Not since the shooting of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel a dozen years ago has a political assassination been so fraught with bad fortune. The brutal death of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rabin led straight to chaos, and the killing of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto while she campaigned for a comeback threatens to do the same.
Now elections have been postponed from January 8th to February 18th, and Pakistan is faced with a weak government, run by a president who has long since played out the string. Those who have criticized George W. Bush for relying too heavily and for too long on Pervez Musharraf without cultivating relationships with a wider range of leaders, especially civilian leaders, have been proved disturbingly right. Indeed, Bush has clung to Musharraf much the way his father clung to Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia, ignoring Boris Yeltsin who clearly was the man of the hour no matter how much he drank in a day.
Some now are urging the administration to reach out to the Pakistan People’s Party and make it plain that this party of Benazir Bhutto has a friend in the United States, and that elections are the best way through this crisis, not violent marches in the streets. The trouble, said Dan Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, is that the U.S. government has no senior level person devoted to Pakistan. John Negroponte, number two in the State Department, spends some time on it, but not nearly what is necessary since he must preside over other parts of the world as well. That is regrettable since what happens in Pakistan has implications for India, Afghanistan and China.
Dan Markey also warned that the army could break apart if it has to put down riots by attacking the Pakistani people. This would raise ominous questions about the control of the country’s nuclear weapons. And, he continued, the army has problems enough as it is. Prepared to fight a conventional war against India, it has no idea how to deal with militants in the tribal areas. What the army needs from Washington is training and equipment for anti-insurgent warfare, not F-16s.
The overriding emotion, however, is that the world has lost a forceful and charismatic woman, the first to lead a Muslim nation. Pinky Bhutto, as she was known at Harvard, was not perfect. Some said she made the mistake of falling in love with the husband who had been arranged for her, then overlooking the surcharges he allegedly took on business contracts with the government when his wife was prime minister. Others believe she was a willing accomplice. Now “Mr. Ten Percent,” as Asif Ali Zardari was known, will lead Bhutto’s party on behalf of their son who first must complete his studies at Oxford before assuming this role himself.
As for Benazir Bhutto, she was gutsy enough to go back home when the chances of staying alive were not good. But her country needed her. And she needed her country. She had to be in Pakistan to be who she was. So she took the chance. In a speech in Washington last fall, she said that during her first term as prime minister she had been strong in her positions, but during her second term she turned India over to the president and kept away from other hot issues as well. “I wanted to stay a long time,” she explained. “But you do that and you still don’t stay long. You have to be true to yourself.”