December 31, 2007

HARRISONBURG— Today, in a special feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, contributes to journal’s ongoing discussion of last week’s assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Observing that since her death Bhutto “has been virtually canonized by politicians and pundits alike,” Dr. Pham notes that “nowhere to be found in these paeans is any acknowledgment of the slain politician’s far more ambiguous record, a close examination of which reveals the saint to have been all too human.”

Dr. Pham concludes:

The reality is that the nuclear-armed, geostrategically vital country is on the verge of state collapse. Over one-tenth of the country, including critical areas in the northwest along the Afghan border, has essentially been abandoned to tribal leaders, many of whom have links to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist forces. Last July’s National Intelligence Estimate, it should be recalled, declared these tribal agencies a de facto safe haven for Osama bin Laden. Although it receives little attention abroad, another region, Baluchistan—which covers nearly half of Pakistan’s land mass and contains most of the country’s energy resources as well as most of its coastline—is dangerously close to open secession over its longstanding resentment against the ruling elites in Islamabad. The extent to which the president’s writ prevails in the remaining one-third of the land left to the central government now that General [Pervez] Musharraf has given up his uniform under intense pressure from Washington—which has pumped billions into the country since 9/11 in the hopes of getting greater counterterrorism cooperation—has yet to be determined. But there may be a ray of hope amid last week’s tragedy.

While no one knows what the living Bhutto may have done to reverse her country’s current perilous course if she had somehow prevailed in the parliamentary elections originally scheduled for next week, the martyred Benazir may yet render a final service to Pakistan and the world. If, like the Al-Qaeda attacks on civilians in Iraq, the savagery of Bhutto’s death can somehow galvanize Pakistan’s uniformed and mufti-clad secularists to turn together against the extremism within their midst and if the need to assuage international outrage over the assassination can adduce Pervez Musharraf to more energetically tackle the terrorist infrastructure in the country, then maybe Benazir Bhutto would produce a miracle from beyond the grave: a reasonably secure Pakistan that contributes to international security, rather than undermining it, by carefully laying the foundations for a stable polity. That feat would give her hagiographers material with which to write a golden legend that is more than pious gibberish.

The full text of Dr. Pham’s contribution to the symposium “Après Bhutto” can be accessed by clicking here.