Clouded by illusions that words like "democracy" and "president" mean similar things everywhere, and by the inevitable martyrdom that accompanies a brutal assassination, Americans are rather ill-prepared to understand the unvarnished truth of the problem Pakistan now poses.
"I am what the terrorists most fear" says Benazir Bhutto in an interview to be published now posthumously in the January 6 Parade Magazine. Sounds good to American ears.
But she was grasping and self-interested, a beneficiary of Saddam's Oil for Food scam. Parade, in the kind of unvarnished look only possible before the assassination quotes Bhutto's own niece saying, "She has no legacy of her own except for corruption and violence."
Her deal with Pakistani President Musharraf to take the Prime Ministerial position for herself in the January 8 Pakistani elections would have broadened the regime's base of support by allowing many thousands more snouts from her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) into the trough. That was enough to make her a threat to the Islamists. Prophetically, Parade quotes a Musharraf insider saying, "She's the No. 1 target of the terrorists right now."
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto deals a blow to the hope for taking on the militants in the Pakistani sanctuary. It is also another sharp blow to the idea that political means can primarily or alone defeat Islamist terrorism.
Immediately after shooting Bhutto in the neck and head outside a Rawalpindi rally Wednesday afternoon, the assassin detonated explosives killing himself and at least 20 people. This was the second known attempt on Bhutto's life since her return from an eight-year exile forced by charges that she looted the Pakistani treasury of $1.5 billion.
"A spokesperson for the al-Qaeda terrorist network has claimed responsibility for the death on Thursday of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
"‘We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,' Al-Qaeda's commander and main spokesperson Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone call from an unknown location, speaking in faltering English. Al-Yazid is the main al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan.
"It is believed that the decision to kill Bhutto, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was made by al-Qaeda No. 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October.
"Death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and ultimately one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi's Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Bhutto."
The first attempt on Bhutto's life came October 18 --- the day she returned to Pakistan. An Islamist apparently placed a bomb inside a baby's clothing and attempted to hand the baby to Bhutto. Detonating the device at a rally in Karachi he missed Bhutto but killed the baby and 170 other people. Bhutto's return to power, greased by an "amnesty" from Musharraf's government which triggered the release of as much as $1.5 billion from Bhutto's frozen Swiss bank accounts, would have brought tens of thousands of her Pakistani People's Party supporters into government. As part of a "democratization" process promoted by the White House, Musharraf gave up control over the Pakistani Army to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani November 28. After declaring a "state of emergency" and using it to fire and arrest members of the judiciary bent on blocking him from the Presidency, Musharraf was set to allow elections which would likely placed the Socialist-International-affiliated PPP in government. The Musharraf-Bhutto deal could still possibly be salvaged if the PPP can unify around a new leader who can properly organize their party faithful into an acceptable patronage pecking order. With most of the Bhutto clan killed in political violence over the past 30 years, PPP leadership does not naturally fall to a particular successor. Being mooted as leader is Aitzaz Ahsen, a PPP Senator who served as Bhutto's interior minister from 1988 to 1990. Musharraf's other alternative would be to invite in the Islamist-oriented Pakistani Muslim League of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif, favored by Saudi Arabia, returned from his own exile November 25 after being blocked from returning in September. He has also served twice as Pakistani Prime Minister. Musharraf overthrew Sharif in an October 12, 1999 coup after claiming Sharif had attempted to kill him. Sharif said he would boycott the election-almost guaranteeing a PPP victory-- unless Musharraf's emergency rule imposed November 3 was lifted, but Sharif also filed nominating papers necessary to run. Musharraf lifted emergency December 15 after securing the presidency for himself and gutting the judiciary of judges who might challenge his claim. Sharif was then banned from running for office in a December 18 ruling by the Pakistani Electoral Commission. This careful choreography is all thrown asunder by the assassination of Bhutto and it remains possible that the elections will be cancelled or postponed. None of the key players have anything near clean hands. Bhutto since 9-11 made much of opposing al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Some western officials believe she would have opened the door to US and NATO forces now currently blocked from operating on Pakistani soil. But as Prime Minister Bhutto and Sharif both presided over the arming and rise to power of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. Sharif ordered the testing of Pakistan's first nuclear bomb in 1998 after US President Bill Clinton failed to prevent both India and Pakistan from acquiring nukes. The bomb was largely developed during Bhutto's last 1993-96 stint as PM. Musharraf and Sharif both presided over operations by the ISI and Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan to spread nuclear weapons know-how to Libya, Iran and other countries. There are claims that Sharif met numerous times with Osama bin-Laden and accepted money from bin-Laden to topple Bhutto in 1990. Khalid Khawaja is a former Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer who in 1987 went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets alongside bin-Laden. Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl was murdered in 2002 while in Pakistan attempting to meet with Khawaja. Interviewed in 2006 by ADN-Kronos, Khawaja claims it was bin-Laden who originally introduced Sharif to the Saudi royals who are now his key backers. Said Khawaja:
"Nawaz Sharif met Osama Bin Laden on at least three occasions and was desperately seeking his financial assistance."
