Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tell me more about this "accepting ambiguity" trick, it sounds strangely fascinating

It is quite possible to simultaneously believe that Benazir Bhutto's career was considerably less perfect than her public image, and also that her assassination is likely to have nothing but bad consequences for Pakistan and quite a few other places. I say this because you'd be surprised; opinion has already broken between uncritical Diana-isation by the mainstream media, politics, and large chunks of the blogosphere ranging all the way from angry feminists to Michelle Malkin, and cynical dismissal from the professionally snarky.

Let's pause and consider the political dynamics; the PPP was about the only political organisation in Pakistan with real popular support or public participation, and it looks very like it's going to die. (There's a rundown of no fewer than eight possible candidates here.) The organisation has declared 40 days of mourning, which can be read as 40 days of desperately trying to work out what to do and fighting over the bloody shawl. Nawaz Sharif is trying to muscle in on the role of popular opponent of the army regime; this is only going to make it worse.

The upshot is that the entire southern half of the country and a significant chunk of the big cities will be effectively disenfranchised; Sharif and Musharraf will be competing for the Punjab, and worse still, for the military. Only Zia was closer to the ISI, the jihadis and the Saudis than Nawaz Sharif; we're talking about the chap who (despite not being terribly devout) considered declaring sharia law and sent actual troops (rather than secret aid) to help the Taliban hold Kabul in 1998 when the Northerners retook the Shomali plain. An underreported feature of the current crisis is the Saudi lobbying campaign for him.

The elections might not now happen - probably for the best, as with Sharif boycotting and the PPP in a state of collapse, the only possible outcome would be a risibly unrepresentative cocktail of the Musharraf fanclub and NWFP religious nutters. However, the not-general would probably quite like such an outcome - it couldn't possibly work with 60+ per cent of the population excluded, but it would permit him to indulge his loathing of Nawaz Sharif and politicians generally and also appear to Stand Up For Democracy. Theatre is an under-remarked factor in his career.

Meanwhile, you want fourth-generation warfare? We got it. Just not in the usual form; you know your network's been disrupted when you ask the telco what's broken and they tell you the mob sacked the exchange and torched the SDH fibre transceivers.

As far as the assassinology of it goes, I'll confine myself to pointing out that the M.O. was identical to the first attempt on the day of her return - gunfire, and then a suicide bomb. I've not heard of this sequence anywhere else (usually it's a bomb and then snipers in the smouldering aftermath). There are all kinds of options for "whodunnit?" - both at the level of whichever bunch of jihadis were recruited to do the job, and who recruited them. Obviously, anyone who wants Pakistan to be semichaotic and the special role of the spooks to continue benefited; this includes half the world, as far as I can work out. Meanwhile, the British brigade in Helmand's main supply route is still via Karachi.


Anonymous said...

Well Bhutto was doing her best to destroy her party, was alienating even long term supporters. Her previous terms were pretty damaging to civil society/democracy in Pakistan, and she (and her loathesome husband) was close to some pretty unpleasant people.

Pakistan is fucked, and the US gave them nukes. Astonishing really.

ejh said...

Personally I think it's possible to be extremely snarky about it and nevertheless accept that "her assassination is likely to have nothing but bad consequences for Pakistan".

I see the kid's inherited, by the way.

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