Saturday, December 29, 2007

Is Bhutto’s Death Boon or Blow to the U.S.?

Does the fear and chaos created by Bhutto’s death benefit Bush-Cheney by protracting their “war on terrorism”?

Or does it mean the assured failure of the Bush administration’s policy in Pakistan and the Middle East?

Analysts agree that the assassination of the strongly loved and hated Benazir Bhutto will cause more instability in the nuclear-armed nation. However, there seem to be more disparate opinions on the consequences this uncertainty in Pakistan bears for the U.S. and the wider world.

Many equate the resulting violent unrest in Pakistan, and the possible further derailment of its already-crippled democratic process as wreaking havoc on hopes for a stable and peaceful Pakistan. As the only Muslim nuclear nation, Pakistan is strategic for several reasons including the fact that it neighbors Afghanistan, India, Iran and China, and serves as the base for at least some of the Al Qaeda and Taliban activities. Instability in Pakistan means instability in the Middle East and across the world.

While some think the U.S. administration will worry about this spreading instability, others think it is just what it ordered – so it can not only continue its presence in South Asia and the Middle East, but increase it. The uncertain situation created by Bhutto’s death allows the U.S. administration to strengthen its political control over Pakistan, and paves the way for an expansion and deepening of the war on terror. The argument goes that Bhutto’s death benefits Bush because it yields him and his cronies greater, continuing war dividends.

I think Bhutto’s death may create more trouble than benefits for the Bush administration. The U.S. has come under harsh criticism for its unconditional support of the autocratic President Musharraf, and has been trying to phase him out of power slowly. Considered the ‘Darling of the West’ because she appeared to be closely allied with the U.S. on fighting religious extremism, U.S. officials had pushed Bhutto hard to reach a power-sharing deal with Musharraf.

With Bhutto dead, U.S. options for viable, democratic leaders to support instead of Musharraf are extremely limited.

It is bad news for the U.S. that it is stuck with Musharraf as the only suitable front-man in Pakistan to fight its war against terror. Recent reports indicate that the dictator may have wasted most of the $5 billion in aid given to Pakistan since 9/11. His track record on fighting Al Qaeda and sympathetic terrorists in Pakistan thus far is lacking at best. By cracking down on Pakistan’s judiciary and civil society, Musharraf’s power-seeking authoritarian measures threaten the already-slim prospects for democracy in the country.

Will the U.S. continue to back the autocrat? Or will it find a way to side with the people of Pakistan rather than throwing its support behind a single leader?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Al Qaeda Blamed for Bhutto’s Death

In a press conference held on Friday, the Pakistani government laid the blame for the combined shooting and suicide bomb attack that killed Bhutto on al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Shocker of all shocks, just a day after the fatal rally, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz said investigators had resolved the "whole mystery" behind the opposition leader's killing.

The government claims it intercepted a conversation in which al Qaeda-linked militant leader Baitullah Mehsud allegedly congratulated his people for carrying out the attack.

An Interior Minister spokesperson, Javed Cheema said Mehsud was also behind the Karachi bomb blast which targeted Bhutto and killed 140 people in October.

Here is a translation of the purported conversation involving Baitullah Mehsud released by the Pakistan government.

I am shocked that the Pakistani Interior Ministry claims to have resolved the “whole mystery” of the Bhutto assassination just a day later. I am shocked that they have the gall to claim they have “irrefutable evidence” so soon in this case when they had not moved forward at all on the Karachi bomb blast investigation in over two months!

Sources can’t seem to agree about whether Bhutto died from a gun shot, shrapnel or a lever in her car’s sunroof. A surgeon who treated Bhutto says she died from shrapnel that hit her on the right side of her skull. The Interior Minister claims that neither bullet nor shrapnel hit her, and that the lever of her sunroof pierced her skull.

There is still confusion about exactly how many people were involved in the attack; whether the shooter was the suicide bomber also, or another person followed up the marksman’s three gun shots by detonating the bomb. There has also been talk of a person, presumably an attacker, suddenly approaching Bhutto’s armored car on a motorcycle moments before the bomb went off.

Amid all these conflicting reports of how the attack transpired, I’m shocked by the arrogance with which the Pakistani government is pushing its agenda to blame al Qaeda. I’m not questioning the possibility that Mehsud really was behind the attack, I simply don’t trust that the Musharraf regime is invested in bringing the real culprits to justice. I am greatly saddened by how it took the government no time to help realize my greatest fear…that it would be unwilling to conduct a serious, independent investigation into the death of a great leader.

P.S. How many of you believe the transcript of Mehsud’s conversation is real?