Defense & Foreign Affairs
Founded in 1972. Formerly Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily
Volume XXV, No. 97 Friday, December 28, 2007
© 2007 Global Information System. Contact: GRCopley@StrategicStudies.org
The Strategic Outlook for Pakistan After the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto
The Strategic Outlook for Pakistan After the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto
Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, with input from GIS Station Islamabad. The Pakistan Government, operating at present more directly under Pres. Pervez Musharraf, but with the cooperation of the Government of interim Prime Minister Mohammedmian Soomro, is moving swiftly, but as carefully as possible, to stabilize Pakistan in the wake of the attempted double murder of both main opposition leaders, Benazir Bhutto of the Pakistan People's Party, and Nawaz Sharif, of the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
It is now fairly well ascertained that the two incidents of December 27, 2007, both at election rallies in Rawalpindi, were coordinated, although only the attack on Benazir Bhutto succeeded in killing the candidate. Despite hysteria from partisan groups, there is no evidence that Pres. Musharraf or any officials around him were privy to plans to assassinate the opposition leaders. Indeed, the killing of Ms Bhutto seriously undermines the ability of Pres. Musharraf to manage the country, because it opens the political scene to unpredictable outcomes.
Officials from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) organization were, on December 27 and 28, 2007, telling US and UK officials that the volatility which allowed the assassination incidents of December 27 were directly the result of Washington's and London's insistence that Pres. Musharraf lift the State of Emergency prematurely. There is much evidence to support this. Pres. Musharraf additionally attempted to warn both Bhutto and Nawaz that campaigning in Rawalpindi was far from safe, despite the proximity to the Army's principal cantonment. That area has been the scene of several near-miss assassination attempts against Pres. Musharraf himself, and he survived only because he did not undertake the same kind of exposure which Bhutto and Nawaz demonstrated – and with advance warning of their schedules – on December 27, 2007.
The planned Parliamentary elections in February 2008 would certainly not have seen Benazir Bhutto or the PML-N achieve sufficient seats to govern. The President would have been in the enviable position of being able to cobble together a coalition administration which would not have had the power to challenge the Presidency. All serious polls indicated that neither the PPP nor the PML-N could have achieved more than about 22 percent of the vote each. Now the situation is open and unstable.
It is possible that the ISI's messages to the US and UK governments on December 27-28, 2007, were intended to pave the way for the option of Pres. Musharraf to re-institute the State of Emergency, but the careful actions of the Army and security services following Ms Bhutto's death – coupled with the clamping down on all media and external communications insofar as possible – indicate that Pres. Musharraf does not want to fall into the trap of the jihadists who had hoped that the killings would promote a massive Government suppression which would polarize the society. And it seems certain now that the incidents were undertaken by the jihadist grouping which includes al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Significantly, however, the situation in Pakistan was, regardless of the assassination events, moving toward a tipping point. The US State Dept. and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office had insisted that Ms Bhutto be allowed back into Pakistan and that the Government drop the corruption charges against her. This alone caused a significant message to be sent to the electorate that Ms Bhutto and most of the party leaders were above the law and that corruption was a crime which could be forgiven.
Then, even though a deal had been done under which Ms Bhutto could have been pushed into the Prime Minstership of Pakistan – despite, as later became obvious, the lack of voter appeal which the PPP could generate – she betrayed Pres. Musharraf who had been the other party to the deal. She sensed, largely by believing foreign news reporting, that Pres. Musharraf would not be able to sustain himself in office when he resigned as Chief of Army Staff (COAS), that the President was weak, and she should unilaterally vacate the agreement she had with him. The news reporting, and her reaction to it, was largely the result of wishful thinking and opportunism.
But the reality was that, concurrently, the long-standing framework of Pakistan was already changing. The "tribals" – those Pakistanis who had for decades been happily confined to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – were now literally brought into the Pakistani mainstream. The mold had been broken, allowing the Federal Government to finally penetrate and control – at least to some extent – the criminal trafficking and fundamentalism of the areas, but also freeing the tribals to have a greater say in a country which had, until this point, been a modern, Western construct.
