Bhutto’s death undermines war on terrorism
By: Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON — It’s tragic enough to view the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto through American eyes. To us, she was a courageous figure trying to reclaim her rightful place in her country’s government, not unlike Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 until he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet, heroes taken before their time.
But imagine you are a Pakistani politician. The martyring of Bhutto heightens the threats facing your country from all sides. There is a hostile India to the South, tribal areas in the north that are ungovernable, and across the border in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces flourish with the aid of some of those tribal leaders.
Factor in the country’s nuclear arsenal, and you can see what a Pakistani leader faces, the delicate dance employed by those in power in this critical and unsettled part of the world. Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf, whose legitimacy Bhutto challenged, dealt with these various pressures mostly by appeasing whichever group leaned on him the hardest.
Musharraf made a deal with the northern tribes allowing them free rein in exchange for not actively undermining his regime. The result, a resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda, undermines U.S. efforts to rid the region of both elements. The Bush administration is just waking up to the fact that Afghanistan is getting back to where it was before the Northern Alliance joined forces with the U.S. in 2002 to oust the Taliban.
Musharraf’s mode of leadership is power at any price. He does whatever it takes to keep himself in power. When the Bush administration pressed him to make an accommodation with democratic forces in the country personified by the return of Bhutto, he took off his Army uniform as a nod to the West. He keeps U.S. foreign aid flowing by reminding President Bush of the danger should the country’s nuclear weapons fall into the hands of Islamic jihadists.
He keeps the Pakistani people on his side by demonizing India, a growing industrial and nuclear power. A recent audit of the money that has gone to Pakistan since the 9/11 attacks reveals that Musharraf directed a substantial portion of it to conventional arms that could be used against India instead of its intended use, fighting terrorism.
In the days immediately before she was killed, Bhutto met with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
She made it clear that if she became prime minister, she would crack down on the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that she would go after the Taliban.
It’s way too early to know who was behind Bhutto’s assassination, but it’s clear who benefits from her death. Her absence from the scene as a potential prime minister strengthens the hand of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which can continue to operate from Pakistan’s northern border areas without fear of reprisal. It also strengthens Musharraf, at least in the short term.
A principle rival has been eliminated; he doesn’t have to share power. And the Army benefits; the military had an uneasy alliance with Bhutto and her family. They didn’t want Bhutto in power. They are the real power in the country, and they may yet choose to replace Musharraf.
Bhutto was our woman in Islamabad. She was far from perfect, her leadership marred by corruption, but she had the courage to put her life on the line knowing that what happened this week was almost inevitable. She was fiercely pro-American, educated at Harvard and equally at home in the States as in her native Pakistan. Her loss has been compared to that of Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who dared to make peace with Israel, who was also felled by an assassin. The difference is Sadat was followed seamlessly by another leader to our liking; what follows in Pakistan is anybody’s guess, and it’s not good.
Published in The Messenger 1.02.08
Douglas Cohn, editorial column, Eleanor Clift, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto