Jewish leaders were scrambling this week to assess the potential impact of Thursday’s assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the likelihood the nuclear-armed Islamic state would plunge even deeper into chaos.
The killing was another blow to Bush administration efforts to stabilize Pakistan and reinforce its shaky status as an ally in the war on terrorism. The assassination was also a setback to U.S. efforts to push President Pervez Musharraf toward democratic governance.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Jerusalem Post the killing was a "great tragedy" and said Bhutto was "someone who could have served as a bridgehead to relations with that part of the Muslim world, with whom our ties are naturally limited."
Olmert told the paper Bhutto sent word
through an intermediary earlier in the year that she wanted to "strengthen ties between Israel and Pakistan."
This week Bush administration officials were looking for alternatives to their policy of pushing for a power sharing agreement between Bhutto and Musharraf; there were also concerns spiraling instability inside Pakistan could have a regional impact.
But a top Jewish military and security expert said that the political killing is unlikely to upend Pakistan’s political equilibrium – mostly because there isn’t one.
"Pakistan was already a disaster," said Shoshana Bryen, senior director for security policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). "The country of Pakistan is a swamp; it is full of people who don’t have a national purpose; many don’t even have a tribal purpose."
Pakistani officials told reporters that Al Qaeda and the Taliban were responsible for the murder.
But Bryen said attempts to link the killing to an Al Qaeda conspiracy miss the point about the ravaged country.
"This isn’t about Moslems, it isn’t about religion; it’s about jackboots. These are people who want to wreck every possibility for peaceful evolutionary change," she said.
Al Qaeda is a factor in Pakistan’s woes, she said, but the real threat to the nation – and to others in the region – involves "people with a loosely connected set of beliefs that binds them to control, to power."
The new wave of chaos doesn’t change the proliferation equation, others analysts say; Pakistan, with its homegrown nuclear program and chaotic government, was a threat before the Bhutto killing and it remains one in its wake.
But it is one more complication in the Bush administration’s efforts to bolster stability in one of the least stable regions of the world and limit the ability of globe-spanning terrorist groups to operate there.
Several Jewish politicos predicted a possible domestic consequence of the Bhutto assassination: it could pull voters back to more active consideration of candidates’ foreign policy experience in the 2008 presidential campaigns.
"You’d have to say this is good for (Sen. John) McCain," said an official with one Jewish organization whose organization does not take partisan positions and declined to speak on the record. "This is a perfect illustration of the incredible complexity the next president will face, and it argues for McCain’s kind of experience."
The news could also benefit Sen. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, who has beefed up her foreign policy and security credentials in her seven years in the Senate.