December 28, 2007

Bullets for Ballots: Benazir Bhutto and the Future-Past Imperfect of Pakistan

Hatched by Dafydd

A roundup of more or less random thoughts on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. First, of course we've all read yesterday's horrible faux pas by Mike Huckabee -- the man who would be Bill Clinton:

With about 150 supporters crowded around a podium set up on the tarmac of Orlando Executive airport (and about 20 Ron Paul supporters waving signs outside) Mike Huckabee strode out to the strains of “Right Now” by Van Halen and immediately addressed the Bhutto situation, expressing “our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.”

He (rather, his campaign) quickly issued a statement saying he misspoke (quelle surprise!); he meant to say "concern and sympathies." But how on earth could he manage to misspeak and offer an apology to a radicalizing Islamic nation for the assassination of a beloved (if hapless) once and future leader? What use does Huckabee think the Islamists will make from that blundering soundbite?

This sort of gaffe, coupled with fatuously calling Bhutto a "profile in courage," when she was in fact a profile in power struggle (and the Taliban's first patron in 1996), is exactly why we should demand that the President of the United States have a better foreign-policy understanding than this century's "former governor of Arkansas" has ever demonstrated.

It's not enough to quip, "I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night." I suppose it's a clever play on a commercial (that I've never seen). But the killing itself should tell us that complete naiveté when it comes to foreign affairs is no joke in the midst of an existential war with those preaching global hirabah -- en route to a global caliphate.

The Democrats are no better, of course; they responded to the assassination by blaming Pervez Musharaff and demanding his instant resignation (to be replaced by whom -- Nawaz Sharif, the protégé of former "strongman," General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq?) Here's Joe Biden:

"This fall, I twice urged President Musharraf to provide better security for Ms. Bhutto and other political leaders -- I wrote him before her return and after the first assassination attempt in October. The failure to protect Ms. Bhutto raises a lot of hard questions for the government and security services that must be answered.

And Bill Richardson:

A leader has died, but democracy must live. The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan's return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence.

We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. [Formed how, exactly? Which angels in the forms of kings will fly down from the sky and put together this coalition of wise men?] Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. [Such a boycott of Pakistan will surely cripple the Islamist movement there!] Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible. [Put into place by...?]

It is in the interests of the US that there be a democratic Pakistan that relentlessly hunts down terrorists. Musharraf has failed, and his attempts to cling to power are destabilizing his country. He must go."

This is as irresponsible and reckless as "Huckabee’s Sunday School Foreign Policy" is credulous. If Musharaff resigned tomorrow, what would happen? Would the parties in Pakistan simply come together in calm reflection and decide to rule the country wisely and for the good of the people? Who are the Democrats kidding (besides themselves)?

Assassination has been a commonplace in Pakistan politics ever since the country was created amidst a convulsion of Islamist terrorism. It has been truly democratic in the past; but without a dictator like Musharaff at the helm at this moment, the other powers would begin killing each other off like the last act of Hamlet.

In the long run, President George W. Bush is right: There must be a restoration of democracy in Pakistan with free and fair elections. But that cannot happen in the poisoned atmosphere of intimidation, violence, corruption, and murder brought by the Islamist parties -- such as Jamaat-e-Islami, ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and proponent of sharia law for Pakistan -- and their sometime allies, such as Nawaz Sharif, who partnered with Jamaat-e-Islami to form the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad coalition in 1988 that brought him to power two years later. (Of course, intimidation, violence, corruption, and murder are also practiced by opponents of the Islamist parties, including Musharaff himself; but that fact doesn't sweeten the democracy pot any.)

Pakistan is in the same situation as Germany in 1933 or the Palestinian Authority in 2006: When parties campaign by bullets instead of ballots -- Nazis and Communists, Hamas and Fatah -- then there is no such thing as a "free and fair election;" there is only victor and vanquished. This is simply war extended to the voting booth.

The Musharaff government insists that the Taliban and al-Qaeda were responsible for the assassination of Bhutto. This has to rank up there with the least surprising news of 2007; they had repeatedly threatened to slay her if she returned to Pakistan, and they already tried to kill her once by a huge suicide attack in Karachi in October.

But of course, many Bhutto supporters accuse Musharaff instead... so they rampaged through the streets killing 23 other innocent people, to show the wickedness of politics by murder:

On Friday, Bhutto's supporters ransacked banks, waged shootouts with police and burned trains and stations in a spasm of violence less than two weeks before parliamentary elections.

Soldiers patrolled the streets of the southern cities of Hyderabad and Karachi, witnesses said. At least 23 people were killed in unrest, said Ghulam Mohammed Mohtaram, home secretary for Sindh province.