As well, and also concurrently, Afghanistan itself was in the process of falling apart, being held together only by the international community when the internal dynamic has been for various groupings to resume their historical association with their neighbors: across the borders into Pakistan; across the borders into Central Asia (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan); and across the borders into Iran. Significantly, it now remains to be seen how well Pres. Musharraf can "hold the center"; that is, how well he can maintain a stable, modern state, gradually incorporating the tribals and possibly – in the foreseeable future – elements of a broken-up Afghanistan.
It is, to a large extent, now only the "international community" which believes that Afghanistan can be sustained as a modern society of disparate peoples.
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif seem not to have noticed any of this re-emergence of historical social trends in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. They were, essentially, "yesterday's politicians", both immersed in capitalizing on the kind of society and political structure which had been so profitable to them in recent decades.
Indeed, Ms Bhutto – who was known for many years to this writer – seemed oblivious to the reality that her sense that she was near to "blooding" Pres. Musharraf had blinded her to the impact of her words and actions on a Pakistani society. This was now a very different society to the one she had left when she was dismissed for corruption and nepotism (for a second time) in November 1996. She spoke, at the rally immediately before her assassination on December 27, 2007, in terms which were highly inflammatory.
One Pakistani source at the rally said that what she had said at the rally was "inflammatory enough to spark a nuclear war with India, as well as inciting people into open conflict with the ruling government". The source continued: "What's worse is that her motivational speech to potential voters was full of analogies from Pakistan's history of the type used to brainwash/motivate suicide bombers. Direct reference to 'martyrdom' only works well in situations of war; not so smart in a political rally."
Ms Bhutto was also, with her lately-estranged husband, extremely corrupt in a financial sense, and, from comments to her close aides, seemed to think that her extra-legal activities were somehow her right. This writer was personally privy to first-hand knowledge of illegal activities relating to corruption and violence ordered by Ms Bhutto as Prime Minister. So any remarks about the damage to the "democratic process" caused by her murder, and the attempted murder of equally criminal (and convicted) Nawaz Sharif, are largely the province of the open media, and not reflective of the reality of Pakistani politics.
The question now, however, is how the situation plays out from here.
Firstly, it should be stated that the situation is now as delicate as it is because of naïve pressures from the US State Dept. and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office to force an appearance of democracy on Pakistan, rather than allowing the Pakistani democratic process to evolve by itself. The argument that Pakistani democracy was not, in fact, playing out at all, or rapidly enough, does not make the case for forcing the creation of a totally alien structure led by criminals.
This reality will almost certainly not preclude the Western media and Western politicians from continuing their attempts to meddle in Pakistani politics.
Within Pakistan, Pres. Musharraf may well postpone the February 2008 National Assembly elections and reimpose a State of Emergency. He will want to complete the suppression of radical activities within the FATA as quickly as possible, and, even more, he will want to ensure that the rural tribalism or fundamentalism does not infect Pakistani society as a whole. In this, he has the advantage that, for the past few years, the Pakistani economy has improved dramatically, and that rural education has been improved – largely by private sector developments – to the point where a skilled workforce is starting to emerge nationally.
It is clear that irregular, asymmetric warfare will be a pattern which emerges for some time in Pakistani rural areas, and the Pakistan Army and other services will need to gear their equipment and doctrine to learn the lessons which Coalition forces have been learning in Iraq and, to a certain extent, Afghanistan. Suppression of jihadist behavior in Pakistan will mean, to a certain extent, that the jihadis have succeeded in forcing a polarization of society. The short-term will need to be dealt with by the security forces addressing terrorism and insurrection. The long-term will need to be dealt with by the gradual spread of education and productivity. The skill of the Government of Pakistan will be in how well it is able to encourage the impression of "business as usual" while undercutting and destroying the short-term threats.