Breaking news: Benazir Bhutto assassinated
Looks as if suicide bombers got to Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister seeking to stage a political comeback in elections next month.
No indication yet who's to blame, so until some sort of clue emerges, you can expect to hear two themes hammered at relentlessly in establishment media coverage, neither of which has significant basis in fact:
- Bhutto had widespread support and was a beacon of hope for democracy in a troubled part of the world. In fact, her party was set to gain no more than 40% of the seats in Parliament, and maybe as little as 25%. She would have had to form a coalition with other parties, likely including the one allied with her rival, President Pervez Musharraf. Frankly, she had a stronger base of support in the U.S. Congress than she did at home, where ordinary folks bitterly resented the too-obvious hand of the Bush administration orchestrating her political comeback. Now that Washington can no longer use her as a tool to put a democratic patina on the Musharraf government, American policy is, in the words of NYU professor Barnett Rubin, "in tatters." Can you say "blowback?"
- Pakistan is just once incident away from a takeover by Islamist radicals allied to Osama bin Laden. In fact, the most support the hardcore Islamist parties have garnered in previous elections is 11%, and their base of support is confined to the mountainous northwest. The rest of the country wants little to do with them. Yes, elements within the army and the intelligence services have forged an uneasy underground alliance with them at times. But the government apparatus — and the nukes — are under firm control of the generals. Of course black swans can appear at any time, but a Taliban-style regime lording over Pakistan is strictly in black-swan territory.
The scariest thing about all this is it will give ammo to the "invade Pakistan" crowd in Washington — a crowd with ample room for both neoconservatives and liberal internationalists, as a New York Times op-ed last month clearly attests. I'm sure the troops would be welcomed with flowers and sweets.