Analysis: The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Pakistan must come out in support of the global campaign against Islamic terrorism and radical Islam.

bhutto 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
bhutto 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The killing of Benazir Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party, in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi has emphasized that Pakistan lies at the epicenter in the global war on terror, as suicide terrorism has now claimed its most famous target. The death of Bhutto opens up a political vacuum in Pakistan, as different elements in Pakistani society will strive to fill the void that she has left. What is important to remember is that Pakistan is a weak state, divided along tribal, ethnic and religious lines. The first thing that the Pakistani government must do is reassure Pakistanis, and most importantly the world, that its nuclear facilities are secure from radical Islamist hands. The second issue to emphasize is that Pakistan and the rest of the international community, especially the Muslim world, must come out in support of the global campaign against Islamic terrorism and radical Islam. The Muslim world needs to take greater responsibility in regulating the flow of charity to organizations that propagate militant Islam. Likewise, the ability of radical Islamic groups and madrassas to operate across the world ensures the steady flow of radical Islamic terrorists bent on the destruction of freedom. Benazir Bhutto was a complex individual. As prime minister (she served in office from 1989 to 1990 and again between 1993-1996), she was unable to make substantial changes. This arose from a number of issues, first among them the role of the military, which has dominated Pakistani society since the creation of the state. Second, Benazir failed to unite the country and control the tribal areas where radical Islamism flourished, as the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate established numerous radical madrassas whose sole purpose was to encourage young men to embrace jihad. This entailed the corruption of the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Third, she failed to deal with Pakistan's crumbling socioeconomic situation, which has allowed radical Islamists to recruit ignorant and hungry young men for the cause of violent jihad. Since her controversial return to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, Benazir strove to campaign on an agenda in which she portrayed herself as the only person able to deal with the militant Islamists. This in itself proved problematic, as Bhutto did not have the support of the military, which she has continuously attacked, even suggesting that elements within the security services or the military were responsible for the Karachi bombings in October 2007. She also attacked militant Islam, claiming that men such as Mullah Fazullah, the leader of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws) posed a threat to Pakistan. To that end, she indicated that she was willing to work with President Musharraf to hep bring stability to Pakistan. The major question arising from the assassination is, what is in store for Pakistan? And where does Pakistan go from here? The first issue is the forthcoming elections, scheduled for January 8, 2008. There is little hope that the elections will be held (especially following Nawaz Sharif's declaration that his party, the PML-N, will boycott these elections). This ensures that Musharraf will continue to face pressure over his controversial re-election as president. There is little doubt that Pakistan will experience internal fighting, as people will either seek to (or rather, continue to) vent their anger at the government for not protecting Benazir, or they will strive to use this period of uncertainty to promote their agenda. Over the last few weeks the Pakistani army has managed to repel militant Islamists operating in the tribal belt (especially in the Swat Valley). In light of rising tension in the cities, the army might have to redirect its attention away from the tribal area, allowing the radicals to solidify their position. Pakistan must grieve for the death of another Bhutto. However, like other countries that have lost charismatic leaders, Pakistan must also come together and unite against its greatest threat, Islamic radicalism. Dr. Isaac Kfir is a lecturer on international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.