Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassination: Who Stands to Benefit?

The assassination of Pakistan’s twice-elected Prime Minister raises many a question of grave concern.

Ask yourself who benefits most from the removal of Benazir Bhutto from the Pakistani political landscape.

As he does with mostly everything these days, President Musharraf was quick to tie the assassination back to the fight against terrorism. When President Musharraf addressed the Pakistani nation shortly after Bhutto died from her injuries in a Rawalpindi hospital, he said she was assassinated by the same terrorists against whom the country has been fighting.

But the Islamic militants are not the only ones who disliked Bhutto...

Is it possible that Musharraf is just scapegoating “religious extremism” in Pakistan for Bhutto’s murder the same way he used it to justify imposing emergency rule?

After all, Musharraf stands to reap the most benefits from the vacuum in political leadership left by Bhutto’s death.

It is plausible that the religious extremists in Pakistan played a role in her assassination. Bhutto had repeatedly avowed to crush the rising extremism and militancy in Pakistan after she came into power. Bhutto also received letters threatening suicide attacks from “friends of Al Qaeda” on October 23.

While the religious extremists had their reasons to hate Bhutto, they did not have much to gain from ensuring her removal from the Pakistani political arena. The Islamic parties in Pakistan are floundering for minimal support, even in their stronghold of NWFP where they won control of the provincial assembly in 2002. As I wrote in an earlier post, only 4% of Pakistanis intend to vote for the religious parties in the upcoming elections. The reasons for this disfavor are myriad and such that wouldn’t be solved by the removal of Bhutto alone.

Maybe former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had a motive because his party, PML-N, was the main opposition to Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in the January 2008 elections. Sharif, however, has been permanently barred from contesting the elections. The Election Commission of Pakistan bases the rejection of his nomination papers on his conviction in 2000 on terrorism and hijacking charges while Sharif’s party claims that the rejection is politically motivated and that Musharraf is behind it. Sharif’s supporters point out that his nomination papers were rejected on December 3, 2007 on the grounds of his 2000 conviction despite the fact that they were accepted for the 2002 elections when he was in Saudi Arabia.

With Bhutto killed and Sharif barred from contesting the election, Musharraf’s party, PML-Q, no longer has to face Pakistan’s two biggest political parties in January’s parliamentary elections. Interestingly enough, two days prior to her return to Pakistan and the twin suicide blasts that took the lives of about 140 people, Bhutto sent a letter to Musharraf in which she named four persons she believed posed a threat to her life. One of the four she named was Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Chief Minister of Punjab and parliamentary leader of PML-Q. Elahi is now widely tipped to become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The assassination of Bhutto leaves the U.S. without a viable West-aligned, moderate and democratic leader committed to continuing America’s war against terror in Pakistan. The U.S. administration again finds itself in a situation where seemingly it has no option but to rely on Musharraf.

Bhutto’s untimely and tragic demise has left Musharraf in an unparalleled, strengthened position. His party faces effectively little competition in the upcoming elections. He has once again become the only suitable front-man in Pakistan to fight America’s war against terror.

Will the U.S. administration be able to find another viable, democratic leader to support in Pakistan? How will U.S. foreign policy shape up following this tragedy?

And, perhaps most importantly, what will Musharraf do?


Jolly Roger said...

You may well be right about who is ultimately behind the assassination, but I would go just a little further down that road and opine that if Busharraf ordered the hit, the people who carried it our have no knowledge of it.

Busharraf may well have played on the hatreds of the local fanatics, who don't always kill for reasons of expediency. They got rid of a blasphemy, while Busharraf got rid of a huge potential problem. It's a win-win for Busharraf, who may have set the wheels in motion AND left himself plausible deniability.

Anonymous said...

(Privatisation also involving the Lawyers strikes, the attacks on the judiciary~ the supreme court had ruled against a privatization interest~)

Privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills by Naveed Aftab
(Pakistan Steel Mills) Karachi, Pakistan

Pakistan Steel Karachi, the biggest industrial complex in Pakistan, is under attack by the Musharraf dictatorship. The regime wants to privatise the massive plant. This huge mill was planned and inaugurated by Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, founder and chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party on November 30, 1973.... ...After Musharraf overthrew Nawaz Sharif in 1999, he introduced his “Seven Point Agenda” to the nation. Not surprisingly his top priority was the introduction of the brutal policies of rightsizing and downsizing, which in practice meant maximizing unemployment....



Islamabad, July 05, 2004
The Privatisation Program in Pakistan offers tremendous opportunities for potential investors in power, oil& gas, telecom, banking and financial, infrastructure and industries sectors. Mr. Salim Gul Shaikh Federal Secretary Ministry of Privatisation stated this while addressing the 'First meeting of Heads of Privatisation Administrations of ECO Member States' being held in Tehran from July 3-6,2004, says a message received from Tehran here today. ... Highlighting Pakistan's privatisation policies, Mr. Salim Gul said, the government of Pakistan is firmly committed to the deregulation and privatisation of oil & gas, power, banking & Finance, telecom and industries sectors....

Anonymous said...

This is interesting and useful. Thanks for the calm analysis.

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