What are the odds on Bhutto?

Archduke There were three suicide bombers on foot in the crowd and someone fired several shots that hit the bullet resistant glass where she was supposed to be sitting.

Musharraf has been the target of a number of assassination plots but this set of attacks on Benazir Bhutto just after she descended from the aircraft that brought her home raises once again the question of the future of Pakistan, a country that possesses deliverable nuclear weapons and aircraft configured to do the job.

The Pakistani military is thoroughly infiltrated by men of doubtful loyalty to a Western alliance.  Without the past help or passive acceptance of such men the Taliban and al-Qaeda would never have become the menace that they still are.

No.  The US did not sponsor either group.  We  sponsored other groups. Look it up.

Nevertheless, the situation in Pakistan remains largely a question of the survival of a handful of people like Musharraf and Bhutto.  Perhaps next time the plotters will have better luck.  If they do then, a sudden reversal in Pakistan which produces a government committed to an Islamist course is distinctly possible.

The threat of Iranian nuclear weapons is distant and still inconclusive.  The threat that would be posed by Pakistani weapons would be immediate.  pl


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34 Responses to What are the odds on Bhutto?

  1. Jon Stopa says:

    Col, if I remember correctly, the US put the Shah back on the throne to block Soviet attempts to develope a relationship with Iran. Is this new relationship between the two a stratigic defeat of that effort? Bush seemed mighty pissed off.

  2. jonst says:

    Pl wrote: “Nevertheless, the situation in Pakistan remains largely a question of the survival of a handful of people like Musharraf and Bhutto”.
    I guess I disagree with you. The situation in Pakistan is going to come down to a question of whether the supporters, the die hard supporters, of both Musharraf and Bhutto are going to say “enough…we take them on in the streets”. Will the military, finally, make up its mind who it is going to the support. The Pashtun based creatures and entities created by, for the most part, ISI…or the ‘other side’? Bhutto’s followers have to decide if they are willing to fight, and to die. You can always find the roar of the lion. But can you find the lion itself? In fighting form?

  3. Walrus says:

    I agree Col. Lang. The only way I can see Musharaf and Bhutto surviving is immediate and substantial improvements in peoples standards of living to ween them away from giving active or passive support to fundamentalists, coupled with a massive propganda assault on the “holiness” of Jihad and fundamentalism to blunt its attractiveness. Even then, Pakistan’s leaders are going to need armoured cars for the rest of their lives.
    Having been to Karachi and visited Jinnah’s tomb as well, all I can say is that arranging a car bomb or suicide bombers in that city would be just too easy – it’s a rabbit warren.
    I can also testify to the visceral hatred of religious fundamentalists for western ideas and westerners, I saw it myself first hand.

  4. Jose says:

    Col, Musharraf and Bhutto are responsible for the massive corruption that has made Pakistan a failed state.
    Foreign Policy magazine has an interesting article on failed states:
    I like the section “there goes the neighborhood” which shows how the problems in Afghanistan are affecting Pakistan just like the problems in Iraq and Lebanon are affecting the entire Middle East.
    Do we really want a western alliance with a corrupt Musharraf and Bhutto regime?
    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

  5. Cieran says:

    And let’s not forget Pakistan’s long history of nuclear proliferation, including the A.Q. Khan network. It’s not much of a stretch to assert that the behaviors that neocons are accusing Iran of considering in the future, Pakistan is already doing now.
    With friends like these, who needs enemies?

  6. J says:

    it’s like you said…..in essence a bird in the hand (pakistan with deliverable nuclear weapons)is like two in the bush (iran’s perceived according to cheney/neocons/israel)’desire’ for n-toys.
    the bird in the hand (pakistan) is the one that is in your face versus the ‘perceived’ threat that some are trying to portray iran as.

  7. pbrownlee says:

    Nice picture – did you ever see the bogus (I assume) headline “FRANZ FERDINAND FOUND ALIVE — WORLD WAR ONE A MISTAKE!”?

