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?

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