Uncle rightly points out that a lot of people here aren’t going to understand why the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan is going to make the planet a less safe, slightly more nasty place.
Aside from the fact that it now seems that Al-Qaeda was behind her assassination; to truly understand the political ramifications of this you have to go back to the 1980’s. Before 1988, Pakistan hadn’t had a national election in more than a decade, and people who advocated for democracy had a tendency to wind up dead, as they so often do in totalitarian regimes. Among the people who were calling for democracy and were then elected was Ms. Bhutto’s father. In 1984, Ms. Bhutto became the leader-in-exile of the Pakistan People’s Party, which while center-left and kind of socialist certainly beats the crap out of a fundamentalist Islamic state.
In ’88, when she returned to Pakistan, the PPP won the largest number of seats in Pakistan’s first election in over a decade, and Bhutto became the first woman to become head of state of a Muslim state. It only lasted for two years, as she was dismissed under corruption charges. In ’93, she was elected again, and then dismissed again in ’96 under more corruption charges.
Now, the corruption charges are under some significant debate, as Bhutto and her family have always maintained that said charges were the fabrication of extremist elements within the Pakistani government who wished to see her disgraced. Whether or not they will continue to investigate beyond her death remains to be seen.
The reason why this assassination is bad tidings especially now must be viewed in light of the political turmoil under which Pakistan is currently embroiled. Bhutto has constantly been pushing for, you guessed it, more democracy. Her party was able to maneuver a deal with Musharraf to get amnesty for Bhutto, which allowed her to return to Pakistan this October. Since that team, she’s been heavily involved in the turmoil surrounding Musharraf and the Pakistani presidency, again advocating for a more democratic system of government.
As you can imagine, being a woman calling for democracy in Pakistan can make someone somewhat unpopular; Ms. Bhutto contracted with several foreign security firms to provide for her safety (they seem to have dropped the ball here – ed.), as she had been receiving a near constant stream of death threats from hardline elements.
I don’t think Ms. Bhutto was perfect, far from it. But what she did represent was a voice for more open government in one of our erstwhile allies. It’s extremely disheartening to see that she’s been murdered, especially be elements of Al-Qaeda. What it means in a political sense is that Pakistan is in for a long dark road, and as our primary ally in that region, it’s going to have a profound effect on our national security policy. While I doubt that it could lead to an all out war in the region (although it’s possible for other reasons); the continued targeting of moderate elements attempting to bring reform to Pakistan will only lead to a further destabilized middle east. Remember, Pakistan has nuclear technology, and the last thing the West wants is that kind of tech in the hands of a fundamental government.