It will probably never be known for certain who planned or authorised the assassination of Benazir Bhutto (BB) though the list of potential conspirators is long. Musharraf himself had much to gain since he clearly worries mostly about his own fate, political and personal, rather than Pakistan?s.
At the very least, the Americans planned a sharing of power between him and the late BB. This was emphatically not to his liking since he had managed to reduce her (and other political personalities) to whimpering domestic pets. The prospect of having to deal with her respectfully must have rankled him. In the priapic world of Pakistan, the patriarchal cabal supposedly divinely ordained to rule vividly recalls the murder of the ill-fated thirteenth century Iltutmish empress, Razia Sultan for temerity to rule despite being a woman. Without BB Musharraf becomes primus inter pares, at the very least, unless the US wishes to punish him on suspicion of being the author of the very risky venture of eliminating BB, causing serious offence to God'svery own. But what would the US gain from Musharraf'sremoval since he remains a skilled operator on their behalf and how could they be sure that it was indeed his doing? And each is capable of damaging the other grievously by public revelations about outrageous acts of deception and skulduggery committed by both.
The multitude of radical Islamist factions thronging much of contemporary Pakistan remembered BB'sprevious shenanigans only too well though she had befriended them, sponsoring Taliban rule and jehad against India when in power. True to form, few in India now seem willing to recall her promise to continue her father'sthousand-year jehad against Hindu India. Her clan'sbrazen greed is also recalled with stern Islamic distaste, dramatically compounded by her threat to allow the US freedom to intervene militarily against Al Qaeda inside Pakistan itself. The various Islamist factions embedded within the military establishment, including the ISI, could not have been well pleased with her either for engaging in such treasonous chatter. Since they have led the US-led coalition to a merry dance inside Afghanistan (Cf. Sarah Chayes?, The Punishment of Virtue) such a threat would have been especially unwelcome now that a discreet suing for peace by the NATO coalition is in prospect. This outcome would mean a famous victory for Islam, almost comparable in political magnitude to the extirpation of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187 AD.
Nawaz Sharif, shedding crocodile tears for BB'sdemise, cannot have failed to notice that he is the only one left standing next to the empty seat in the game of musical chairs serenaded by the Americans. But Sharif has grounds for anxiety because the life expectancy of Pakistan'spolitical class is increasingly of uncertain duration and the Americans are clearly mulling over confidential evidence of his misdeeds that have hitherto prevented them from a dalliance with him. The Islamist parties might regard Sharif'spolitics as by far the lesser evil compared to what'son offer from BB'sinconsequential and thoroughly US-tainted retainers, which is exactly why the Americans are so resoundingly hesitant to even give him even a proverbial peck on the cheek! The historic alliance between traditional Islam and Anglo-American imperial ambition, so useful for tormenting Soviet communism and its supposed Indian lackeys, has become a delicately poised Vesuvian threat. Were it not for the fact that Indians are such a comprehensively confused bunch, given to swooning exclusively over Bollywood and cricket celebrities, they would have experienced some historically overdue Schadenfreude over the unholy mess. For decades they have been tormented by the US-Pak alliance which is now impaled on an indissoluble, traditional Catholic marriage, for better or worse, mainly the latter, for the foreseeable future.
Yet the US cannot let go of Pakistan. Their nuclear weaponry has almost certainly been sterilised though the thwarted Pakistani leadership is allowed to launch the occasional imported Chinese medium range missile in consolation like an entertainment firework. But enough devout Islamists with an aptitude for the relevant sciences remain on the loose, fired by apocalyptic visions and anti-US sentiment, to cause heartburn in Washington. It is entirely possible that merely dismantling the existing nuclear infrastructure, however comprehensively undertaken, may not suffice to ensure American safety by preventing the re-assembly of serviceable nuclear devices through local ingenuity. Mumbai, to my mind, remains the likeliest target of the irate faithful because of foreknowledge of how the Americans would react if a nuclear device, originating in Pakistan, exploded in New York. But can any government leave such an outcome to the forbearance of Islamist decision-makers?
The current efforts of the US to foster democracy in Pakistan is truly a case of adding insult to injury since successive US administrations have been responsible for institutionalising military rule within it as a Cold War instrumentality. In one of his moments of prescience Pandit Nehru had warned the Pakistani leadership during the 1950s of the potential cost of a Cold War alliance with the US. So successful was the US endeavour in creating a pliable Pakistan that any nascent signs of democratic and popular rule were totally destroyed. In fact it was autocratic rule that played a major role in dismembering Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh. The judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was also a product of murky political machinations to provide an absolute guarantee of US influence in it though one may be forgiven for concluding that it couldn'thave happened to a nicer man. To end military dominance in Pakistan has become a truly Herculean task since it has an overwhelming presence in every layer of society, especially as a key component of its dominant social classes. It cements ties between these social classes and the various apparatuses of the Pakistani State because the military has long provided the personnel for much of it even under civilian rule. The military has also emerged as the premier economic entrepreneurs within Pakistan and owns significant additional immovable assets. Indeed, the military has become synonymous with Pakistani State and society. BB was only intended to provide a fig leaf of legitimacy and business would have continued as usual.
Thus, Pakistan will remain a militarised, dictatorial society and such a status quo is inherently incapable of responding to the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of its people, increasingly impoverished and discontented. The fundamentalist upsurge that the military leadership and its occasional civilian ancillary did so much to incite, with cynical American encouragement, is more a symptom of Pakistan'smalaise than a likely solution to it. Their usefulness to the Western game plan waned in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and became even less relevant with the downfall of communism in 1989. After 9/11, the US came to regard Islamic terrorism as a veritable menace and obligated the Pakistani military establishment, though it was thoroughly enmeshed with Afghan Islamic terror, to participate in its destruction. Pakistan'smilitary establishment, which usually does US bidding with alacrity, had been sufficiently transformed by the Islamic upsurge during the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan to subsequently find the task of restoring the preceding status quo ante problematic. It may scream democracy in J&K, while doing everything to subvert elections in it when they occur, but cannot accept or indeed establish democracy inside Pakistan to deflect Islamised revolt.
The future of Pakistan remains bleak, but the drama that is yet to unfold within harbours serious problems for India and possibly the West, including the US. There is a significant possibility that small groups of Islamic terrorists will plot to inflict serious harm on the West and its citizens, for real and imagined grievances. Some of the likely acts of terror could turn out to be catastrophic because the technology exists to undertake them. The Pakistani military is loath to allow such actions against its erstwhile Western allies, a possibility for which it evidently had made insufficient allowance. The bitter experiences of events since 2001 have also further radicalised elements within the Pakistani military establishment which now subscribe to the goals of Islamic radicals (who regard Pakistan as their operational headquarters) of harming the West. But the principle components of the Pakistani military establishment will wish to use the institutionalised societal Islamic ferment within against India. In part such an outcome will be a necessity because Islamic terrorism may otherwise turn inwards against domestic privilege or definitively seek out Western targets. Of course terrorist action against India will provide continued legitimacy for an undemocratic terrorism dictatorship and it will conform to the almost exclusive historical goal of Pakistan since Jinnah'sblood-soaked partition of India.
(The writer has taught for more than two decades at the London School of Economics & Political Science.)