Attack on Demcoracy

Jonathon Winer calls the assassination of Bhutto a "Lethal Assault on Democracy."

The assassination of any political leader engaged in a campaign is a blow to democracy. This one is especially tragic. Benazir Bhutto, had enormous gifts, intelligence, education, the ability to lead, great speaking ability, and a charisma that exceeded what I have encountered in any other individual. She bridged the traditional and the modern, and understood the west in general and the United States in particular. She was someone who the U.S. could actually work with to seek a way forward for Pakistan in light of the profound challenges posed by religious intolerance and political extremism, the drug trade, governmental institutions that do not provide essential services in many areas of the country, and Pakistan's troubled relationships with of its immediate neighbors -- Afghanistan, India, and Iran.

Her faults were also profound, as the well-documented grand corruption cases brought against her and her husband attest. She did indeed treat her country like it was a family-owned business, with corrosive results. These includied her removal from power in 1990 and again in 1996 as the corruption both weakened her politically and played a significant role in her inability to deliver the reforms needed to make Pakistan's government responsive to the needs of its people.

And yet, as she herself said just a few weeks ago, after surviving an earlier assassination attempt aimed at her that killed 136 people:

"What does the attack last night signify? The attack was more an attack on the unity and integrity of the country than on any individual or any one political party. It was an attack on Pakistan itself. It was an attack on their political rights, on the political process and on democracy itself. The attack last night was a message sent by the enemies of democracy to all the political parties of the country. It was intended to intimidate and blackmail all the political forces and elements working for democracy and human rights in the country. It was a warning not only to me and the PPP (People's Political Party) but to all political parties -- indeed, to the entire civil society."

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The Belmont Club notes:

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There were already questions about whether Bhutto -- or any other candidate -- could create a political alternative to the dilemma of rule by the Army or rule by the Taliban. Walter Rodgers, in the Christian Science Monitor wrote only a few days ago, when the elections seemed certain to occur that whoever won, the Army would win and democracy would lose:

It now seems probable that Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections Jan. 8. It seems just as likely the result may be little more than a reshuffling of familiar faces that will not result in the institutional changes needed to put this Islamic republic on the doorstep of democracy.

The leaders of both major opposition parties, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, talk about nudging this nation of 165 million toward genuine democratic government. Yet both are already forecasting that Pakistan's intelligence services and the Army will rig the elections against them and for President Pervez Musharraf's candidates.

Now there will not even be the semblance of an electoral outcome. The effect of political assassination is to restrict effective political discourse to argument by high explosive or supersonic lead projectiles. Political murder kills not only the candidates, but the process to which they belong. Pakistani politics might not miss Benazir Bhutto as an individual, but it will surely want for the elections in general.

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I think that may be an overly pessimistic reading of events. If there are leaders among her supporters, they can pick up the reins and use her death as a driving force for their candidacy. It is clear that groups like the Taliban and al Qaeda have much to fear from democracy. In Iraq every vote cast was a vote against al Qaeda. Pakistan should strive for the same outcome.

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