Friday, December 28, 2007

Turning back to the 60's. Political assassinations rear their heads again, as "intelligence" agencies lose control of the script.

Bhutto Killing Inflames Pakistan


The world's most unstable nuclear-armed nation is plunging deeper into crisis.

Yesterday's assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has thrown into disarray Pakistan's attempt to restore democracy, eliminating a leading contender for power days before a national election and highlighting the growing reach of extremists.

Ms. Bhutto, a Harvard-educated politician who enjoyed U.S. support, had been expected to do well in elections scheduled for Jan. 8, possibly becoming prime minister once again. Her death has deprived Pakistan's embattled president, Pervez Musharraf, of his strongest potential ally in the battle against the rising tide of radical Islam in this nation of more than 160 million people.

Yesterday's attack brought home how the world's second-most-populous Muslim nation totters on the brink of becoming a failed state, with potentially devastating consequences for neighbors like India and Afghanistan, and for the West. The murder was the latest in the series of suicide attacks that now occur in Pakistan with a frequency approaching that of Iraq, as Taliban-style Islamic insurgents overtake swaths of the countryside.

Ms. Bhutto, 54 years old, was killed by a man who first shot her and then blew himself up following a campaign rally in the city of Rawalpindi near Islamabad, witnesses said. Twenty people were killed in the blast.

One of the first women to lead a modern Muslim nation, Ms. Bhutto has long attracted the ire of Islamist extremists. She was the target of another assassination attempt on Oct. 18, the day she returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile. More than 100 people died in that bombing.
As a Western educated woman in an Islamic society, and the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim country, Bhutto forged many new paths in a career which spanned decades. Video courtesy of Reuters.

Though no one claimed responsibility for yesterday's attacks, President Musharraf blamed radicals linked with al Qaeda and the Taliban. "This is the work of those terrorists with whom we are engaged in war," he said in a nationally televised speech. "The nation faces the greatest threats from these terrorists."

The Bhutto assassination puts President Musharraf, a close U.S. ally, in a tight spot: He was counting on the participation of Ms. Bhutto and her large Pakistan People's Party to lend legitimacy to the elections.

Ms. Bhutto had bitterly criticized President Musharraf's six-week emergency rule, imposed in November and lifted Dec. 15, and his measures against the independent judiciary and the press. But she also signaled that she could work with him in a government -- a stance that distinguished her from her longtime rival and another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. It was Ms. Bhutto's determination to run in the upcoming election that prompted most other opposition parties, including Mr. Sharif's, to follow suit and drop threats of an electoral boycott.

Next week's election is now up in the air. Mr. Sharif, a conservative with backing from Saudi Arabia, said yesterday that his party again intends to boycott the vote. Ms. Bhutto's party doesn't have a leader of comparable stature to step into her shoes. Closely intertwined with the Bhutto family, her PPP was established by Ms. Bhutto's father, former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged in 1979 by the country's military rulers. The party announced a 40-day mourning period as it weighs its options.

"It will be extremely difficult to hold elections now," said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political analyst who was recently a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University. "There will be violence."

Pakistan's tumult is roiling the capitals of world powers. Continuing chaos is likely to further embolden militants in Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan, and may undermine Islamabad's security cooperation with the U.S.

The U.S. yesterday called for the elections to be held as planned. "We believe the best way to honor Ms. Bhutto is for the democratic process to continue," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. To delay the elections, he said, "would be a victory for the assailants."

Pakistan's army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, said the country's police can handle the security situation. Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz went on TV to call upon political parties to react peacefully. He said the government was investigating the attack.

Some of Ms. Bhutto's supporters lashed out at President Musharraf and the government's security agencies, accusing them of complicity with the killing in Rawalpindi. They questioned whether Ms. Bhutto was given adequate protection in this garrison city, the headquarters of Pakistan's military.

Ms. Bhutto knew the dangers she faced. In a commentary she contributed to The Wall Street Journal after the Oct. 18 attempt on her life, she said she had asked the government to provide security. "The attack on me was not totally unexpected. I had received credible information that I was being targeted by elements that wanted to disrupt the democratic process," she wrote.

Since Pakistan was created by 1947's partition of India, it has never fully gelled as a stable state. The nation's identity has been premised on a single religion, Islam, and Pakistan provided sanctuary for generations of Muslims who felt oppressed in India or sought their own homeland. But the people of Pakistan have also grappled with a persistent question: How large a role should Islam have in daily life? Very little, say human-rights activists. Total theocracy, counter Pakistanis inspired by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Sixty Years of Instability

For most of its 60 years of independence, Pakistan has been run by the military, which hasn't helped resolve the question of religion and state, and in many ways planted the seeds for today's instability. Pakistan's military rulers suppressed political dissent in the 1980s and 1990s. At the same time, they provided succor to militants who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and India in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Pakistan's plight stands in stark contrast to its foe and neighbor, India, the world's largest democracy, which has never experienced a military coup. Since 1947, Pakistan and India have fought three full-scale wars, one resulting in the 1971 secession of East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh. After a group of militants attacked India's parliament in late 2001, the countries came to the brink of the first war between two declared nuclear powers.
WSJ Washington Bureau Chief John Bussey analyzes how the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Bhutto could impact U.S. foreign policy.

Even Pakistan's civilian leaders have had to seek the tacit consent of the nation's powerful military. Ms. Bhutto's father served as a martial-law administrator under the military, before leading a grass-roots movement that made him prime minister. Mr. Sharif emerged as a national leader while a serving in a military government. The military eventually got rid of both, executing Mr. Bhutto and exiling Mr. Sharif.

