Friday, December 28, 2007

Bad days in Pakistan

With the assassination of the now-sainted Benazir Bhutto yesterday, political and security matters in Pakistan, never very stable or cheery, have become tense indeed.

I'm not going to spend any time on Ms. Bhutto's past. She had her share of controversy, and there are (or were, I guess) legitimate questions regarding her ability to unite and lead Pakistan had she won upcoming elections. None of that matters now - her death at the hands of a as-yet-unnamed jihadist is nothing short of a tragedy for Pakistan, South Asia, and the world. Its difficult to see anything positive coming out of this event.

However, it's done.

The questions I have today are:

  • Who did it?
  • Who will benefit?
  • Who will suffer?

The first two questions are closely related. The obvious answer to both is Musharraf. Bhutto was clearly his chief rival and main opposition in the upcoming elections, so it's easy to see a short-term gain for the current President.

You can't dismiss this sort of motivation completely, but I'm not so sure.

Musharraf is hanging on by his fingernails. His whole bit is based on being able to provide internal security, and he's currently failing (badly) at it. The extremists are not in his fan club, and have tried to top him off at least twice. Any incident which contributes to the "out-of-control" impression only serves to weaken the current administration. I mean, come on - the guy has suspended the constitution, imposed emergency rule, trampled on what civil rights there are in Pakistan, muzzled the press, attempted to crush the judiciary, and he STILL can't slow down the AQ/Taliban suicide squads?

I think the average Syed and Mohammed on the street is a little disenchanted w/ Musharraf and has been for a while. Current events are not helping his standing.

The fundamentalists seem the most obvious candidates for responsibility here. Maybe they're too easy - Musharraf and the ISI have to know how easy they are for this, and, if we're going to be Machiavellian about this, well, that's just pin-the-tail-on-the-Taliban waiting to happen, isn't it?

If we try to go the less-cynical route, AQ, the Taliban, and Pakistan's home-grown fundamentalists certainly seem to fit the profile, don't they? Bhutto was a secular (relatively), progressive (again, relatively) woman from a privileged family who (most egregious of all) actually had a chance to win power democratically. There's a list of descriptors guaranteed to fry the beard off the average militant Islamic fundamentalist, no?

These guys are perfect for it.

By the way, this backfires on them if they get caught. If the Pakis can dig up some real proof that AQ, the Taliban, or the Waziristan All-Stars are involved, Musharraf is finally going to have some support for really going into the North West Frontier provinces and kicking some fundamentalist butts.

Also on the list of "who benefits" - fellow-former-PM (and fellow-alleged-crook) Nawaz Sharif. Sharif was going to get his a** kicked in the elections anyway. Now, though, he gets to take the moral high ground by boycotting the election. His standing, which likely would have been eroded significantly by a poor showing in the polls, instead takes a giant turn upwards as the new "moral center" of the opposition. I don't for one second think Sharif had anything to do with Bhutto's killing, but there's no doubt he benefits from it.

Who suffers? The average Syed and Mohammed do, as their country descends into more violence and less stability. Whether the elections are held as scheduled or not, Pakistan has taken a HUGE step backwards on the road to rule of law and stability.

Pakistani women lose big time. A role model for ambitious girls has been turned into a cautionary, perhaps dissuading, tale. The fundamentalists, who want to turn the clock back 600 years and, in the process, transform women into human livestock, become more powerful and get closer to running the show.

The world community takes it on the chin as well. Pakistan, a nuclear power, is no closer to becoming a stable state or calming influence on this most unstable of regions.The nut-jobs, who would use those nuclear weapons in their unilateral religious war against anyone and everyone who is not exactly like them, are that much closer to the levers of power. And a voice, flawed thought it may have been, which called out for reconciliation and moderation, has been violently silenced.

God, what a bummer.

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