Pakistanís heart of darkness

The tragic but not unexpected assassination of Benazir Bhutto at an election rally in Rawalpindi has pushed Pakistan into far greater internal political turbulence and societal discord than ever before. Civil society in Pakistan is shell-shocked and the possibility of a protracted civil war-like situation cannot be ruled out. The fallout of this dastardly event will add to the many challenges that a beleaguered President Musharraf and the Pakistan military are already facing.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that the Al-Qaida has claimed responsibility for this assassination, describing Bhutto as the most valuable "American asset" who had to be eliminated. Bhutto's uncompromising attitude towards the jihadi forces was well-known and it may be recalled that even before she returned to Pakistan on October 18, Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud had threatened to "welcome" her in a befitting manner. While the interim government in Pakistan has ordered a high-level inquiry, the consensus is that rightwing radicals, tacitly supported by sympathisers in the Pakistan intelligence and security establishment, are the principal perpetrators.

The pattern that thus emerges is fraught with grave security implications for Pakistan as an entity, the physical security of President Musharraf (who has also been targeted by these forces), the cohesiveness of the Pakistan military's command and control and, by extension, the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. It is evident that Bhutto's security cordon that would be of the highest level was breached by a gun-wielding sniper strapped with explosives. This would not have been possible without some degree of local complicity ó and the final responsibility rests with the establishment that Musharraf represents. While he may not have been directly complicit, the charge of institutional ineptitude will remain ó although individual turpitude by Musharraf may not be a valid charge.

The Pakistan establishment has been denounced angrily for not providing adequate protection to Bhutto and the case of faulty electronic jammers given to her security entourage is being highlighted. It is evident that in the run-up to the January 8 elections, the opposition rallies addressed by Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have been more vulnerable to well-planned and premeditated attacks while the parties seen to be closer to Musharraf have been safe from such violence. This pattern has added to the many doubts that are being raised about who benefits from Bhutto's demise.

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