In spite of her spotty record, Bhutto had never been an Islamist favorite. Khawaja claims bin-Laden offered Sharif money to bribe Pakistani Senators to win a vote of no confidence and topple Bhutto's government in the late 1980s. Khawaja explains:
"...initially a few Pakistanis, including myself, planned an alliance which would be dominated by Islamic parties and also include the moderate Pakistan Muslim League. We wanted clear domination of hardline religious parties so that moderate Muslim League would not deviate from the cause of Jihad."
These hardline parties are now among Musharraf's opponents.
Sharif responded to Bhutto's assassination by blaming Musharraf, pledging to boycott the elections that he is banned from and demanding Musharraf's immediate resignation. All of these demands serve the Islamist game plan. The ISI founded the Taliban, is completely interlinked with al-Qaeda, and fathered the Pakistani nuclear program. Musharraf's new Army Chief of Staff, General Kayani, is a former ISI chief. Musharraf extricated himself from the ISI's sponsorship of the Taliban and al-Qaeda only after the 9-11 attacks. When President George Bush after 9-11 announced "you are either with us or against us" his remarks were aimed directly at Musharraf. Rawalpindi, the site of Bhutto's assassination is also the home of Pakistani Army headquarters and is often characterized as a "garrison town." Rawalpindi was also the site of two of the attempts on Musharraf's life. The park in which Bhutto last spoke was named after Pakistan's first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, after he was shot and killed there in 1951. Bhutto's father, former prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hung in Rawalpindi in 1979 after being convicted by courts under dictator Zia-ul Haq of murdering a political opponent. Any claim that Bhutto might have overridden Army or ISI objections to open Pakistan to the US and NATO for operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban must be considered in light of these realities. It may have been this kind of talk for which Bhutto paid with her life.
With Musharraf out as Army Chief, his ability to manipulate promotions and bonuses in order to defend himself against further al-Qaeda assassination attempts is weakened. And without the cooperation of Bhutto his chance to widen the patronage-based political support of the regime is threatened.
Pakistan was created by the murderous chaos of partition in 1946-47. Liaquat Ali Khan led the All-India Muslim league defeating Mahatma Gandhi's Indian National Congress effort to non-violently unite Indians of all religions in an independent nation. Liaquat's group won 85% of the vote reserved for Muslims in the 1945-46 elections. The partition he demanded cost as many as 1 million lives as millions of Hindus and Sikhs moved to India and Muslims moved to both halves of what became Pakistan and later Bangladesh. Pakistan was founded in Islamist terror and has never recovered.
In spite of all the blither about democracy in Pakistan, and the beatification of Bhutto by pundits and politicians eager to bask in her reflected false glory, the reality is that in the midst of the on-going carnage the so-called democratic forces are motivated by a desire for a piece of the action.
On the other hand chaos, terror, and assassination remain the tool of Islamist efforts to claim power. Bhutto took risks by defending Musharraf's support of the US War on Terror since 9-11. More recently she backed his raid on the Red Mosque radical Islamist HQ in Islamabad.
Whereas the presence of American military power has allowed Afghanis, and in recent months Iraqis, to live in relative peace, there is no force in Pakistan prepared to consistently and violently defeat the terrorists. Bhutto's democratic dreams were just that --- dreams. Pakistani forces don't fight Islamist radicals effectively: they are subject to efforts at religious-ideological subversion based on appeals to Islam.
Western-friendly Pakistani governments are just a billion-dollar veneer with mostly theoretical control over the Pakistani military and its nukes. With Musharraf out as army chief, his control becomes even more theoretical. Pakistani reality is not so dissimilar to that of pre-9-11 Afghanistan, Iraq before the surge, Somalia, Gaza, Chechnya, Sudan, or other failed Islamist states. The only difference is that the state has not yet failed. If the PPP is knocked out of the picture, the end is a lot closer than many realize.