Benazir Bhutto, the staunch Musharraf nemesis who’s challenging the Pakistani dictator in the on-going parliamentary election campaign, has just been assassinated.
As with all assassinations, the first thing I thought about upon reading this big news are the possible brain(s) behind Bhutto’s murder.
A friend told me she thinks it could be Pervez Musharraf. Makes some sense. Bhutto had been a pain in the ass for Musharraf and he certainly would have loved to see Bhutto removed from the political equation.
But then again I do not think Musharraf, a military strategist and clever politician, would be stupid enough not to realize that killing Bhutto would backfire fatally. Western media have often compared Pakistan’s political situation to the Philippines under the wanning years of Ferdinand Marcos. I am very sure then that Musharraf knows and understand very well how Ninoy Aquino’s assassination triggered Marcos’ fall.
I place my bet on Nawar Sharif. The former prime minister, whom Musharraf ousted in a coup, recently returned to Pakistan with support from Saudi Arabia to join the Opposition in its struggle against Musharraff. His influence, however, is checked by Bhutto, who heads another anti-Musharraff faction. Both are political giants. Both have their eyes on leading a united opposition and the country eventually. They are like Doy Laurel and Cory Aquino in 1985. Between the two, however, it is Bhutto who enjoys immense popularity not only among Pakistani democrats but among the Western media as well. Secondly, Sharif is barred by law to join this election. These two factors made Sharif’s ambition of leading Pakistan once again appear impossible. But now that Bhutto’s dead, Sharif could easily assume the mantle of Opposition leadership.
Another suspect would be the Islamic extremists. Bhutto was a staunchly secular politician who loathed Islamic extremism. Therefore, killing her would be advantageous to the extremists. Moreover, killing Bhutto would cause unrest, and unrest would cause instability. And it is instability that often breeds the Islamic extremist movement.
But the issue of who’s behind Bhutto’s killing would be relatively moot compared with the profound implications of her death.
Of utmost concern would be Pakistan’s stability. Political situation has recently been improving in Pakistan after Perves Musharraf lifted emergency rule and fast-tracked his promised parliamentary elections. Everyone and his girlfriend have been crossing their fingers with optimism and expecting a peaceful resolution of the Pakistani crisis, especially after Bhutto reluctantly agreed to join the elections in her supposed last ditch effort to restore democracy in her country through legal, non-violent means.
The campaign had been proceeding in an orderly manner. Until a suicide bomber killed Bhutto and twenty others in an opposition rally in Rawalpindi.
Bhutto’s assasination left a vaccum in her party, which is generally seen as quite popular, despite several corruption charges against the former lady prime minister. More importantly, it destroyed the semblance of stability that this originally orderly campaign brought to Pakistan.
Riots would probably follow. This elections would probably be a failure. Anti-Musharraff forces would probably re-group and, agitated by Bhutto’s “martyrdom”, turn violent in their activities. This would of course give Musharraff another reason to impose martial rule, and the struggle for democracy would be brought back to scratch.
Martial rule in Pakistan, of course, would not guarantee lasting stability. It would only lead to a vicious cycle of violent antagonism against the government and brutal government response. This cycle would ultimately lead to a worse form of political instability, which could be an easy breeding ground for an emerging Islamic extremist movement.
And the last thing the world would want is a group of extremists taking over control of a nuclear power.