Benazir Bhutto: Who has the most to gain from her assassination? (Hint: It Wasn’t Pervez Musharraf)

I received an email alert yesterday afternoon from a colleague in Pakistan that Benazir Bhutto had been “injured” during an attack.  I thought to myself . . . “injured”?  In the context of a government offici, “injured” is often times a codeword for “assassination attempt.”  It was with greater anger, sadness and frustration that I learned later — as did the rest of the world — that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated.  I hope that Pakistan is committed to bringing those truly responsible to justice fairly and quickly.

Almost immediately after the reports of her assassination, theories ran abound on who had the most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination.  From what I could gather from news reports and my colleagues on the ground in Pakistan, the groups/people who had most to gain were both a) General/President Musharraf and b) the terrorists.  Theories also have run abound on who was responsible for — as President Bush characterized it — the “cowardly act” of assassinating former Prime Minister Bhutto.  Indeed, these two separate questions have become one in the same.

I think a couple things need to be addressed.  The first is the issue of President Bush characterizing Bhutto’s assassination as a “cowardly act.”  By defining and framing her assassination as a cowardly act, it suggests that her brazen murder was some aberrant, isolated action by an extremist individual as opposed to a systematic, institutionalized course and interplay of conduct between the U.S. and Pakistani government, and between the Pakistani government and extremist groups. 

Surely, more questions need to be addressed on how the Pakistani government — by both action and omission — allowed such an environment to foster in which this type of assassination could take place and to what extent the government — both Pakistani and the U.S. — is benefiting from maintaining such an environment.  Part of the answer to that is understanding the interplay between Musharaff’s thirst to maintain power as well as the relationships that have brought Musharraf to where he is now.

But the larger issue I want to discuss is who has most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination.  I think most people will look to Musharraf and the backdrop of the upcoming presidential “elections” and say without reservation that he is the person who has the most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination.  Perhaps this is so, but the buck should not stop there. 

The most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination is not Musharraf, but the United States.  Do I think the United States was directly involved in her murder?  That’s not for me to opine here.  I’ll save that line of thought for those posts proclaiming a large-scale CIA conspiracy.

That being said, the U.S. has the most to gain from Bhutto’s assassination because the U.S. can now continue to count on Musharraf to carry on and go on with its policies, which he receives as a directive in both words and as financial boon in excess of millions of dollars to his personal bank accounts.  Bhutto and her party were geared to make significant changes in government that Musharraf and his military had such control over. 

When it came to a partner in Pakistan for the U.S.’s war on terror, the U.S. had to deal with only one person:  Musharraf.  What happens when you have democratic reform?  What happens when you have transparency?  What happens when you have true power sharing?  To the hawks and “yes men” of the current administration, you have inefficiency.  How dare you question our policies.  Do what we say.  With Bhutto, there will be a lot more “no” than “yes.”  That’s what happens when you have a democracy.

Bhutto was a threat to the U.S.’s war on terror.  Bhutto was not a threat because she would be “soft” on terrorism and that national security would be a low priority.  Those were undoubtedly top priorities for her and her country, even if she wasn’t a General like Musharraf. 

Rather, Bhutto was a threat because the “same old same old” would not fly with Bhutto, who demanded democratic reforms and government transparency and not such an open door, welcoming arms policy with the U.S. that Musharraf displayed.  Apart from the so-called “democracy lovers” of the United States, Bhutto would have been a thorn in the U.S.’s misguided foreign policy, which can be summed up in three words:  war on terror.

Bhutto would have questioned.  Bhutto would have demanded the basis of information from the U.S., not simply monthly checks amounting to millions of dollars a month to turn a blind eye.  Bhutto was for democracy, reforming the current government, and establishing a true separation of powers, not for maintaining a dictatorship.  All this is bad news for a war on terror based on unquestioning and unwavering support at all costs. 

Think about how much the U.S. has invested in Pakistan under Musharraf.  We are not talking about millions of dollars.  We are talking about billions and billions of dollars of monetary, infrastructural and human investment by the U.S.  A large percentage of that was at serious risk with an impending change in power, particularly to a power that the U.S. could not control.

In that regard, any argument that stresses how Musharraf had the most to gain from Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, must also look with scrutiny at Musharraf’s closest and most powerful ally:  the United States.