Editorial: Pakistan in mourning
The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday shows clearly just how tenuous a hold democracy has on the Middle East.
Bhutto was considered the most favored candidate for president in Pakistan, an election that was to be held on Jan. 8. She paid for that favored position with her life.
In exile for eight years while her country was under the military rule of current President Pervez Musharraf, Bhutto returned as a candidate in what was to be a "free and fair" election, knowing the risk she took.
She was opposed by Musharraf, who resigned as Pakistan's military leader so he could run for the civil position, and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. Many of Bhutto's supporters suspect Musharraf in her assassination - at least indirectly - and with good reason. As president, he could have provided security to Bhutto. He did not, even as the United States tried to arrange reconciliation between him and Bhutto's opposition party.
Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan, is a country in turmoil, a hotbed of extremism with factions that shelter Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan is also a "friend" and ally to the United States, a well-paid partner in the war on terror. To date, that country has received more than $10 billion in U.S. aid.
"The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," said President George W. Bush shortly after Bhutto's murder yesterday. He urged that her killers be brought to justice.
It is ironic that her murderers might very well be the same terror group that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, a group led by bin Laden, who remains free years after the president's promise of justice for the murder of more than 3,000 people here.
Bush turned away from Afghanistan, al Qaeda and the Taliban a year after 9/11 and centered his "war on terror" in Iraq. That was a mistake. Members of the U.S. military and their families pay for that mistake every day and now the family of Benazir Bhutto does, too.
Musharraf has called for three days of mourning in his country, and has suggested a delay in the Jan. 8 election. Whether the violence that flared as word of Bhutto's assassination spread yesterday will continue could determine both the fate of Musharraf's administration and whether the election is postponed.
The Bush administration should be holding its cards until this latest terrible shudder of violence passes and the dust settles.