The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who recently returned to an active role in Pakistani politics, is a setback for any hope of democratic reform there.
Even more alarming, it is a significant victory for the forces of Islamic extremism — the Taliban, al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden and supporters and sympathizers everywhere — in a country with a nuclear arsenal.
That said, few observers have discussed the impact of the assassination on U.S. interests in the region or how skillfully the United States has tried to promote those interests.
This tragic and cruel assassination could be a catalyst for the United States to reassess the state of its empire and reconsider whether it is prepared to commit increasing amounts of blood and treasure to the desire to make the world a more democratic and stable place.
Or, as Muazzam Gill, formerly a senior TV producer in Pakistan who covered Benazir Bhutto’s father and now analyzes intelligence and security issues for UPI, said, “democracy does not descend on a people from above. People ascend to democracy through the rule of law and other institutions of civil society. Pakistan has no real tradition of democracy and the U.S. directed little of the $10 billion we sent there toward building democratic institutions.”
We would go farther, to question whether becoming entangled in the internal politics of countries with very different traditions and aspirations really serves core U.S. interests.
Given that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, it is obviously better for the region and the world if access to the trigger is in the hands of people with an interest in restraint.
Whether providing foreign aid and being heavily involved in its politics has contributed to stability in Pakistan is a question due for review at a fundamental level.
The United States is obligated as a result of its current entanglements to be aware of possible wider implications of this assassination. How will this jihadist success affect Afghanistan, where the United States has some 35,000 troops engaged in an effort to support an inherently shaky government? Will Russia or China see reasons to become more directly involved in Pakistani or Afghan politics? Is it likely that this assassination is a precursor to even more jihadist or terrorist activity in the region?
The immediacy of such concerns, which may seem to require special vigilance or even more aggressive action by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, should not keep us from the longer-run need to reconsider our foreign policies in the region.
How vital is Pakistan in the larger struggle with Islamist jihadism and terrorism? Staying involved in the region may require more troops and more money at a time when the U.S. military is stretched thin. Are the American people ready for that? Will U.S. policies in southern Asia become a live issue in the U.S. presidential campaign?
Anyone who cares about the prospects for freedom or even simple decency must be deeply saddened at this personal blow to the Bhutto family. At a political level, Americans should be open to considering the possibility that reducing our level of involvement and redefining our interests in the direction of the narrower and better-focused is the most prudent response.