In the last day, since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, there has been ample criticism of the Bush administration for backing the wrong horse in Pervez Musharraf. In fact, in Pakistan, there is no right horse. The recognized government is at best a caretaker government elected in a questionable election and at worst one installed by the military coup that ended a corrupt, democratically elected government. The two wings of the opposition represent 7th century barbarism on the one hand and a return to corruption on the other.
It’s not necessarily a criticism of Bhutto, but certainly an example of what’s wrong with Pakistani politics that she was “chairwoman for life” of the Pakistan People’s Party. It speaks little good of a country when its most lauded champion of democracy achieved, at least within her own party, a level of totalitarian unaccountability that even a tin horn Marxist like Hugo Chavez can only envy.
Many are blaming the Bush administration for the assassination. They blame the administration for encouraging Bhutto’s return or for failing to provide unasked for and impossible security. (Ask the Secret Service if they’d approve a Bush visit to Rawalpindi.) The US government does have some blame here, but it’s not for those reasons. The administration, eager to appease the jihadi’s domestic apologists, insisted that a “free and fair election” was impossible under the state of emergency imposed by Musharaff in the aftermath of an earlier assassination attempt. No one seemed to question whether a “free and fair election” was possible when one wing of the opposition is sending assassins to attack the other wing. In fact, Pakistan is in no position to hold a free and fair election by our standards at all.
Pakistan is nowhere near being a failed state, but an insistence by ill-informed Americans that its government conform to the liberal norms of our own will quickly make it one. For the foreseeable future there is no right horse to back in Pakistan. Our only real option is to recognize the reality of who holds power, watch who controls the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and be prepared, if necessary, to destroy that arsenal quickly and without the niceties of diplomacy if the control falls from a not-quite-right horse to an utterly wrong one.