  8. sheerahkahn says:

    My thoughts, based on the history of Pakistan, is that if the radicals do take over, the more likely of targets will be India.
    And as it stands, India won’t stand for Pakistan’s crap, moderate or radicalized, so should the Pak’s go high order stupid…they’re going to have larger problems than mean old Satanic USofA.
    On the flip side, I don’t see deliverable nukes being handed over to AQ, or any other proxies…even though the radicals are radically stupid, they aren’t that stupid.
    Because of control, even in AQ, control is a favored psychosis and the men in Pakistan’s radicalized sects are still men…they’ll want to hang on to their nukes…cause India is just a stones throw away…
    As for the current Pak’s government and the tiny court of moderates…my bet is that the Radical’s will eventually get lucky and take out em all out.
    I would also venture that Pakistan will also become a haven for Jihadists…but I seriously don’t see a radicalized Pakistani government risking annhilation just to prove a point…once again, men being men, they’ll want to “control” their own little fiefdom.
    As I said, radicals can be radically stupid, but they ain’t that stupid because men will always be men, and the first order of business is controlling other men…and women.
    Bottom line; Pakistan will always be an unofficial haven for terr’s, and the radical’s story will be no different than Mr. Musharraf’s…”Sorry Mr. President, but the people you are looking for are in a region where the government hold’s little sway.”

  9. Cold War Zoomie says:

    I realize this is a serious topic, but I could not help but think of this Black Adder scene when I saw the pic of “Archie Duke”…
    Blackadder – How the First World War started
    We need a laugh every now and again.
    (This one’s good too…)
    Blackadder goes forth – Secret mission

  10. MG says:

    I’m generally very impressed with this blog, but was surprised by some of the comments on this particular post. The Islamists have done very badly in Pakistani elections for 30 years, with the exception of post-911 elections in Baluchistan and NWFP.
    The whole Bhutto/Musharraf deal smells of desperation to me. The alternatives are probably the other political parties, rather than the taliban/AQ
    A pro-T./AQ coup might be a possibility, but would face major problems with the rest of civil society.
    One of the reasons Musharraf seems so weak is that he just lost a battle with civil society: he sacked the chief justice, and (most of) society forced him to take it back.
    Pakistan is unstable, but is there really a groundswell of support for Pathan traditionalists? Most of Pakistan is Punjabi.

  11. Jose says:

    MG, hate to disagree with you but check out wikipedia:
    Pakistan has no dominate ethnic group but does look like the former Yugoslavia:
    With Indian mischievousness , Pakistan could get ugly fast.

  12. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Agree entirely. Seems to me Musharraf as a muhajir has no real power base and the Punjabi networks hold the power behind the scenes.
    Has anyone given the Tablighi Jamaat a really hard look lately? A really hard look?
    And what about the penetration of Wahhabi extremists, and other religious extremists, in the military, particularly the younger officers? ISI?
    And what about the relationship of certain Pak elites to the Afghan heroin trade and the Taliban?
    And what about the legacy of Maudidi? Qutb’s “guru” and etc.
    I have been out that way and Turkey, Iran, and India seem more serious bets than “Pakistan.” Was the partition of India really necessary or a “good idea?”

  13. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “The threat of Iranian nuclear weapons is distant and still inconclusive. The threat that would be posed by Pakistani weapons would be immediate.”
    And we’ve seen a relatively recent episode where Colin Powell had to cool down the rhetoric between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. It may have been nothing more than rhetoric, but for the first time in my life I was thinking that someone was actually going to pull the trigger. I don’t know whether the news media was making a mountain out of a mole hill, or not.
    I am wondering what India’s response would be if Pakistan became more unstable. Would they view it as a chance to intervene and settle the Kashmir problem?
    As a side note, in the late 1980s my old unit played a part in verifying that these guys were importing nuclear components when they shouldn’t have been.

  14. “I’m generally very impressed with this blog, but was surprised by some of the comments on this particular post.”
    Chances are you’re including my first post in that category. I hesitated to post those clips since this was such a serious incident. But taking an intermitent break to laugh a minute or two is healthy.
    Sadly, sometimes it’s all we can do.