Are these the people who are going to form "a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties?"

While it's naturally tragic that Benazir Bhutto was slain the way she was, I'm quite certain that it would have been a dreadful thing for her to re-assume power in Pakistan. Mark Steyn says Bhutto represented yesterday's Pakistan and would have been doomed to fail -- and drag Pakistan with down with her -- had she returned as prime minister in today's Pakistan:

The State Department geniuses thought they had it all figured out. They'd arranged a shotgun marriage between the Bhutto and Sharif factions as a "united" "democratic" "movement" and were pushing Musharraf to reach a deal with them. That's what diplomats do: They find guys in suits and get 'em round a table. But none of those representatives represents the rapidly evolving reality of Pakistan. Miss Bhutto could never have been a viable leader of a post-Musharraf settlement, and the delusion that she could have been sent her to her death. Earlier this year, I had an argument with an old (infidel) boyfriend of Benazir's, who swatted my concerns aside with the sweeping claim that "the whole of the western world" was behind her. On the streets of Islamabad, that and a dime'll get you a cup of coffee.

Bhutto was, as Steyn sarcastically put it, "everything we in the west would like a Muslim leader to be": Female, secular, and socialist. But her previous governments (1988-1990, 1993-1996) were marred by corruption and socialism.

Both times, she and her party, the Pakistan People's Party, were dismissed from power by corruption charges, which have been substantially confirmed by subsequent investigations by Pakistan, France, Switzerland, and Poland; though one government report -- produced in 2005 at Pervez Musharaff's orders, while he was courting Bhutto to return to Pakistan -- claims the charges were mere fabrications. Musharaff granted Bhutto amnesty in 2007 when she agreed to return.

But she and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari (who spent eight years in prison for corruption), appear to have assets in Swiss bank accounts and in real property held in Great Britain and elsewhere totaling nearly $1.5 billion... money which cannot be easily accounted for legitimately. They were both convicted of money laundering in Switzerland in 2003; and both France and Poland have conducted investigations that found corruption by Bhutto and Zardari in those countries.

Her party, the PPP, was founded in 1967 by Bhutto's father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto -- who was eventually executed for corruption (or judicially assassinated by General Zia, take your pick). It is linked to the Socialist International, and its credo is "Islam is our faith; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; all power to the people."

Honestly, I cannot see how Benazir Bhutto, for all that our own State Department has loved her since she was in power (and may have "loved her to death" yesterday), could have represented anything but a Pakistani "Fulgencio Batista," who would likely have ruled so incompetently and corruptly, that she would have opened the door for the tiny minority of Islamists in Pakistan to seize power... just as Batista opened the door to Fidel Castro's Stalinists. I have believed for a couple of years now that the return of Bhutto to power in Pakistan would have been utter catastrophe: What the country needs now is stability, which can only come from the defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban... not the turmoil of another controversial reign by Benazir Bhutto.

Sad as it is to say, and I am aware of how monstrous this may sound, the assassination of Bhutto by the terrorists may have averted a much worse fate for the nation of Pakistan -- and for us as well, considering the nuclear arsenal that would have been laid in the hands of Ayman Zawahiri and Mohammed Omar.

Max Boot has a more sanguine view of Bhutto. He also says (and I agree with this part) that Pakistan is mostly secular, and the Islamists are only a small percent of the nation:

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Islamic factions are not popular with the people of Pakistan as a whole; they are polling only 4% at the moment, about what Ron Paul is getting in polls of Republican voters. Their support has never exceeded 12% in any election, and that only because Musharraf hobbled the mainstream parties from competing. Now their backing has cratered because of their failure to deliver on their good governance pledges in Northwest Frontier Province which they have been running since 2002.

There is a vast “silent majority” in Pakistan that abhors the militants and has come to detest military rule. They are waiting for a leader. Bhutto, for all her imperfections, could have been that leader. She won’t be now. Alas. But let us hope that she will at least become a martyr for the cause of Islamic democracy, and that her death will inspire others to carry on her brave struggle.

Yet I think that Boot, in the passion of the moment, has failed seriously to consider how severely another corrupt socialist government would have set back the cause of democracy in South-Central Asia; it's just the sort of thing that leads to revolutions -- whether in Russia, Cuba, Iran, the PA, or Pakistan.

All human life has value, but sometimes that value is a negative number. Even occasionally when the person in question is affable, likeable, charming, secular, socialist, and pretty... "everything we in the west would like a Muslim leader to be."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 28, 2007, at the time of 4:29 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Geoman

Finally, some sense.

