The Question: After Benazir Bhutto's assassination on Thursday, what's next for Pakistan?
The most astounding aspect of Wednesday’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto is the negligence displayed by her security detail. According to reports, the assassin managed to approach Bhutto and position himself within a short distance of her, before proceeding to shoot her and detonate the explosives with which he was strapped. It seems that the assassin was not a classical suicide bomber. He wanted to kill her, not necessarily to cause collateral damage. By committing suicide he probably hoped that it would later be impossible to identify him and thus ascertain who was behind the plot.
What makes the security failure all the more startling is the fact that it comes just weeks after the first assassination attempt, which followed Bhutto's homecoming to Pakistan from a lengthy political exile. In that attempt, suicide bombers killed 150 people, although Bhutto escaped unharmed. Under these circumstances, it was chiefly incumbent on her security guards to do all in their power to prevent direct access to her, even during the course of an election campaign in which a candidate seeks to come into contact with the public.
To say that security around her should have been increased is to state the obvious. That’s not only because the Indian subcontinent has been infested with political assassinations (from Mahatma Gandhi to Indira Gandhi to dozens of other lesser-known leader), but also because of the previous attempt on her life. Observers in Pakistan theorized after that failed attempt that extreme Muslim groups outlawed by President Pervez Musharraf, or al-Qaeda elements aligned with these groups, were responsible.
From these groups' point of view, Bhutto -- a female, secular, modest leader -- is an enemy, perhaps an even more dangerous enemy than Musharraf. Yet in Pakistan, considered one of the world's most fertile breeding grounds for conspiracy theories, many more possible suspects will be bandied about. Indeed, the blame can be laid at the feet of any of a large number of elements.
One can make the claim (and I have already heard it from some Pakistani commentators) that foreign agents of countries in conflict with Pakistan (i.e. India) orchestrated the assassination so as to create chaos and to create an image of a country that is unstable and unreliable.
Others will point the finger at Musharraf and his supporters, who viewed Bhutto as a rival who was might have won next month's elections.
The likelihood of both claims is extremely low, especially considering the apparent deal in principle struck between Musharraf and Bhutto whereby both would enter a power-sharing arrangement and form a joint coalition.
Another possible theory is directed at former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a bitter political rival of Bhutto who once ordered her husband arrested on corruption charges.
I am sure that many Pakistanis will also claim that the CIA or the Israeli Mossad were behind the killing. These conspiratorial theorists used the same argument after the terror attacks of 9/11. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that maybe some rotten and corrupted elements among her security detail conspired with the assassins. But most probably it was the work of Muslim fundamentalists who believe that God-guided killings of innocent people are their best hope for gaining power, or at least for destabilizing Muslim countries that wish to be modern and secular.
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