Hold out hope for Pakistan
U.S. should pressure Musharraf not to overreact following assassination of Bhutto
Speaking at a political rally last Sunday, Benazir Bhutto charged that Pakistan's government hadn't done enough to stop militant violence.
'They always try to stop democratic forces, but don't make any effort to check extremists, terrorists and fanatics,' the former prime minister said of Pakistan's current strongman president, Gen. Pervez
Musharraf. 'Then there are the political madrasas ... that teach their pupils how to make bombs, how to use rifles and how to kill women, children and the elderly.'
Bhutto had already witnessed such extremism. In October, after she returned from exile, a suicide attacker killed more than 140 people at her homecoming parade. Now, at 54, the self-described 'daughter' of Pakistan is dead, assassinated Thursday after another political rally by an unidentified suicide gunman. With her dies some of the Western world's hope that Pakistan — ostensibly an ally in President Bush's war on terror — can achieve a stable democratic government.
Bhutto was born into a life of politics. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was a populist prime minister
until he was deposed by military coup in 1977. A decade later his daughter — who studied government at Harvard and debated at Oxford — returned to Pakistan
following his execution to lead his People's Party. She
became the first female leader of a Muslim nation, serving two terms, from 1988-90 and 1993-96. Bhutto was described then as modern, charismatic, astute.
'It was a political dynasty, like the Kennedy family,' says Farhat Haq, a professor of political science at Monmouth College and a native of Pakistan. Bhutto's return had an effect on the national mood, she says, 'in terms of the impact, and in terms of the promise — bringing change to politics, in a sense.'
Unfortunately, Bhutto couldn't live up to the hype. Power struggles and suspicious deaths among her relatives rivaled those of another famous family — 'The Sopranos.' At one point, her husband by arranged marriage was charged with her brother's murder. Both of her stints in power fizzled under clouds of corruption charges. She fled for Dubai amid a corruption-related conviction in 1999. (The verdict was later quashed.)
Nonetheless, Bhutto's return to Pakistan this year inspired hope among many followers ahead of scheduled Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. With Musharraf acting more and more like a spooked dictator — declaring emergency law, silencing opposition voices, locking up lawyers and judges, muzzling the media — Benazir nostalgia was in full drive. The United States had hoped a power-sharing deal between the two would emerge. It was not to be.
Indeed, after Bhutto's death another key opposition leader announced his party would boycott the elections. Riots and arsons have broken out in Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi.??
'I just feel this sense of tremendous, tremendous grief right now in Pakistan, even among her critics,' Haq says. 'It really has shaken up people.'
The U.S. should closely watch Musharraf's reaction. First, the Bush administration should pressure him not to impose another round of heavy-handed martial law. There's no sense alienating those who might be of a mind to help him in rooting out the militants Bhutto warned of, or inciting enemies to even greater atrocities.
Second, he should be compelled to hold fair elections, as she also demanded. We sincerely hope Musharraf's hands are clean here.
In life Benazir Bhutto may not have been Pakistan's salvation. But in her death, salvation for that chaotic nation and critical ally seems even more