  15. Cujo359 says:

    What are Bhutto’s chances? Looks to be about the same as Musharaf’s chances. I don’t think either is a good bet right now. Who might be the alternative? Beats me.
    Thanks for the link, Cold War Zoomie. I knew there was an ostrich in there somewhere…

  16. China Hand says:

    With a history like this:
    It seems clear that Bhutto represents little good for the average Pakistani.
    The appeal that Islamist movements hold is that they are organizations which stand up to hegemoic and authoritarian forces to dispense justice on behalf of the “little guy” (“guy” being an operative word, there). I have met and discursed with quite a few Asian-based Pakistani expats, and their popular opinion of Musharraf seems to be that he is a hard man with a difficult job. I have heard most often that he is more-or-less honest, but a representative of the wealthy and elite families.
    If Musharraf is having this much trouble on the political side (and he obviously is), then I cannnot imagine Bhutto having any chance at all of winning popular support. In fact, it would seem that most Pakistanis would perceive her only as a last-gasp attempt by Western forces to try and increase their power in the region. That is how she was seen when she went into exile, wasn’t it?
    Although I may be completely off base here, on the basis of what I’ve read it is easy for me to imagine a Pakistani revolt in which several different groups join together out of a sense of injustice — a “people’s movement”, and of course such an alliance would be based around fundamentalist Islam. I do not see that as beyond the capabilities of Al Qaeda; the men in the Pakistani military worked very closely with the CIA to help destabilize Afghanistan and provoke their post-soviet civil war. With a front-row seat like that I am sure they learned a lot. A Pakistani revolt would play out in much the same way as the post-Soviet Afghanistan conflict did: a long, protracted war between more-or-less equally empowered combatants.
    The idea of nukes floating around amidst such chaos is terrifying.

  17. China Hand says:

    I also found this remarkable piece, by Ali Eteraz:
    It’s highly critical of Bhutto’s puff-piece in the HuffPo (a blog to which Ali’s a regular contributor).
    When read as a companion to this piece I think the reasoning is hard to refute:

  18. Charles I says:

    Jose, w/r/t “the problems in Afghanistan are affecting Pakistan” I believe you have it backwards – the problems in Pakistan are affecting Afghanistan. To wit, the problem is that Pakistan – no matter who governs – will ever see Afghanistan as its foreign policy frontier. In deed, once in a while, Pakistani troops have reportedly moved border posts further over into the Afghan side of the Durrand Line. A bit of self nation-building.
    Further, the entire region is just so fraught in so many contexts. Even if the country and its weapons never fall into Islamist hands, a plethora of ISI types and fellow travellers will always be meddling in Afghanistan. Their aim will never be a stable democracy that the west no longer need occupy. Their targets and fruits will always draw many foreign powers in. In turn, those are not dynamics tending to a peaceful, stable or democratic Pakistan, no matter what transpires in Afghanistan.

  19. Martin K says:

    I would like to add that you are forgetting the steady flow of opium hard cash that empowers the pashtunis. Cripple the opiumtrade and the black networks surrounding it, and you (the US) have achieved a major victory. Unfortunately, that involves almost all of your (US) Afghan allies as well.

  20. Arun says:

    Pakistan has a dominant ethnic group – the Punjabis (reply to Jose). Every other province has a gripe with Punjab.
    I strongly recommend the blog
    You may also be interested in this:
    Bin Laden’s Former Handling Officer Was In Charge of Benazir’s Security – International Terrorism Monitor—Paper No. 288

  21. Arun says:

    About Ijaz Shah, talked about in B. Raman’s link in the previous post, some more information is linked here:

  22. marquer says:

    Cripple the opiumtrade and the black networks surrounding it, and you (the US) have achieved a major victory.

