Some cynics in Washington and New York pooh-poohed Benazir Bhutto’s tough-on-terrorism rhetoric. She was only posturing to get American support, they said—telling the administration what it wanted to hear. But she kept on repeating her pledges to crack down on Islamist militants even after she returned home after a lengthy exile. Today, those pledges cost her her life. Apparently the suicide bombers took her seriously, even if Georgetown sophisticates did not.
Her death brutally exposes how little success Pervez Musharraf has had in cracking down on the jihadists. They have only grown stronger on his watch. It is possible that no other government could have done better; some might even have done worse. But there is also little doubt that the military regime has been compromised by all the alliances it has struck over the years with extremist groups who were deemed to be fighting for Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
The Bush administration has been making a grave mistake by so unreserverdly backing a regime so ambivalent in its commitment to the anti-terror fight. The restoration of democracy has been long overdue, and is finally, belatedly occurring: It’s a good thing Musharraf has stepped down as army chief of staff, but it’s unfortunate that he continues to cling to the presidency without submitting himself to a free and fair election.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the Islamic factions are not popular with the people of Pakistan as a whole; they are polling only 4% at the moment, about what Ron Paul is getting in polls of Republican voters. Their support has never exceeded 12% in any election, and that only because Musharraf hobbled the mainstream parties from competing. Now their backing has cratered because of their failure to deliver on their good governance pledges in Northwest Frontier Province which they have been running since 2002.
There is a vast “silent majority” in Pakistan that abhors the militants and has come to detest military rule. They are waiting for a leader. Bhutto, for all her imperfections, could have been that leader. She won’t be now. Alas. But let us hope that she will at least become a martyr for the cause of Islamic democracy, and that her death will inspire others to carry on her brave struggle.