Bhutto was a terrible leader, and Pakistanis breathed a great sigh of relief when she was ejected from office. Her return to office would have been a disaster.

The reason Musharraf is unpopular is not the reason most people think. Pakistanis desire a strong man, one that can deliver order and safety. Musharraf has delivered only chaos.

Most Pakistanis do not want sharia law, the Taliban, or anything of the sort. They are being driven there by the absence of any other viable alternative.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 4:51 PM

The following hissed in response by: Pam

Great job; just two questions! What about the idea, some have, that now AQ are going to leave Iraq and head back toward Afganistan to and hit Pakistan destablize it further or even take it?

Do you think this is a possibility and if so, will the Democrates come along with us back in force to Afganistan, since they think we should have stayed there and "finished the job" in the first place?

Peace and Blessings!

The above hissed in response by: Pam [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 4:53 PM

The following hissed in response by: Muslims Against Sharia

Muslims Against Sharia condemn the murderers responsible for the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her supporters.

Our prayers are with the victims of this atrocity. We send our condolences to their loved ones.

May the homicide bomber rote in hell for eternity. May his accomplices join him soon!

The above hissed in response by: Muslims Against Sharia [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 5:06 PM

The following hissed in response by: Wino

I've been blog-hopping, and came across yours. Excellent article on Bhutto and the situation in Pakistan. I've added your site to my blogroll.

Even if you are from California. ;)

The above hissed in response by: Wino [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 5:49 PM

The following hissed in response by: AMR

So we have the usual call for President Musharraf’s resignation and departure from the scene. Didn’t we go through in 1963 with President Dien of the Republic of Vietnam and in 1979 in Iran. Don’t these people have a sense of history? President Musharraf’s existence along with the military may be the only glue that holds Pakistan together. I can well imagine the consequences of the establishment of a Islamic Republic in Pakistan. 60 or more atomic bombs can do a bit of damage in India, Europe or the US, if one has no concerns for the people of Pakistan and no fear of suicide. The Islamists have shown a lack of concern for such issues for a very long time, but for some silly reason we retain slow learners in positions of power and prestige and experts proven wrong time after time remain experts.

The above hissed in response by: AMR [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 7:31 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


The Taliban has been trying to "surge" back in Afghanistan, and we have killed literally 7,000 of them over the past two years. They had one city stronghold (I forget the name), but we just drove them out of it earlier this month.

So if the Taliban, who are native Afghans, cannot regain a toehold in Afghanistan, what hope do foreign interlopers have?

We do need to come up with a counterinsurgency plan (COIN) specifically tailored for Afghanistan; I presume Petraeus and others are working on it (probably half the staff at the AEI!) But certainly the Taliban and al-Qaeda have no realistic possibility of retaking Afghanistan or any significant portion of it.

They may try, however; it would be wonderful if they did, because the slaughter of hirabists would make 2006-2007 look like nothing.

The Democrats will only come along if the next president is a Democrat. If a Republican is elected, they will sit out a renewed Afghan campaign in a snit. (A snit is a smaller, non-turbo version of a huff.)


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 7:42 PM

The following hissed in response by: Seaberry

Huckabee, Obama, and Hillary need to keep their 'traps' shut on anything to do with Pakistan and Musharaff. None of those three have a clue about what is going on over there. Do they share the same advisors?!?

The above hissed in response by: Seaberry [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 8:00 PM

The following hissed in response by: Seaberry

Muslims Against Sharia,

Thanks for the link...great site!

The above hissed in response by: Seaberry [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 28, 2007 8:09 PM

The following hissed in response by: AKAHugo

Good post, it would seem that many people have forgotten what she actually did when she was PM. I also have noted that during her stint as PM in the nineties the A Q Khan proliferation network flourished. The attempt to deify her now is rather strange.

Pakistan's "politics" make an Agatha Christie murder mystery look trivial. The characters and motivations in Pakistan are convoluted at best. Some of the comments by the current field of Presidential candidates show an astounding ignorance of the reality of Pakistan

The above hissed in response by: AKAHugo [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 29, 2007 11:11 AM

The following hissed in response by: Davod

Just maybe Bhutto was just another case of: She may be just another corrupt third world politician, but she is our corrupt third world politician (State Department, Democrats that is).

This is especially galling when you consider that so many in the Shadow Govenment were and still are dead set against the Bush's Democracy first policies.

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 30, 2007 5:00 AM

The following hissed in response by: eliXelx

"Woe to the people who have a child for a king"--Talmud.

Double woe to Pakistan who have a child for a king and a convicted felon for the power behind the throne!

The above hissed in response by: eliXelx [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 31, 2007 1:54 PM

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