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After Bhutto

Supporter Benazir Bhutto
Where do we go from here, Pakistan? (photo via siobh.ie, Flickr)

She will be mystified by her supporters and the media alike: Benazir Bhutto’s death has made her a martyr for Pakistan’s democracy – a democracy she did not treat so well when she was in power herself.

Mrs Bhutto might become an icon, but her current political role was of minor importance. Her big day would have come after the January 8th’ elections when she might have become a de facto co-leader of Pakistan. This would have pleased the United States, who saw her as a second possible player if President Pervez Musharraf should stumble further down the road. Now, Mr Musharraf is – again – the only option Washington has. He looks, as far as one can tell, in control of the situation. If the riots do not get out of hands, he might even be tempted to go ahead with the general elections, which are planned for January 8th 2008. With a leaderless Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) probably joining the boycott of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif, the Musharraf-backing PML-Q would be designated to get a large victory.

This might seem like a farce for the West, still the United States might tolerate it to avoid destabilising Mr Musharraf, as his demise would lead to complete chaos in Pakistan and the Afghan border-regions. Even if the President puts off the election, an inner-party conflict might slim chances for the PPP, taking into account the rival factions were only kept together by Mrs Bhutto.

A winner of the situation is the ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence), Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency. It has long been seen as a mighty force, even too mighty for Mr Musharraf, some say. Its bonds to the Taliban have not only led to the (back)transformation of the North-West Frontier Province near Afghanistan into a safe haven for Islamic Jihadists; it is also said to have been involved in the killings of journalists Hayat Ullah Khan in 2006 and Wall Street Journal’s David Pearl in 2002 (Mr Pearl, in a sad irony, reported about links between ISI and the Taliban). The agency is also said to tolerate prominent terrorists like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar hiding in the border region. ISI leader Ijaz Shah (background reading) was named as a possible threat by Mrs Bhutto, which fuels speculation about a toleration or even involvement of the ISI in the assasination.

Still, Mr Musharraf can count on the loyalty of Mr Shah, as well as on the help of the army and ist new chief Adqfaq Kayani. These three might hope to muddle along like this; but as the United States become more and more dissatisfied with Mr Musharraf’s war-on-terror-charade and the Taliban continue to strive for more influence, things might be shaken up in 2008 or 2009.

A lot of things are being written in the blogosphere about the subject.

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