The assassination of Benazir Bhutto may plunge Pakistan into much more serious chaos and violence. But the tragedy should at least be a clarifying moment for American policy toward Pakistan. It should make us more determined than ever to throw light on the shadowy policy of the Bush-Cheney administration of coddling the Pakistani military regime for so many years, despite the clear evidence that it was no friend of the United States.
Precisely who was responsibility for the assassination of Bhutto may never be known, but the circumstantial evidence points to Taliban extremists, assisted by a wink and a nod from elements in the Musharraf regime.
Bhutto had been the object of an assassination attempt in Karachi two months ago under circumstances that raised suspicions of official complicity. The street lights had suddenly failed to work, making the would-be assassin's work easier, despite protests by her staff.
After that attempt, Bhutto believed elements in and close to the military aligned with the extremists wanted her dead. "I know exactly who wants to kill me," "They are dignitaries of General Zia's former regime who are behind extremism and fanaticism," she told the French magazine Paris-Match. She pointed specifically to the army's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which was instrumental in creating the Taliban regime and has been managing Pakistan's alliance with the Taliban -- and al Qaeda -- ever since.
Whether Pervez Musharraf was personally involved in the plot to kill Bhutto is a secondary question. The problem of Pakistan's policy toward al Qaeda and the Taliban was never about Musharraf personally. It was about a Pakistani military whose loyalties in the struggle against terrorism were ambiguous, at best.
The Bush-Cheney policy toward Pakistan after 9/11, however, was based on the lie that the Musharraf regime was fully committed to the struggle against al Qaeda and the Taliban. In reality, Bush and Cheney made a deal with Musharraf under which his regime gave up a little but got a great deal in return: the CIA was permitted to use missiles to kill selected jihadi leaders in Pakistan and Pakistani intelligence helped captured individual al Qaeda officials if and when the United States had sufficient intelligence to identify their whereabouts. In return the United States welcomed him as a hero in Washington, provided $4.5 billion in disguised subsidies to the Pakistan military by 2006 and agreed to sell $3 billion worth of arms, including new F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the White House remained silent while Musharraf made a political pact in 2004 with the five party Islamic alliance aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda in the two border provinces in order to have a majority in the parliament to support the military takeover. It did not protest when the Pakistani military allowed the made deals with the jihadi leadership in the border provinces in 2004 and 2006 that emboldened the Taliban to escalate the war against the Kharzai regime in Afghanistan. Nor did it make any public protest over the rapid growth of Al Qaeda training bases in Pakistan.
The whole history of the Pakistani military, as veteran journalist Selig Harrison reminds us, has been intertwined with the jihadis ideology, both in Afghanistan and at home. And the Pakistani military, while fearing the power of the extremists, also viewed them as allies against the democratic opposition to military rule.
As a representative of Pakistani landowning elite, Bhutto certainly had her political faults, but there was nothing ambivalent about her attitude toward the religious extremists. Furthermore, unlike Musharaff and the Pakistani military, she was unalterably opposed to the Taliban. Significantly her last day had begun with a joint statement with Afghan President Karzai, who had been fighting with Musharraf for years over his pro-Taliban policy.
Her project was to rallying the forces in Pakistan who supported democracy and opposed the religious extremists who had seized power in Pakistan's northwest border region. Now we will never know how successful she might have been.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto ought to be the death knell for the Bush-Cheney policy of smothering the military regime in Pakistan with rewards in the hope that they will do something nice. Americans should honor her courage and her cause by demanding a full Congressional investigation of the secret deals made by the Bush-Cheney administration with Musharraf and their doleful consequences for U.S. insecurity.