Benazir Bhutto is dead, assassinated at a campaign rally as you surely know.
Her father was executed by President Zia in the late '70's during a military coup, and two of her brothers were "disappeared" and murdered in suspicious circumstances, to put it mildly. Now the Harvard and Oxford educated former prime minister, who could have easily lived a life of aristocratic wealth and ease for the rest of her life, but choose to return into the snake pit of Pakistani politics, a woman of extraordinary courage and commitment, is silenced as well.
This is a bit of bad business that will surely have a wide ranging ripple effect and may prove as seismic an event as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
Since little can be done other than speculate as to those responsible and how things may play out, all I can do is offer a few observations this close to the event.
Firstly, the old axiom applies to this situation when trying to ascertain who is responsible... who stood to benefit? This would point to the dictatorial Musharraf regime first, and Islamic rebels second, though in this spot of nasty business, they may have found themselves in league with each other.
Musharraf had promised investigations into the mass killing and bombing that occurred in November when Bhutto returned to Pakistan, yet nothing has been done. It's doubtful we could expect anything remotely credible as far as determining who was responsible for this attack either in the near future or ever.
The reaction of presidential contenders was revealing.
On the Republican side, they all tried to use it as justification for yet more military adventurism, even if they didn't say so directly.
Pundits on the Republican side also rushed to deflect blame or finger-pointing from their guy Musharraf, whom Bush has stead-fastly propped up to the tune of over $5 billion in aid since 2001. They point out that Musharraf himself has been the target of several assassination attempts, which clearly doesn't absolve him of involvement in this, though they gamely try to suggest it does.
Rudy mouthed some general platitude about how this proves we need to "redouble our efforts in that area", ignoring of course that it was Bush who heedlessly paid little attention to the powder keg in Pakistan and Afghanistan and instead put all his (and our) eggs in the right wing neocon wet dream of taking over Iraq.
Romney said something. Doesn't really matter as it was eminently forgettable as always.
McCain laid the blame at the feet of al Queda and used it as a call to again increase our military adventures.
None addressed the root cause of the turmoil, namely, as many diplomatically put it, Bush's "flawed" policy in the region, including his stubborn support of Musharraf in the face of a myriad of serious actions which show he is more interested in placating al Queda and Islamic extremists to retain power and save his own skin than doing anything to promote democracy.
The fact that Musharraf had actually cut back on security for Bhutto is telling as well. Bhutto even went as far as sending an e-mail to CNN under the condition it could never be released unless she were assassinated, detailing security measures which were not being provided, and directly blaming Musharraf were she to be harmed or murdered. She detailed the lack of security efforts, citing that they routinely left her vulnerable to attack. The fact that a person with a handgun was allowed to get within feet of her is clear evidence that security was poor at best.
Many measures such as radio jammers, armored vehicles, escort vehicles on all four sides of her vehicle, and many other standards security procedures were glaringly not provided to Bhutto, despite the fact that she had requested them.
Joe Biden stated today that he'd written Musharraf personally citing these security concerns and urging him to provide specific security measures to try to ensure Bhutto's safety, but they were ignored. Bush's pal instead blatantly left Bhutto with inadequate protection, even though his government had pledged to provide it.
The Dems weren't much better, and the troubling thing about their responses were that they were all over the map, often directly contradicting each other.
While this situation is so unknown and unknowable at the time, that's not too surprising, but it is a bit disconcerting.
Bill Richardson, who has a stellar diplomatic resume and has accomplished amazing feats of international negotiation, was the only candidate who openly suggested that Musharraf should step down, a call that was immediately and roundly condemned as irresponsible by several of his fellow Democratic candidates, who asserted that it would only destabilize the situation further, leaving open the possibility that radical Islamists could then rush in to fill any vacuum left by the absence of any pro-democracy candidate with the loss of Bhutto.
Edwards, who talked with Musharraf immediately after the assassination, said he pushed him to do a credible investigation, including letting outside investigators handle the job, and pushed Musharraf to not do anything to further jeopardize the efforts to establish democratic reforms in his country. Edwards seemed to express serious exasperation with Musharraf and it could be surmised that he'd do all he could to promote the moderate majority in Pakistan rather than continue to prop up a dictator who shelters terrorists were he elected.