    Before the US invasion of Afghanistan, I suggested modestly that what should be done instead would be to immediately legalize heroin by prescription in the US, with the proviso that all such drugs be exclusively domestically sourced.
    Observe that papaver somniferum grows quite well in several of the regional climates of North America, and that, absent the criminalization premium, heroin would cost little more than refined sugar. At bottom, it is just another processed agricultural commodity product. It’s expensive because the law renders it rare, not because of any inherent difficulty of production.
    This would have instantly shattered the opiates trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The black networks to which you refer would overnight forfeit their largest and most affluent single export market.

    Unfortunately, that involves almost all of your (US) Afghan allies as well.

    There are those who would say that the US has no Afghan allies, at least none of any durability. Per that line of reasoning, the strategy described would have left all of the Afghan factions to fight among themselves with diminished means for whatever crumbs remained of their formerly lucrative trade. Leaving very little energy for any sort of mischief outside of their own national borders.

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    There were two things that really hurt Pakistan, in my opinion.
    The first one was the military coup against the government of Zulfaqar Ali Bhutto and later his execution on dubious charges.
    The second one was the deep involvement of Pakistan in the Afghanistan war in 1980s. That war corrupted and militarized the already precarious NorthWest Frontier Province.
    These were self-inflicted wounds by Punjabi military and political elite on the rest of Pakistan; as far as I could determine.
    These two wounds significantly and negatively have affected the Paksitani polity.
    Twnety two years ago, Karachi was a safe city; now it is a dangerous city for Paksitanis and foreigners (including Muslims) alike.
    As I have written before, outside of the Concert of the Middle East idea, I cannot find any plausible positive vision of the future for the area between Hindu Kush Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean – inhabited by Muslim people.

  24. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    From the conservative Telegraph (London):
    “Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto plans to purge her country’s intelligence services of hundreds of rogue agents suspected of supporting Islamic terrorism, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt…”
    “Foremost in her sights if she returns to power will be the notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), the secretive “state within the state” that is blamed for orchestrating much of the terrorist violence convulsing Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan.”
    And the heroin trade? And the Taliban? And the terrorist operations against India? etc.
    “That nightmare is a fundamentalist takeover, which would be truly terrifying. Pakistan has nuclear bombs: in the hands of an Islamist government, they constitute a terrifying threat….Politics is at the root of much of the poverty. Corruption remains endemic among government officials. State-funded education is a disaster, with thousands of teachers who never teach collecting salaries, and hundreds of school buildings being left derelict.
    If many Pakistanis are now sending their children to the madrassa schools that teach an aggressively Islamist message, it is because that is all there is.”
    Seems to me the future is in the Saudi (and other) sponsored fundamentalist Wahhabi madrassas not to mention the “reportedly” penetrated (by fundamentalists) military establishment.
    There have been those inside the Beltway who have fantasized about a secular “Turkey” model for Pakistan….

  25. Martin K says:

    Marquer: The legalization of heroin has been a pet-peeve of mine for 15 years. It frees resources from policing that can be used for treatment, it more or less completely stops the spreading of the disease since there will be no reason to push, and it takes away the foundations of the largest superpower in the World, organized crime.

  26. frank durkee says:

    No question our drug policies can only be described as functionally insane, made worse by the combination of cost and ineffectiveness.

  27. Charles I says:

    Marquer, Martin et al; The war on drugs is not fought on some kind of harm reduction calculus. It is no mere pet peeve to me. Rather, it is a perverse and immoral criminalization of one of humanity’s most basic impulses calculated to sustain vast symbiotic empires of profit, oppression, corruption and hypocrisy. It is far too profitable in terms of cash and power, not to mention the utility of drugs, diamonds and arms as currencies in themselves, for the armies of narks, crooks, prosecutors, fear-mongering law and order politicos, bankers, petty tyrants and Wall Street plutocrats to ever voluntarily give up the fight. They are addicted to their raison d’etre. Imagine all these being told they’d have to make an honest, moral living without concerning themselves as to their victim’s mood altering proclivities as practiced in the comfort of their own home on their own dime. Whatever would one do with the reserve army of largely minorities incarcerated for the mostly petty crime Prohibition breeds? Or their keepers?
    But much more critically, Big Pharma will never countenance the further legalization of any other unpatented mood alterer stronger than herbal tea.

