Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

I wonder if anyone fully grasps the implications of the awful assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Twice elected PM, twice exiled, Bhutto was the daughter of the created country's first democratically elected Prime Minister, himself assassinated. A Muslim, Bhutto represented Islamic Pakistan's best hope for a strong, non-military democracy. With her assassination, the unpopular President and General Musharraf must try to hold together a turbulent nation now in chaos and deprived of its favored alternative to Musharraf. If he cannot, the danger is that the resulting anarchy will provide Muslim extremists the opportunity to seize control over one of the very few secular, moderate Islamic countries, and with that control, control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons arsenal. Bhutto had pledged to crack down on Muslim terrorists in the Pashtoon provinces bordering Afghanistan.

Its nuclear capability has given Muslim Pakistan bragging rights among Muslim nations, allowed it to leverage political and financial favors from Arab oil states, given it a means to hold India hostage against any attempted foreign intervention, and, of course, made it a symbol of Muslim power over against the US and Israel.

What we don't know now is who will succeed or create a more stable coalition government with Musharraf if the January 8th elections are held. Until that is known, we don't know who will control Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, and until that is known, we don't know how best to protect our own interests in the region and at home.

What we do know is that it was the Pakistani metallurgist, Dr. A. Q. Khan, who developed the bomb for Pakistan and disseminated nuclear technology and parts to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. He is a hero of Muslims and of Pakistanis alike.

Despite Musharraf's weaknesses and failures vis a vis Al Qaeda, it is only US aid to Pakistan that gives us significant leverage in the international attempt to stabilize the Pakistani army, which presently controls the country's nukes.

This isn't a chess board suitable for beginners, ideologues, or, dare I say it, scions of families that profit from the proliferation of weapons systems.