The shocking news of the day is the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister and recent presidential candidate Benazir Bhutto. I am no expert on Pakistan, so I’ll only make a few comments here.
First, my previous impression of Pakistan as a nation top-heavy with Islamic radicals seems to have been exaggerated and not-so-informed. My understanding at present is that most Pakistanis are looking for a fairly secular society, with only a small fraction of militants and jihadis seeking theocracy. I used to worry that the radicals would topple Musharraf, take power, and control the nation’s nuclear weapons, but analysts smarter than me say that the nuclear weapons are firmly in the control of the Pakistani military, who are their own faction in the country’s political game, not just servants of the government. It sounds like the military would be unlikely to give nuclear access to coup plotters, unless the military itself fragmented and started taking sides.
Second, Benazir Bhutto was corrupt as hell (I’ve heard estimates that she and her husband took almost $2 billion in bribes and kickbacks while in office), and not that popular with the Pakistani people. For some decades now, the country has had to deal either with military dictators or moderate-sounding kleptocrats. Shortly after Bhutto’s return and Musharraf’s decree of “emergency”/martial law, many Pakistanis publicly stated that they didn’t believe Musharraf’s claims that he was trying to protect the nation, nor did they believe that Bhutto was some sort of savior of democracy. They felt that both figures were simply out for their own power, and the Pakistanis wished they’d both go away.
Third, Al Qaeda has apparently taken credit for the assassination, but obviously we have no idea if they are actually responsible or not. If you’re willing to kill thousands, you’re probably not above telling a lie here and there. Bhutto supporters and fellow presidential candidate Nawaz Sharif are blaming Musharraf and the military (Sharif also seems to be positioning himself as the heir apparent to Bhutto, hoping to gain her followers). Musharraf is blaming Islamic terrorists.
Some possible future developments:
- the murder and its aftermath can give Musharraf an easy excuse to maintain martial law, and/or postpone the scheduled elections. “Public safety” and all that.
- Nawaz Sharif is vowing to boycott the upcoming elections, claiming that there can be no democracy with Musharraf in power. Can’t argue with him on that point. Honestly, though, I would not be surprised to see some sort of negotiating and wrangling between Sharif and Musharraf behind the scenes to share power in some way in the future.
- And of course, the possibility of some sort of rebellion or coup is not out of the picture. If Musharraf uses Bhutto’s death as an excuse to continue martial law, the Pakistani people may see it as a sign that they will never have democracy with Musharraf, and take action to get rid of him.
1 Comment »
Leave a comment
Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>