This much is known about the situation in Pakistan: The country with the second-largest Muslim population in the world (after Indonesia) is in chaos and it has the nuclear bomb. That should galvanize the West in addressing a crisis that may well surpass the one posed by Iran, at least for now.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, leader of Pakistan’s largest political party, plunged the country into free-fall last week and underscored that every aspect of this situation is layered in complexity. How did Bhutto die? Who was responsible for her death? Was she the champion of democracy she proclaimed to be, and could she have brought stability to the troubled country? Is President Pervez Musharraf the ally of the U.S. he claims to be?
The Bhutto killing was another blow for the Bush administration’s efforts to bring democracy to Arab and Muslim countries in general and Pakistan in particular, and for the war on terrorism. Al Qaeda is believed to be based along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and American efforts to locate and defeat the enemy have been thwarted to some degree by the leaders of those two countries, who fear domestic reprisals.
The Bhutto killing also made clear, again, that Islamic militants seem to have no problem with murdering fellow Muslims, in addition to Jews and the “heathens” of the West.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert noted that one aspect of the recent tragedy is that 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.”
While there is general agreement that American efforts to influence internal politics in Pakistan toward democracy have failed, the question of how best to proceed remains, particularly as the 2008 U.S. presidential race heats up. Some voters may put more stock now on foreign policy expertise, which would seem to give an advantage to more seasoned candidates like Sen. John McCain on the Republican side and Sen. Hillary Clinton among the Democrats.
For now, no one in power seems to have a solution to an already dangerous and violent situation in Pakistan that is becoming even more frightening. But the Bhutto murder was another tragic reminder that the main goal of terrorists is to foster instability and violence in the world, and they are growing increasingly emboldened.