Biden, who often has the most credibility on these matters, was clearly at the end of his rope with Musharraf as well, but cautioned against trying to change the status quo too quickly. Biden also clearly spelled out how the Bush policy of benign neglect, simply throwing billions at a military dictator in hopes he'd control his own country, rather than actively supporting and promoting pro-democracy moderates such as Bhutto, has directly led to the situation being nearly out of control.
Biden also strenuously urged that the elections in Pakistan, scheduled in only 14 days, to go on as planned, citing that it would be needed to retain stability.
Chris Dodd in an interview with Keith Olberman, in addition to condemning Richardson's call for Musharraf to step down, felt directly the opposite of Biden, saying that the elections should be delayed and rescheduled in order for Bhutto's party to reorganize and field a candidate. He felt, and I agree, that simply going through with a sham election immediately after Musharraf's opponent, and the candidate nearly universally expected to win the election, has been brutally assassinated, will do little to restore any faith in democracy there, and such an election would not be seen as legitimate at all.
I really don't understand Biden's call for the elections to go forward, as it would seem a waste of time. The only other pro-democracy candidate who has been forced out of the race, is calling for a boycott of the election, and if it were held the Pakistani people would never consider it truly legitimate, especially when millions will firmly believe it was Musharraf himself who had Bhutto killed.
Obama mouthed a stilted and rather emotionless pronouncement saying the usual things about how this isn't a good thing, that Bush blew it, but little else.
Clinton on the other hand spoke with some authority and personal feeling, citing her long friendship with Bhutto and her visits to meet with her in Pakistan in the past and said that we must support pro-democracy elements in the region and get away from the failed Bush policies.
Chris Matthews rushed to push the story-line that this will suddenly catapult the more hawkish candidates straight to the top, predicting it will mean a massive bounce for Clinton and McCain. I sincerely doubt it will be that dramatic.
Bush, meanwhile, in his usual Orwellian style, read some pronouncement in which he blamed "extremists", which was refreshing if only that he didn't try to pin it on the usual "terrists" or al Queda specifically, and also warned those who opposed democratic reforms in Pakistan, which, after all, includes his boy Musharraf and elements of his military.
In doing so, he described Pakistan as a "democracy", which is clearly a pipe-dream and laughable on it's face. But then again, we've long since seen that George W. Bush has an incredibly flexible vision of what exactly a democracy is.
Bhutto's assassination stands to have far-reaching consequences, both within Pakistan as it creates further caos in an already unstable country, giving Musharref an excuse to further enact anti-democratic measures, and in the region including Afghanistan and India, and literally across the mid-east and around the world. It could open up a vacuum into which Islamic extremists, allowed to survive and thrive in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan with the complicity of Musharraf, and by extension George Bush, might be able to capitalize upon and secure even greater power in Pakistan, with the spill-over being that they would also gain power in Afghanistan where the government is already pathetically weak, controlling most of Kabul, and little else.
Bhutto herself often stated that Democracy needs to be fought for and demanded forcefully, and fought for continually.
When I hear folks on the right like Pat Buchannon, and even worse, Democrats like Chris Dodd and others trot out the "better the Devil you know" theory as justification for continued support for a military dictator who coddles bin Laden and terrorists, subverts democracy, rigs elections to deny the moderate pro-democracy majority of Pakistan a right to choose their own government, and quite possibly is complicit in assassinating pro-democracy opponents, it is very discouraging to say the least.
It seems the D.C. establishment is still entrenched with supporting power no matter how odious or dicatorial it is, as long as they play ball. This is a costly and dangerous approach to cling to in this era.
Until some leaders stand up and stop supporting and financing those who thrwart the very democracy they so fervently give lip-service to at every opportunity, then it doesn't take a genius to realize that we we never achieve democracy in such areas as Pakistan and elsewhere.
The situation calls for the most skilled diplomatic and covert actions, and a deft and nuanced hand.
And with Bush/Cheney and their Keystone Kops of foreign policy at the helm, God help us all.