Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest Friday in Pakistan as unrest continued to spread throughout the country. The government is blaming al-Qaeda and the Taliban, an assertion that is wildly premature. No one from al-Qaeda has come forward to claim responsibility, and al-Qaeda is hardly shy about such admissions. Bhutto supporters allege that President Pervez Musharraf’s government is responsible — an assertion which may also be premature at this point. From this distance, all we can do is speculate.
The larger and more alarming concern is the continued destabilization of Pakistan, a nuclear power. The questions are overwhelming. Ahmed Rhashid of the Washington Post iterates some of the most compelling:
Her death only exacerbates the problems Pakistan has been grappling with for the past few months: how to find a modicum of political stability through a representative government that the army can accept and will not work to undermine, and how to tackle the extremism spreading in the country.
Was Musharraf responsible? Was al-Qaeda involved? These questions pale in comparison to what may lie ahead for Pakistan. Musharraf does not seem the least bit interested in establishing a democracy, and President Bush should not forget this. Musharraf is no ally — but he must be dealt with. The only route to Afghanistan is through Pakistan, and Musharraf now holds every card in Pakistan.
To his credit, President Bush called on Pakistan to pursue justice in the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination, and to honor her memory. In a statement, Bush said:
The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice. Mrs. Bhutto served her nation twice as Prime Minister and she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. Yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.
We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.
He’s right. Musharraf would do well to bring her murderers to justice. Otherwise, Pakistan will be lost to conspiracy theories forever, and someone even more radical than Musharraf may come closer to controlling the country’s nuclear arsenal.