December 28, 2007Foreign AffairsIndiajihadisPakistanpoliticsterrorismUnited States

Guest post: Benazir’s sacrifice changed little

In the bloody arc of history, is Ms. Bhutto’s murder truly as seismic as is being claimed?

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

by Primary Red

She’s been in political exile for over a decade. Her Washington influence is only of recent vintage. India has been lukewarm to her attempted return to power.

Her killing is clearly reprehensible. But it does little to change the dynamics among Pakistan’s real political powerbrokers. For them, she and her party were mere pawns and her martyrdom has changed nothing. Of the key players: the military, the ISI-jihadi nexus, Saudi Arabia, US, China, and India, the first three come out ahead. What’s new?

The Pakistani military remains its only modern institution. It deftly leverages geopolitical events to expand its regional influence, access to national resources, and war-fighting capabilities. By crowding out Pakistan’s civil political processes, it has materially weakened the state — this, in turn, has helped its position as the bulwark against chaos. The military will clearly benefit as the global media broadcasts Pakistan’s renewed descent into anarchy and Western fears grow of a jihadi takeover of nuclear assets.

The ISI-jihadi alliance is both ideological and strategic. Ideologically, both seek to leverage Pakistani assets for expanding Islamism’s influence at home and far beyond. Strategically, ISI provides modern capabilities to jihadis who, in turn, provide ISI with foot soldiers and plausible deniability. Their nexus will use the murder to assert its power in Pakistan, especially versus the US and the Pakistani military. This will earn them concessions from the latter, or maybe a destabilizing war. Either way, these nihilists win.

Saudi Arabia funded Pakistani nuclear assets as well as its jihadi forces. Oil and Pakistan are its principal geo-strategic assets. In addition, it has promoted Nawaz Sharif as its own pawn in the political process. No one has more chips in Pakistan than Saudi Arabia does. It will likely cash these in now by negotiating geo-strategic concessions from the West.

The US seeks Pakistani stability to keep a lid on Al Qaeda and to prevent nuclear assets falling into wrong hands. Its long-term ally is the military. However, when it sensed a weakness in Pakistani military’s resolve to do its bidding, it promoted Ms. Bhutto as a compensating pawn. The murder knocks a pawn off but the objectives remain. US will likely stand with the Pakistani military in the short-run, while searching for new options.

China has supported the Pakistani military as a check on India. However, given its own restive Muslim population, it has no interest in seeing Pakistani descent into chaos. This will, ironically, make its short-term interests coincide with those of India and the US.

As for India, M K Narayanan made clear only a couple weeks ago that our realists favor General Musharraf over Ms. Bhutto, i.e., stability over all else. This puts us in the same position as US and China, unfortunately holding a really weak hand.

None of this is news. Rest in peace, Mohatarma — but your sacrifice changed very little.

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