Pakistan After Bhutto

People want to know what I think about the Bhutto assassination in Pakistan. Here are a few quick points and some links for you to follow.

First, we cannot forget that the human tragedy of the last few days. Not only Ms. Bhutto but dozens of other people lost their lives, in a place where violence seems to be the most common way of settling differences. Here in the U.S. we have our share of problems, but not like they do in Pakistan. We should be grateful for this, and pray for the souls of those lost and for their families to find peace.

Second, I'm not sure the removal of Ms. Bhutto from the equation will make a lot of difference in the long run. People can debate her character, but even if she was the political hero that her supporters claim, I'm still dubious she would have been able to stabilize Pakistan. In fact, one could argue that Pakistan is inherently unstable because it is an artificial entity pieced together by colonial powers. It is, in many respects, a case study in Islamic Dis-unity. Military strongmen have held this conglomeration together by brute force, but for a variety of reasons that is ceasing to be a viable option. The global trend is toward de-centralization, so the breakup of Pakistan into its constituent parts is a real possibility.

Third, if the current crisis leads to a radical Islamist regime taking control of Pakistan, the Global War On Terror will take a dramatic turn for the worse. An Iran-Pakistan alliance would be a formidable foe even without nuclear weapons. Hopefully the Bush Administration would at that point finally decide to stop kicking hornet nests and leave well enough alone. The alternatives would be very bad indeed.

Fourth, I'm not terribly concerned about Pakistan's nukes falling into the wrong hands. They are no doubt well-hidden and well-guarded. Some reports suggest U.S. special forces know the location of these weapons and have contingency plans to seize or destroy them. Even if radical elements capture them, then what? Exploding a nuke is not like pushing the button on your garage door opener. They have multiple safeguards and interlocks to prevent unauthorized use. Furthermore, transporting such weapons from Pakistan to a worthy target without being detected would not be easy. The bigger risk is that someone would disassemble the warheads and use the nuclear material to build a radioactive "dirty bomb." That would be bad, but not nearly as destructive as a nuclear detonation in a major city.

Fifth, the timing of all this in interesting in relation to U.S. domestic politics, with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary only days away. To the degree the electorate in those places is paying attention, it probably helps the strong-leadership candidates like McCain and hurts those whose appeal is primarily domestic, like Huckabee. But I really think the impact will be minimal. Larison has some interesting thoughts.

For ongoing commentary I recommend you visit Born at the Crest of the Empire, where Mike is posting a wealth of links and interesting thoughts.

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