BENAZIR BHUTTO DONE IN. NOW WHAT?

She was the first democratically elected woman to become the prime minister of a Muslim country, and was poised to come roaring back to power in Pakistan's upcoming January 8 parliamentary elections. To the foreign policy establishment of the United States, she represented the last, best hope for a Pakistani leader with whom the U.S. could do business. Today, in Rawalpindi, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

The Bush administration had, you'll recall, courted Bhutto to cut a power-sharing deal with dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, one in which he would "take off his uniform" -- give up his military post. The two had been reported to have come to such an agreement -- a short-lived rapprochement that ended for good with the imposition of the recently-lifted state of emergency. (Musharraf did indeed "take off the uniform" after he lifted the state of emergency several weeks ago, but since he remains a dictator, it's hard to see that as a particularly meaningful gesture.)

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto brings full circle a power-volley between Pakistan's military and the Bhutto family -- a game in which the U.S. has always played a catalytic role. If, per Kay's earlier post, women politicians in the U.S. often ride to power on their husbands' coattails, women in the developing world often attain leadership in the footsteps of their fathers. Benazir Bhutto's father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed in 1979 by Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in a coup and went on to become the U.S.'s best buddy in facilitating the arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the force that defeated the invading Soviet army. Fast forward to 2001: Gen. Musharraf, who had seized power from the democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1999, became the U.S.'s best buddy in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda -- both forces that sprang from the ashes of the mujahideen in the so-called Global War on Terror.

No one knows who bears ultimate responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and wagers will probably be placed by experts on either the military or on religious militants sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda. I'm placing mine on a malevolent cooperation between the two.

--Adele M. Stan

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