As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, December 31, 2007

Pakistan Update

The crisis in Pakistan has practically shut down the country. Internal unrest has resulted in upwards of 40 deaths, and the government appears to be closing ranks. They have rejected international help in the probe into Benazir Bhutto's assassination, instead going with their official story that her death was the work of Al Qaeda. They declined to do an autopsy on Bhutto's body, yet changed their story on how she died, from a gunshot wound to shrapnel to hitting her head on the sunroof of her vehicle. But on the scene reports tell a different story (including the fact that the police abandoned their posts protecting Bhutto shortly before the attack), new video images have resulted in even more questions:

The new images of the men who appear to have been Ms. Bhutto’s assassins showed one dressed in a sleeveless black waistcoat and rimless sunglasses, and holding aloft what appeared to be a gun. He had a short haircut and wore the kind of attire reminiscent of plainclothes intelligence officials, though Al Qaeda and other militants have also been known to dress attackers in Western-style clothing in order to disguise them.

That man is seen standing in front of another whose head is covered in a shawl in the style of Pashtun men from the Pakistan’s tribal areas, where Al Qaeda has regrouped in the past year. He is described in the newspaper Dawn as the suicide bomber.

Mr. Minallah, the hospital board member, said Ms. Bhutto’s doctors raised the likelihood of a bullet killing her in their report, when they wrote, “Two to three tiny radio-densities underneath fracture segment are observed on both projections.”

The report said the doctors tried for 41 minutes to revive her. It said “the patient was pulseless and was not breathing,” when she arrived at the hospital. “A wound was present on the right temporoparietal region, through which blood was trickling down and whitish material which looked like brain matter was visible in the wound,” it said.

Ms. Bhutto’s colleagues who were in the vehicle with her said the interior was covered in blood, and the doctors wrote that “her clothes were soaked with blood.”

I don't know how you get that bloodied by hitting a sunroof.

The questions of the circumstances of her death are mirrored by questions over the fate of Parliamentary elections. After initially calling for a boycott, opposition parties have vowed to contest them. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party will be led by Bhutto's husband and her Oxford-matriculating 19 year-old son, which sounds almost like a feudal line of succession. But the real question is when these elections will actually be scheduled.

Parliamentary elections seen as key to restoring democracy are set to be postponed for weeks in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, Pakistani officials said Monday.

A senior government official said that he expected a six-week delay in the elections now slated for Jan. 8, despite calls from Bhutto's party, other opposition politicians and world leaders for the polls to be held on time. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information.

Election Commission Secretary Kanwar Dilashad told reporters that a decision on the timing would be announced on Tuesday, but a recommendation "has been sent to the government for a delay." The opposition has accused the commission of favoring President Pervez Musharraf's backers.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country's most prominent opposition leader, threatened street protests if the vote was delayed.

"We will agitate," he told The Associated Press in an interview. "We will not accept this postponement."

Holding elections in a week during a time of turmoil is probably unsound, but there are larger questions here. Pakistan does not have an independent judiciary right now. It does not have a free media. Pervez Musharraf is hated within his own country and the suspicions of his complicity in Bhutto's death are growing. Juan Cole is right on here.

6. The US must keep the pressure on Pervez Musharraf to hold free and fair, early elections in Pakistan. The elections probably cannot be held on Jan. 8, as planned, because of the extensive turmoil and destruction of polling stations and ballots during the past few days. But they should not be postponed past March 1. Musharraf's own legitimacy has collapsed, and he is in danger of becoming a Shah of Iran figure, hated by his own people and driven from office. Such a scenario could be very bad for the United States. That is why Joe Biden is right and John McCain is wrong when the latter warns against dumping Musharraf. Why cannot the American Right learn that backing the wrong horse is often worse than not having a horse in the first place?

It's important that we don't posthumously laud Benazir Bhutto as the savior of her country. She stole billions from the Pakistani treasury when she was Prime Minister, and on her watch Pakistani links to the Taliban grew, and A.Q. Khan sold nuclear technology all over the world. And her family is still in control of this political party which is supposedly the last best hope for democracy.

Poor Pakistan. Poor People's Party supporters. Both deserve better than this disgusting, medieval charade.

Benazir's last decision was in the same autocratic mode as its predecessors, an approach that would cost her – tragically – her own life. Had she heeded the advice of some party leaders and not agreed to the Washington-brokered deal with Pervez Musharraf or, even later, decided to boycott his parliamentary election she might still have been alive. Her last gift to the country does not augur well for its future.

How can Western-backed politicians be taken seriously if they treat their party as a fiefdom and their supporters as serfs, while their courtiers abroad mouth sycophantic niceties concerning the young prince and his future.

That most of the PPP inner circle consists of spineless timeservers leading frustrated and melancholy lives is no excuse. All this could be transformed if inner-party democracy was implemented. There is a tiny layer of incorruptible and principled politicians inside the party, but they have been sidelined. Dynastic politics is a sign of weakness, not strength. Benazir was fond of comparing her family to the Kennedys, but chose to ignore that the Democratic Party, despite an addiction to big money, was not the instrument of any one family.

(Dynastic politics as a sign of weakness... Hmm, who were our last three Presidents, and who might be the next one...)

However, blind acceptance of a despot like Musharraf is certainly not the answer. Immediate reinstatement of the Supreme Court and a unity caretaker government to prepare for actual elections that are fair and free ought to be demanded, as well as a legitimate investigation into Bhutto's death. A Musharraf who is weakened or overthrown would have negative consequences for the region. We should probably stay the hell out of this and not try to install some other kingly figure without the consent of the Pakistani people. But the encouragement should be toward an end to despotism. If that happens with Musharraf or without ought to be of no consequence.

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