Can Musharraf Survive?

Benazir Bhutto's assassination has diminished the Pakistani president's already low public standing. How her death could lead to his political demise.

Death of an Icon

Images from the final weeks of Benazir Bhutto's turbulent life

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As former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto was leaving a campaign rally in downtown Rawalpindi, not far from the headquarters of Pakistan's powerful armed forces, she poked her head out of the open moonroof of her armor-plated white Toyota Land Cruiser to wave at the crowd of admirers lining the street. Suddenly a gunman ran up to her car, peppering it with automatic-weapon fire and then exploding himself in a suicide bombing attack. Bhutto, who was standing inside the car, her head and shoulders exposed, was hit in the head and neck by the bullets, and died almost instantly. At least 20 others lost their lives in the blast that followed.

Her untimely death in the suicide attack deals a major and perhaps even fatal blow to Pakistan's democratic aspirations. Bhutto's return from eight years of self-imposed exile a little more than two months ago had injected new energy and hope into the country's prodemocracy forces, who saw her as their best hope for transforming Pakistan's military-dominated political system into one that was more free and open and more dedicated to helping the mass of Pakistanis, who have yet to benefit from the country's impressive 6 percent economic growth rate. Despite her many political faults and weaknesses, she was a champion of democracy and human rights and an advocate of dealing harshly with the country's armed and determined Islamic militants. These radicals are believed to be the ones most likely to have killed her.

Not only did many Pakistanis see her as a symbol of hope for a more just and democratic society, the West too, led by the United States and Britain, saw her as someone who could work with the unpopular Musharraf to increase political stability and rally opposition to Pakistan's radical Islamists—especially the Al Qaeda supporters who have carved out a safe haven in the country's lawless tribal areas along the western frontier with Afghanistan. Washington and London supported her bid to return from exile, lobbying hard with Musharraf over the past year to get him to allow her to return without her having to face the slew of corruption charges that had been filed against her. Bhutto always claimed that those allegations of corruption, which happened during her two terms as prime minister during the late 1980s and mid-1990s, were politically motivated and that she was innocent.

For the White House and Downing Street, a Bhutto-Musharraf power-sharing arrangement made a dream team. The West envisioned Musharraf as president, continuing to lead the fight against extremism, and Bhutto as prime minister, giving a more popular mandate to the Bush administration's war on terror and added impetus to the anti-jihad campaign.

Bhutto indeed was an outspoken opponent of Islamic extremists. Just before and after her return from exile, she publicly vowed to fight radical Islamists in a more systematic way than Musharraf. She said she could rally more popular support for a battle that many Pakistanis see as a U.S.-led crusade against Islam in which Pakistanis should not be involved. She pledged that if she returned to power she would implement many of Musharraf's failed promises, such as carrying out reforms in the country's thousands of madrassas, or religious schools, many of which teach jihad to tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of poor students. She said she would even allow the United States to take unilateral military action against Pakistani tribal insurgents and Al Qaeda in the frontier areas. She also promised to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to interview Abdul Qadir Khan, the discredited father of Pakistan's atomic bomb who also ran a potentially lethal underground market in sensitive nuclear technology and know-how to such states as Iran, Libya and North Korea. Musharraf placed Khan under house arrest but refused to allow any foreigners to interrogate the scientist about his activities.

Largely because of those tough, seemingly pro-Western stands, and because she was a woman vying for political power, she became a target of Islamic extremists. Before she arrived home from exile last October, Baitullah Mehsud, a powerful pro-Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda tribal leader in the South Waziristan tribal area, vowed to greet her with suicide bombers. (He later denied any involvement in the October attack on her motorcade in Karachi.) But Pakistani militants, the Taliban and Al Qaeda doubtless saw her as an imminent political threat. Almost all of the more than 50 suicide bombings that have occurred in Pakistan this year, attacks largely aimed at military targets and senior government officials, have originated from the tribal area, Pakistani investigators say. Several insurgent training camps, which include instruction in suicide and IED attacks, are located in Mehsud's territory.

