While much has been made about Bhutto's prediction that anything that happened to her would be because of Musharraf, it is conceivable that Al Qaeda, seeing an opportunity to destabilize a government that has otherwise been friendly to U.S. interests, could have taken it upon themselves to kill two birds with one stone by taking out one of their most outspoken opponents and making it appear that Musharraf had a hand in it. Musharraf, of course, has brought this upon himself with his heavy-handed tactics, including the military coup which brought him to power in the first place. Still, this has potential to devolve into a civil conflict in which the only winners will be the jihadists whom both sides ostensibly oppose.
Benazir Bhutto had long been an outspoken critic of Pakistani militants and this made her the mortal enemy of a galaxy of extremist forces inside Pakistan. "Bhutto was the only Pakistani politician willing to stand up and say, 'I don't like violent terrorists,'" says Stephen Cohen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Many of these groups have intertwining histories and common loyalties — as well as shadowy links with Pakistani intelligence. As the probe into her assassination begins, investigators will have to sort through a morass of violent groups that were gunning for Bhutto. And while all have some historic link to al-Qaeda, they have just as much ideological impetus to act on their own — or at the behest of rogue elements of the Pakistani government sympathetic to Islamic radicals.
In a briefing Friday, the Pakistani government emphasized that al-Qaeda had Bhutto in its sights. "As you all know, Benazir Bhutto had been on the hit list of terrorists ever since she had come to Pakistan," said Javed Iqbal Cheema, the Interior Ministry spokesman. "She was on the hit list of al-Qaeda."
Following the Kennedy assassination, there was a concerted effort by factions of the right to find a way to blame it on Castro, or even the Soviet Union (much the way the Bush administration set about trying to blame 9/11 on Saddam Hussein). The aim was clear: exploit the Kennedy assassination to provoke a final showdown with the communists, something that Kennedy had stood in the way of as President during the Cuban missile crisis. Johnson set about reassuring the public that Oswald had acted alone, out of fear of the disaster that a nuclear exchange would bring. Still, while the CIA may not have been involved in the Kennedy assassination, it's clear that the tactic of exploiting a highly traumatizing event as a catalyst for a policy that would not otherwise be possible is not a new one. If Al Qaeda assassinated Bhutto as a way of sparking a Pakistani civil war, then they are simply taking plays from the CIA's handbook. This is disconcerting for a number of reasons:
- Their tactics are growing more sophisticated. In the past, they've focused on large numbers of civilian casualties as a way of demoralizing their enemies. This is a low-grade and very ineffective tactic without annihilating people in the thousands. It's a high-risk, low reward tactic. If they assassinated Bhutto for this reason, then it shows they've learned much about manipulating people in order to meet their ends.
- It's unclear precisely what their aim was in the 9/11 attacks, but given their lack of interest in hitting the U.S. in the U.S. since then, one must raise the question: why haven't they? Neo-con pundits like to use this as their trump card in any discussion on the effectiveness of Bush's strategies, but the conclusion may be the opposite of what they like to imply: given that AQ is still active in the world, one may conclude that they have not attacked us because there is no need to. In short, everything we've done has been according to their plans.
- If they can provoke a civil war in Pakistan and wait it out until both sides of neutralized each other to the point that they and their Taliban allies can simply step in and take over, then you have a nuclear-armed Islamist state, something that the Iraq War was ostensibly intended to prevent.
- Musharraf, far from putting U.S. aid toward combating these extremists, has been building up his arsenal to take on India, another U.S. ally. A civil war which places this arsenal in the hands of bin Laden's allies could result in a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India, with much of the Middle East siding with Pakistan, and the U.S. forced to come to India's aid. Russia and China, whose backyard this would play out in, would be major wild cards, and might not necessarily side with the U.S. In other words, all of this -- all of it -- has potential to spiral into the World War III that Bush warned of when speaking against Iran. Yet he's been too blind to see the danger to global stability that his BFF Musharraf has played all along.
We are being dragged toward a third world war by religious extremists in the Middle East and the U.S., and now an end-timer whacko is leading in Iowa's polls for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, while a short-sighted, opportunistic hawk is leading the polls for the Democratic nomination. "God help us all" is what I would say if I believed in God. Instead, I will simply say that it is imperative that people start paying attention to what's going on and act.
Update: Apparently, Al Qaeda's leader in Pakistan has denied involvement in the assassination:
Frankly, if they were behind it, they would have every reason to deny involvement. Their goal would clearly be to spark a civil war in Pakistan, and that goal would be thwarted if they claimed responsibility.
The reason given for denying involvement is specious, at best. That attacking a woman would go against their tradition? Given their complete disregard for human life, as well as the fact that they've historically killed indiscriminately when attacking civilians in the past, it seems unlikely that they'd be squeamish about putting to death a woman who would presume to ascend to political power. In fact, it would be completely in keeping with their Islamist values.
I don't know if AQ was behind this attack or not, but they have every reason to be, and much more to gain than Musharraf.