  28. DaveGood says:

    It seems Bhutto’s vehicle was surrounded by two rings of security. An inner ring around the lorry composed of trusted members of her political party, and an outer ring, state supplied, of police and and secret service.
    The bomber(s) got past the outer ring, but not the inner ring.
    The man in charge of that outer ring?
    Brig. Ejaz Shah …. former handler of Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden.

  29. marquer says:

    [heroin legalization] more or less completely stops the spreading of the disease since there will be no reason to push

    I do expect that the greater availability would result in a somewhat increased number of addicts. However, the worst sequelae of addiction would be markedly reduced by allowing addicts to get their drugs inexpensively and with medical supervision close to hand.
    Someone once said to me, “But we can’t legalize heroin. The lower prices will tempt more people to try it!”
    I asked what their own personal price point was, at which they would feel inexorably compelled to use heroin.
    Without waiting for an answer, I went on to note that I personally would not take heroin even if it were completely free of charge and delivered to my doorstep. Economists would like to have us believe that all human behavior is a deterministic function of price incentives. They are wrong.
    As an anecdotal side note to this post, I have a friend who lives on the edge of a rough urban neighborhood. His statement of the problem is pithy.

    “We have junkies here, and we have winos. In some ways very similar. When they both have gotten what they want — the wino his bottle, the junkie his fix — they both pretty much go sleep it off for hours on end. Trouble is minimal. It’s what happens next where things go wrong, when they wake up again. The junkie’s fix costs fifty times what the wino’s bottle costs. The wino can beg or scrounge to make his buy. The junkie has to resort to felony theft.”

  30. Curious says:

    Well, well … if this isn’t a fine mess we have for new year.
    Musharraf is our ‘bastard’ we put him there (with tacit approval) and we think we know the game. But we didn’t. We play Pakistan like it’s 1965, that national boundary is stable. Screwing up in one country probably doesn’t affect much. At worst localized war.
    But instead everything is subtly interconnected and the game is very complex and can cascade to regional conflict. (specially global economy, energy supply, and public safety.)
    Back to Pakistan. The idiots in states dept. and neocon think they can change Pakistan. (democracy, regime change, military aid, local resistance, secret service, bla bla, etc.)
    Just like the neocon was taunting Iran and Syria early in Iraq war. The thinking is by tweaking Pakistan, we can do afghanistan war on the cheap. They think a country as collection of simple chess pawn instead of dynamic structure holding people together. Move around the pieces and the game still called chess. (instead, it’s more like whacking hornet nest)
    Now Pakistan becomes unstable. The political dynamic, social stability, political processes are all weakened. Note that Iraq is next to Pakistan. You can bet terrorists group are being ship back and forth between the huge borders.
    The high politics now has mixed with street fight. Taliban can start playing their usual game in Pakistan. Fanning social political tension to destroy civil society structure. Any random small group trained in Iraq can create massive damage in the “-stan” region. (guerilla war 101, folks)
    Pakistan is a huge country, somebody better starts thinking straight, less we want to enlarge instability in the entire central asia.
    1. Afghanistan clown show is over. Fix that country properly instead of turning into corruptions nest and short term military tours.
    2. Stability in Pakistan is paramount. (that means we have to work with China, whom we have nasty trade fight. India, Iran and Russia. All are countries we screwed grandly in public.)
    3. Fix diplomacy with Iran. One cannot keep rattling the cage without expecting things to turn nasty.
    4. Fix Israel. This country is complicating the entire region politics and diplomacy. (Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, now Pakistan) Total and complete loose cannon. One missile launch from Israel, everybody in the region will start shooting.
    If I have to make prediction how the bozos in charge will do it.
    1. start panicking and screwing up Pakistan. (push and pull, regime become unstable, social rift, economic collapse) All this happens slowly, ad hoc of course, over 2-3 years.
    2. This then are mixed with Iraq/Afghanistan incompetency. (refugee movement, civil war, economic collapse, car bombs, assassinations)
    3. Pakistan upper leadership becomes so unstable everything finally collapses. At the very least massive economic damage to Pakistan that create major social upheaval.
    4. Russia, China, India, Iran.. start panicking. Global economy is affected. They are going to do something about it… pray they are more competent.
    Whatever it is. the fundamental game in central asia will change if Pakistan collapses.
    The clown show is over. at least Iraq is somewhat stabilizing.