Member Comments
  • Posted By: cvk1812 @ 12/29/2007 1:02:56 PM

    Comment: Musharraf can't survive long. One way or another he will probably be gone soon enough. But while he is still there, it's important to persuade him to encourage the democratization process. With Benazir dead and no obvious replacement for her in the PPP, the elections will likely have to be postponed. But the world (specially the US) need to do all they can to continue to encourage democratic reforms. They need to provide assurance that there WILL be elections, and that they will be as fair as possible, given the circumstances. If the hope of elections and democracy dies in Pakistan, it will be impossible to prevent civil war.

    Pakistan is very close to anarchy. A failed state with nuclear weapons is a nightmare scenario. Although we hope it will never come to that, preparations for that eventuality have to be made. India will never agree to invading Pakistan or occupying it for any length of time. It has problems enough with its own Muslim population; it certainly has no desire to deal with another 160 million Muslims who have been brought up from birth to hate and fear India. But the 3 countries most affected by Pakistan's nuclear weapons are India, the US, and Israel, and as such, they should and will work together to make sure that in the worst scenario those weapons are safeguarded and do not fall into the hands of the Islamic militants.

    While we should plan for the worst, we should do our best to make sure that the worst doesn't happen. It's important for the US to realize that there will never be peace in Pakistan or any hope of democracy while Musharraf is in power. This is not a stable situation. Everyone's life hangs by a thread if the enemy is dedicated enough, as the murder of Benazir showed. Foreign policy based on pinning all hopes on one man who is hated and reviled by the majority of the populace is a stupid idea. He could be assassinated tomorrow, and then where would the US be? He has been the cause of enormous resentment against the US in Pakistan, both from the Islamic radicals who hate the US anyway, and the moderate Muslims who see this American puppet destroying democratic institutions in the country, imprisoning and torturing the opposition, arresting Supreme Court justices, etc. He has got to go, and he will go sooner or later. Somehow, in the interim, the world needs to make sure that the next transition is to a more democratic form of government, not to another dictator and not to the religious fanatics.

  • Posted By: nawawimohamad @ 12/29/2007 8:11:52 AM

    Comment: It is not a question of "can Musharraf survive", Musharraf must be given the full support to prevent further turmoil in the present chaotic situation.Those in power whether in Pakistan or foreign powers must refrain from taking the advantage of the situation.Calm and common sense must prevail now to avoid the possibility of instability in the region which may erupt into a Third World War! . There are all the ingredients for this to happen. Above all Bush must be prevented from making any unilateral action in Pakistan and taking the situation into his own hands because Bush is stupid and capable enough to invade Pakistan for some B.S excuses.

    If Musharraf is not able to control Pakistan, then the next best thing is for India to occupy Pakistan, this will also resolve the Khasmir issue and control of the nuclear arsenal. India should come it not to invade but to maintain sanity in the region which India is capable to do, please not the UN/US(they are the same). All these because before the seperation of West and East Pakistan from India, there were two schools of thoughts. Firstly the Muslim in Pakistan felt that they should have their own country (Muslim country) to be able to really benefit themselves - unfortunatetly until today nothing really happens except Benazir was assasinated. Secondly, on the other hand the Muslims also felt that they should not be independent, because they still have about 100million Muslim brothers in India and would be a minority in the Hindu majority nation. India is now progressing rapidly while Pakistan is still backward. The are no problems for the Muslims in India to practice their religion (except for isolated cases).Therefore it is only natural for India to play its role in the region and resolving the Muslim dilema, thus preventing the US to create havoc.

    Please also understand that there were no militancy in the Muslim communities anywhere in the world. They appear only recently due to the continuos onslaught by the West in particular the US in various forms, political, culture, physical, insinuations, rhetoric, economic, media and you name it. They are there to ensure the survival of the Muslims. But won't everyone in the world do the same if one felt threatened? It is only human nature.

  • Posted By: aboo @ 12/29/2007 6:55:02 AM

    Comment: Why do you expect the closet moslem, Obama (related to Osama?) to fight his fellow muhammadans?

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