head of the Pakistani Army. That’s a natural consequence of our pro-democracy position. The problem with that call is that the Pakistani Army is one of the few things holding the country together. It would be great if we could have a democratic Pakistan, but if there was a free and fair election it’s not at all certain that the beneficiaries wouldn’t be hardcore Islamists sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Again, our strategic outlook has to consider that Pakistan is a nuclear state, and anything that potentially puts nukes into terrorist hands is a very bad thing for the West.

What’s interesting to observe is India’s lack of strong reaction to the situation in Pakistan. India and Pakistan have had a long-standing dispute over Kashmir and a few years ago were close to nuclear war. However, under Musharraf tensions have slowly been reduced:

The two neighbors have fought three wars since Pakistan was carved out of India at the end of the era of British rule. Relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have thawed recently and General Banerjee at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies says India is in no rush to see President Musharraf depart the stage in Pakistan.

“In recent years Musharraf was seen in India as somebody who was constructive on the critical issues between India and Pakistan and especially on Kashmir and therefore somebody that India could do business with,” added Banerjee.

The Indians realize that the alternatives to Musharraf are not good. While the US is publicly condemning Musharraf’s military coup, it’s quite likely that privately many members of the US government agree with India’s outlook. Our policy towards Pakistan has largely been one of slowly pushing Musharraf towards democracy, but not so hard as to threaten his ability to keep Pakistan from sliding into anarchy or war. Musharraf’s actions make that delicate balance much harder now.

Ultimately, we have to look out for our interests. Benazir Bhutto might be a compelling alternative to Musharraf, but without the support of the Army she’s likely to end up deposed yet again. Bhutto is saying the right things, but the charges of corruption weren’t far off the mark and the last thing Pakistan needs is a leader who’s at risk from either a military coup or an Islamist takeover. Bhutto has yet to demonstrate that she’s strong enough to lead Pakistan. Musharraf is not acting like someone with a commitment to democracy, but we have to realize that democratic development in Pakistan is a dangerous game. Push too much and we risk losing Musharraf as a key ally. If we lose Musharraf, there’s no telling what could happen. In a situation like this, it’s better to go with the devil you know than risk having a nuclear-armed terrorist state perched in a critical area of the world.

International Relations

Can We Trust Benazir Bhutto?

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has returned home to throngs of cheering supporters after eight years of self-imposed exile. She has an editorial in the Boston Globe on her intention of creating a new and democratic Pakistan, and she may just have the political power to do that. She writes:

As I board the plane that takes me home to Pakistan today, I carry with me a manuscript of a book I am writing that will be published shortly. It is a treatise on the reconciliation of the values of Islam and the West, and a prescription for a moderate and modern Islam that marginalizes religious extremists, returns the military from politics to their barracks, treats all citizens and especially women with full and equal rights, selects its leaders by free and fair elections, and provides for transparent, democratic governance that addresses the social and economic needs of the people as its highest priority.

To me this is not just a book but a campaign manifesto, a guide to governing. If the people of Pakistan honor me again with an opportunity to lead, I intend to practice what I preach, to have my actions match my rhetoric and to make Pakistan a positive model to 1 billion Muslims around the world.

It’s certainly a noble goal. The question is whether Bhutto can pull it off, and whether her return presages a brighter future for Pakistan or whether it will simply return that country to the pre-Musharraf status quo.

Ralph Peters makes a pointed argument that Bhutto will only take Pakistan backwards:

Nonetheless, we blind ourselves to the forces in play when we caricature all coup-makers. For all his faults, Musharraf views himself as a Pakistani patriot – not as a political party boss in the fashion of Bhutto, nor as a Punjabi or Pashtun, Baluch or Sindhi first. Indeed, only the military holds the fractured state of Pakistan together.

Now Benazir Bhutto – one of the figures who did so much to destroy the fabric of society and the economy – is back in Pakistan. It appears that she and Musharraf have worked out a power-sharing arrangement. We may hope for the best, but we also need to be prepared for the worst: a new era of hyper-corruption, as Bhutto’s grab-all gang replaces the relative moral rigor of the military in the public sphere.

And let’s not forget those nukes.

While Bhutto is saying all the right things, her record in Pakistan is hardly stellar. During her tenure as the country’s leader, the Pakistani government openly helped the Taliban gain power in Afghanistan. She was kicked out of office twice for massive corruption. She has nearly $1.5 billion that had previously been locked away in a Swiss bank account and is now accessible due to the deal with the Musharraf regime.

Peters is quite correct to point out that behind all the flowery rhetoric about peace and democracy is a politician who has repeatedly let her people down. One of the most corrosive problems faced by developing nations is corruption, which eats away at the foundations of good government. The last thing Pakistan needs to replace a flawed by honest patriot with a corrupt sectarian who will continue her policy of getting rich off lucrative foreign contracts while Pakistan crumbles around her and falls into extremism.

Perhaps Benazir Bhutto has changed her spots. Perhaps she really believes in democracy and establishing a democratic future for Pakistan. Yet the West should not blindly trust her to do so. The worst thing that could happen in the region is a nuclear-armed Pakistan in the hands of those who would use those weapons for either religious terrorism or national conflict. A nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India would devastate the entire region and throw the world economy into panic.

The stakes are too high in this matter to trust blindly. Bhutto must be held to her word, and that means that should she return to her own ways the West must be willing to look past Musharraf’s military background and work with him on ensuring that Pakistan does not fall into anarchy or worse.