Archive for December, 2007

Bhutto’s Assassination

December 29, 2007

On Thursday, Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated during a political rally as she waved to crowds in Rawalpindi.  She was apparently shot in the head just before a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device near her motorcade.  According to the Interior Ministry of Pakistan, more than 20 other people were killed and 50 were wounded in the attacks.

 

The political consequences of the assassination could be severe.  Bhutto was the head of the Pakistani Peoples Party (PPK), the largest political party in the country, which now has no leader with less than two weeks to go before the parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8.  Because of the new turmoil, the elections could be postponed and a state of emergency might be declared only weeks after the previous one was lifted.  The second most prominent Pakistani opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, announced his party would not participate in the scheduled elections if they are held.

 

Bhutto’s death could further destabilize the nation.  Protests by angry Bhutto supporters turned violent in cities throughout Pakistan as streets were blocked, tires were burned and objects were thrown.  Many believe the administration of President Pervez Musharraf was complicit in the killing.  The government-provided security at the rally was lax, and Musharraf and other members of the Pakistani security apparatus were political enemies of Bhutto, a vocal critic of Musharraf who had only recently been allowed back in the country.  Musharraf could benefit from the assassination if the political opposition is weakened, a state of emergency is declared and the elections are postponed, because such a development would insure that he would remain in power longer.  If such a situation comes to pass it could further stoke anti-American sentiment in Pakistan because Musharraf, an authoritarian leader, is seen by many as being too close to the US.

 

There are alternative outcomes which may result from Bhutto’s death.  A new opposition leader could emerge and lead the PPK to victory, or radicals might exploit the upheaval and come to power.  The latter would certainly be undesirable for the US given that such a regime would certainly be anti-American.  It is unclear what kind of a relationship a PPK-led government would establish with the US.

 

It is vitally important for American security interests that the Pakistani government be largely pro-American.  Washington needs the cooperation of the Pakistani security forces in fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban elements that currently have sanctuary in the tribal regions of Pakistan.  The state of inter-governmental relations between the two countries could have a significant impact on the security situation in Afghanistan where US and NATO troops are fighting an insurgency against Islamic militants that freely cross the border with neighboring Pakistan.