Ms. Bhutto rose to prominence in the wake of her father's death, serving two terms as prime minister in the 1980s and 1990s. The military constrained her involvement in strategic and foreign affairs, and her government was criticized for alleged corruption.

President Musharraf, the former army chief of staff, came to power after ousting Mr. Sharif in a 1999 coup. As a military commander, Mr. Musharraf had cultivated contacts with militants -- typically through intelligence services -- for their forays into India.

Then came the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., plotted by al Qaeda from Afghanistan. President Musharraf reversed Pakistan's backing for Afghanistan's Taliban government. Instead, he provided logistic support to the U.S. military campaign there.

Continued insurgency in Afghanistan, however, has resulted in a creeping Talibanization of parts of Pakistan itself. Groups affiliated with the Taliban and al Qaeda have extended their influence well beyond tribal areas on the Afghan frontier, moving into large parts of the country. In the fall, they overran the Swat valley north of Islamabad, a onetime tourist destination and skiing resort.

Roots of the Crisis

Pakistan's current crisis began in March, when Mr. Musharraf sought to dismiss the country's Supreme Court justice, who his government accused of abusing the perks of his office. The move sparked pro-democracy protests, with lawyers and others taking to the streets against Mr. Musharraf.

At the same time, despite resistance among Pakistan's swelling urban middle class, extremism began reaching into big cities. Earlier this year, Islamic radicals occupied Islamabad's Red Mosque compound, sending out antivice patrols into the streets of the capital. The months-long occupation drew upon youth educated in religious schools. It ended in July with a bloody commando raid.

Since then, militants have launched a barrage of suicide bombings across the nation. Last Friday, a bomb exploded in a village outside of Peshawar, killing more than 50 people, an attack that apparently targeted Pakistan's former top antiterrorism official.

The incidents underscored the challenges closing in on Mr. Musharraf. Both ends of the political spectrum -- those who want civil liberties, and those seeking to establish a strict Islamic state -- wanted him gone.
WSJ's Andy Jordan visits a Pakistani community in New York to get reactions to the attack.

Ms. Bhutto's secular outlook, meanwhile, earned her admirers in Washington. U.S. officials encouraged her to discuss a possible alliance with President Musharraf. But almost as soon as she returned to Pakistan in October, after reaching a deal with President Musharraf to help guide the country toward civilian rule, friction between the two broke to the surface.

On Nov. 3, Mr. Musharraf -- buffeted by an upsurge in violence as well as a challenge to his reelection as president by a parliament stacked with his supporters -- declared emergency rule. He suspended the constitution, forced the resignation of dozens of judges, jailed opponents and took popular television broadcasters off the air.

His government suffered a backlash among critics inside Pakistan and abroad who saw the security clampdown not as way to fight militants but to sideline political opponents. Some critics say President Musharraf's unwillingness to relinquish power after eight years at the helm further fed unrest by weakening the state's legitimacy.

Ms. Bhutto was among those who condemned the president's emergency rule. In response, President Musharraf detained thousands of her supporters and thwarted her attempts to lead protest rallies. Ms. Bhutto was put under house arrest twice.

In the following weeks, after Mr. Sharif returned to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia and President Musharraf stepped down as army chief, relations between Ms. Bhutto and the president showed some improvement. Ms. Bhutto was largely able to campaign freely, even holding rallies in the Northwest Frontier Province, the stronghold of Islamic conservatives.

Ms. Bhutto was struck in the head and neck yesterday as she was entering her car, according to Tariq Azim, former deputy minister of information, who said he had been briefed by Pakistan's Ministry of Interior. Ms. Bhutto was rushed to a hospital where she died from her injuries. The subsequent blast killed 20 and injured about 45, according to Mr. Azim, who called it a "sad and tragic day for Pakistan."

Yesterday evening, some roads were blocked amid the sound of gunfire in Pakistan's commercial capital of Karachi. Police said five people were killed and fires could be seen raging in some buildings. Near the site of the bombing in Rawalpindi, PPP supporters vented their grief by pounding on passing cars and shouting "Musharraf Dog."

Mr. Sharif fanned such sentiments by urging a "revenge on the rulers" for Ms. Bhutto's death.

Leadership Vacuum

Most current and former U.S. officials say Washington's Pakistan policy -- premised on a Musharraf-Bhutto alliance -- is now in trouble. These officials say the Bush administration should be working aggressively behind the scenes to try to rebuild a coalition between President Musharraf and the PPP. But they acknowledge that the approach is complicated by the leadership vacuum in Ms. Bhutto's party.

They also caution that the U.S. shouldn't be seen as too openly managing the political maneuvering due to fears this could fuel even greater anti-American sentiment. Among the PPP officials Washington would likely reach out to in the coming days are emerging leaders such as Aitzaz Ahsan, who could possibly galvanize the party. But Mr. Ahsan, a prominent lawyer, is a major opponent of President Musharraf for supporting Pakistan's ousted judges, and has been under detention himself.

Some analysts expressed fear that the fallout from the killings could also inflame separatist feelings in Pakistan's provinces, especially in Sindh -- Ms. Bhutto's home -- and in resource-rich Baluchistan.

"This will affect the very integrity of Pakistan," said Zafar Iqbal Cheema, chairman of the defense and strategic studies at Quaid-i-Azam University. "Ms. Bhutto was a symbol of Pakistan unity."

Original article posted here

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