  31. Curious says:

    Things are going to get complicated now.
    Al-Qaeda claims Bhutto killing
    By Syed Saleem Shahzad
    KARACHI – ”We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat mujahideen.” These were the words of al-Qaeda’s top commander for Afghanistan operations and spokesperson Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, immediately after the attack that claimed the life of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto on Thursday (December 27).
    Bhutto died after being shot by a suicide assailant who, according to witnesses, also detonated a bomb that killed himself and up to 20 others at a rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Bhutto, with Western backing, had been hoping to become prime minister for a third time after general elections next month.
    “This is our first major victory against those [eg, Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf] who have been siding with infidels [the West] in a fight against al-Qaeda and declared a war against mujahideen,” Mustafa told Asia Times Online by telephone.

  32. JadedSage says:

    The US diplomatically orchestrated the return of B. Bhutto. It reminds me of playing someone in chess who leads early with their queen. The US played their queen hastily and now the best politician who had a chance to grab the mantle of democracy in Pakistan is dead. When you send someone to the snake pit you better make sure the snakes are dead. Here is where the mistake of invading Iraq instead of rooting out the Al-Qaeda elements in Afghanistan and Waziristan have again bit the Bush administration in the butt. This is why Bush looked pissed off today. There are no longer any viable strategies in Pakistan.

  33. Martin K says:

    I had a long discussion with a pakistani friend of mine about this two days ago, over serveral glasses of Aquavit and beer, and he again and again stressed that the real problem here lies in the clans and the families of Pakistan getting more and more divided between the “Pakis” and the “brits”: The “brits” is the faction that wants to build Pakistan on a western model, typically lead by well (foreign) educated folks, supported by the south and the technocrati. The “pakis” are of a mind to turn away from all this new technologybusiness and go (sarcastically speaking) back to the good old days of living in mud huts where a man could kill his wife without any of all of this shouting. This tension runs through all of pakistani society. Mr. Musharafs fight with the supreme court could in that light be seen as Musharafs fight with the “brits” in order to prove to the “pakis” that he is a neutral actor, and it backfired with the military state and mrs. Bhuttos return, etc.
    So now mrs. Bhutto, Queen of the “brits” has been killed, and there is little surety of who did this. And all the local ISI and army departments, who are locally led by persons more often chosen through family and bribes than through competence, must make a lot of hard choices.

  34. Curious says:

    Posted by: Martin K | 29 December 2007 at 10:12 AM
    There are a lot of similarities with other ex colonial countries.
    This is typical, after first generation/independent leaders dies and second generations fight with the third. The typical idological fight is between the corrupt status quo/western backed, or religious conservatives. (answer: neither one of them. new leadership will emerge as long as there is no economic collapse and civil war)
    Pakistan is at the crossroad. Either it learn power succession peacefully or it will collapse.
    PPP is the founding father party. It has a lot of charisma. And it starts accusing musharraf and friends. If the political bickering continues, things will turn into bloodbath and show of force.
    We should not meddle.
    The only coherent power left right now is military backed dictatorship under our support. Or Islamism party.
    If I have to choose upon observing various options. Leave Pakistan alone to sort their mess. People in general do not like Islamism government. They are corrupt, incompetent and totally clueless. They will be promptly kicked out of office after one session.
    Just make sure the military doesn’t start shooting the people and the legal mechanism can function during brief right wing experiment.
    Protecting the military status quo (ala Chile, Argentina, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia) only prolonged the inevitable.
    Backing military dictatorship creates long term instability, taliban or no taliba.

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