Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto is Dead

She was assassinated at a rally this morning. It is unclear if the assassin then blew himself up, or if there was a suicide bomber working in tandem, as reports are conflicting at this early stage.

UPDATE: If we were determined to start speculating about anything before her body even cools, one would think that it would be how this even effects our national security, not the various Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns. The example Kevin Drum cites to:

Bloody images of Pakistan in turmoil, which will dominate newspapers and TV news just as Iowa voters are making their final decision and the caucuses are only a week away, will remind voters that this is a dangerous world.

Perhaps they're right, and we really are that stupid. The "analysis" that follows of what effect this news will have on the campaigns appears to be premised on American voters being that stupid, as the writers speculate that a reminder that the "world is dangerous" will boost Clinton and McCain's campaigns, since apparently they are "tough" enough to deal with "danger." What this should be a reminder of is the fact that we are entirely dependent on whoever is in charge in Pakistan to deal with the most dangerous terrorist threat we have ever faced, and that in a better world we wouldn't even care who is or isn't getting assassinated in a two-bit second-world military dictatorship. But I suppose that's being unrealistic.

UPDATE II: So what does this mean for the U.S. strategy of utilizing Musharraf as a bulwark against Al Qaeda and the Taliban? I'll tell you that such a strategy is now dead, but you don't have to listen to me. Here's an expert:

Bhutto's assassination presents an opportunity for Musharraf. "It's very possible Musharraf will declare [another] state of emergency and postpone the elections," Rubin continues. "That will confirm in many people's minds the idea that the military is behind" the assassination. For it's part, the U.S. will likely "be scrambling to say the election either needs to be held as planned or postponed rather than canceled, but Musharraf is in a position to preempt that."

As a result, Rubin says, U.S. strategy is "in tatters."

Of course the Bush administration would like these elections to go ahead, and President Bush appears to have signaled as much in a phone call to Musharraf today. But they are also most interested in a peaceful transition to a fuller democracy:

The State Department called on President Musharraf and others in the Pakistani government "to do everything they can to create the conditions on the ground to have as free and fair and transparent an election as possible," Casey told reporters. "No political system can last long without having legitimacy in the eyes of its people."

The United States is particularly concerned about the potential for initial demonstrations to become open-ended protests against the Musharraf government. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson is also reaching out to other opposition parties and civil society groups to urge calm, U.S. officials said.

So far the speculation is that Al Qaeda or the Taliban are behind the assassination, but the conclusion is that Musharraf benefits as well. However, he will also receive the lion's share of criticism from Pakistanis who support a democratic transition. Perhaps unrest was something the terrorists were counting on as well when they killed Bhutto.

UPDATE III: More on what this assassination means to US policy towards Pakistan. Prepare to be depressed:

On Thursday, officials at the American Embassy in Islamabad reached out to members of the political party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, according to a senior administration official. The very fact that officials are even talking to backers of Mr. Sharif, who they believe has too many ties to Islamists, suggests how hard it will be to find a partner the United States fully trusts.

Sharif is the former Prime Minister of Pakistan who was deposed by Musharraf. He is possessing of such great influence and popularity that upon his first attempt to return from exile in September, he was immediately put back on a plane and shipped off to Saudi Arabia. He is now our best bet for a democratic transition in Pakistan. We are doomed.

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