Date: 29 Dec 2007
Losing in the West, the jihadis hit Pakistan, with its nuclear prize.
“In Pakistan there are two fault lines. One is dictatorship versus democracy. And one is moderation versus extremism.” Thus did Benazir Bhutto describe the politics of her country during an August visit to The Wall Street Journal’s offices in New York. She was assassinated yesterday for standing courageously, perhaps fatalistically, on the right side of both lines.
We will learn more in coming days about the circumstances of Bhutto’s death, apparently a combined shooting and suicide bombing at a political rally in Rawalpindi in which more than 20 others were also murdered.
But there’s little question the attack, which had every hallmark of an al Qaeda or Taliban operation, is an event with ramifications for the broader war on terror. With the jihadists losing in Iraq and having a hard time hitting the West, their strategy seems to be to make vulnerable Pakistan their principal target, and its nuclear arsenal their principal prize.
In this effort, murdering Bhutto was an essential step. Hers is the highest profile scalp the jihadists can claim since their assassination of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in 1981.
She also uniquely combined broad public support with an anti-Islamist, pro-Western outlook and all the symbolism that came with being the most prominent female leader in the Muslim world. Her death throws into disarray the complex and fragile efforts to re-establish a functional, legitimate government following next month’s parliamentary elections, which seemed set to hand her a third term as prime minister.
This is exactly the kind of uncertainty in which jihadists would thrive. No doubt, too, there are some in the Pakistani military who will want to use Bhutto’s killing as an excuse to cancel the elections and reconsolidate their own diminished grip on power.
In the immediate wake of the assassination, members of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party have accused President Pervez Musharraf of being complicit in it. But whatever Mr. Musharraf’s personal views of Bhutto–with whom he had an on-again, off-again political relationship–his own position has only been weakened by her death.
It would be weakened beyond repair if he sought to capitalize on it by preventing the democratic process from taking its course.
That goes even if the immediate beneficiary of Bhutto’s death is her onetime archrival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mr. Sharif, an Islamist politician with close ties to Saudi Arabia and a reputation for incompetence and corruption, said yesterday he would boycott next month’s election even as he is seeking to assert himself as the man around whom all opponents of Mr. Musharraf can rally.
We have no brief for Mr. Sharif, except to say that his claim to that position would be strengthened if the military indefinitely postpones or usurps the election.
Beyond the elections, Mr. Musharraf needs to move aggressively to confront the jihadists, and not the lawyers and civil-rights activists he has been jailing in recent months. Hundreds of Pakistanis have been murdered in recent months in terrorist acts perpetrated by fellow Muslims, and many of these perpetrators have, in different ways and at different times, been connected to the Pakistani government itself: as beneficiaries of the terrorist war Pakistan has supported over the years in Kashmir, or as beneficiaries of the support Pakistan gave to the Taliban until 9/11, or as beneficiaries of the ill-conceived “truce” Mr. Musharraf signed last year with Taliban- and al Qaeda-connected tribal chiefs in the Waziristan province.
Worst of all has been the look-the-other-way approach successive Pakistani governments have taken to the radical, Saudi-funded madrassas throughout the country.
That will require a more radical reshaping of Pakistan’s politics than Mr. Musharraf has so far been able, or willing, to undertake. But if Bhutto’s assassination has any silver lining, it may be to show that there is no real alternative.
During her meeting with us last summer, Bhutto warned that while the jihadist movement would never have the popular support to win an election in its own right, they had sufficient means at their disposal to “unleash against the population, to rig an election, to kill the army and therefore to make it possible to take over the state.” Today those words seem grimly prophetic.
And while she was in many ways a flawed figure, her answer to that challenge–a real fight against terrorism that would give jihadists no rest; and a real democracy that would give them no fake grievance–looks to be the only formula by which Pakistan may yet be saved. URL: http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110011053