Friday, December 28, 2007

It's "roller coaster" time in Pakistan

The world was rocked yesterday by the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto. According to reports on CNN, Bhutto was shot between 3 and 5 times by a gunman as she raised herself through the moon roof of a vehicle to wave to the crowd that had just attended a rally. Security forces attempted to apprehend the gunman, who then detonated a bomb that he had strapped to himself. Bhutto was taken to a hospital and within 45 minutes of the event, was reported dead.

This event commits everyone remaining, from Pervez Musharraf, to Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif, to Junior Bush, and Pakistan's Waziri warlords, to a terrifying course of brinkmanship where none can back down, back out, or even control events. It's like being on a roller coaster ride without a safety strap. The ride has started, and for better or worse, everyone is going to complete the circuit.

Responsibility for the event is currently being attributed to Al Qaeda. And it could well be that some group of zealots that pay homage to Osama bin Laden are, in fact, behind it. But Al Qaeda is a convenient catch-all that can be tagged with responsibility for anything. (I'll talk about that in a future post.)

Without accusing anyone, let's look at how this event affects each of the key players that are still in the game.

Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani military: National elections are currently scheduled in Pakistan for January 8th. Bhutto was the main opposition candidate to Musharraf and the most realistic possibility for unseating him. Bhutto had no political heir apparent, so the Pakistan People's Party now has no leader to run against Musharraf. Rather convenient for Pervez, yes? On the other hand, Musharraf's international credibility can ill-afford another blow against it. It seems highly unlikely that such a cagey player as Musharraf would even entertain such a dangerous notion as assassinating Bhutto. That is, unless Musharraf were absolutely desperate...

Nawaz Sharif: The leader of Pakistan's third political entity, the Pakistan Muslim League, had no love for Bhutto. She was a rival to power; she was "western friendly." And, let's be real, she was a woman.

Junior Bush: On its face, this is a disaster for Junior. Bhutto offered a legitimate friendly face for the American public. If Bhutto had won the January 8th election, the distaste that many Americans have for Musharraf and his heavy-handed tactics could have gone away, leaving Junior a free hand to cut shady deals with a new partner that would have been much more palatable to the American public. But those dreams are gone; and if there is one thing at which Junior and his band have proven themselves adept it is capitalizing on disaster. Remember how, after the worst terrorist attack in the history of the United States occurred on his watch, Junior used the occasion to ram through unprecedented powers for the executive branch? And with the Al Qaeda name tag on this assassination, Junior will undoubtedly point to the event as he looks to intimidate Congress during the next legislative session.

Waziri Warlords: These are the kingmakers in Pakistan. These warlords, from their bases in northwestern Pakistan, along the Afghan border, operate more or less autonomously. Musharraf learned an expensive lesson about meddling in their affairs when, at Junior's behest, he tried to crackdown on them back in 2004. The proud Pakistani military was humiliated in the rugged terrain and Musharraf's prestige with his primary constituency was badly damaged. In fact, Musharraf has yet to recover from this disastrous move. The warlords hated Bhutto and many suspect that they were behind the assassination attempt in Karachi earlier this year.

We will probably never know who, exactly, was behind this killing. All we can do is look at who benefits. Oh yeah, and hang on to your hats, folks! The ride is just getting under way.


Shus li said...

What an absolute tragedy.

Thanks for your take on this. Some of us get scared on roller coasters. Is there a safety exit anywhere?


Ridwan said...

Thanks for the post Dade.

This roller coaster's been rolling for a while now.

Musharraf just bought himself some time.

Best wishes to you and yours this new year.

I wish you all of the best for 2008and look forward to more excellent posts here!