The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was seeking to return to office democratically, is a major setback for democracy, stability and the struggle for moderation over extremism not only in that war-torn region, but throughout the world. Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister, told the Jerusalem Post that Bhutto’s death was “a great tragedy,” adding, “I saw her as someone who could have served as a bridgehead to relations with that part of the Muslim world with whom our ties are naturally limited.”
The implications of Bhutto’s assassination are indeed extremely serious. The daughter of a former Pakistani prime minister who was executed, Benazir Bhutto was educated at Harvard and Oxford, and previously had served two terms as the first woman prime minister not only of Pakistan, but of any Muslim nation. Bhutto had been urged to attempt a political comeback by the Bush Administration. The goal turned out to be an ill-conceived concept that somehow she could forge a “power-sharing” arrangement with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, who has used repeated “declarations of national emergencies” to consolidate his powers, dismiss objective judges and assume almost dictatorial status. By contrast, Bhutto based her comeback campaign on democracy, the rule of law and a determination to deal firmly with al-Qaida, the Taliban and other terrorist elements.
While it is still too early to determine all the facts, Pakistani officials suspect al- Qaida in the suicide bombing and shooting that killed Bhutto and more than 20 of her supporters. Bhutto’s followers, however, are blaming the Musharraf government. Bhutto had also left behind e-mails that complained that Musharraf had refused to provide her with adequate security during her campaign.
A JTA story on the implications of Bhutto’s death points out that “the chaos precipitated by the killing poses dangers beyond Pakistan’s immediate neighborhood.” Jack Rosen, former national president of the American Jewish Congress, also pointed out that Pakistan is the only Muslim country with nuclear capabilities. “If the government fell into the hands of extremists, the bomb also falls into the hands of the extremists,” Rosen said.
Bhutto’s assassination symbolizes the stark choice being faced by the Muslim world: Bhutto or Bin Laden? Bhutto, while not without her faults or detractors, was clearly a force for moderation, modernism, democracy and the rule of law. The very fact that she, as a Muslim woman, succeeded previously in twice becoming prime minister of a Muslim nation was in itself a victory for those values. In the aftermath of the first attempt on her life late last year, an al-Qaida official issued a warning that Bhutto would be killed.
If there is any “good news” in the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, it is that she had a tremendously large and loyal following among the citizens of Pakistan, who had grown weary of the increasing thuggishness and dictatorial nature of the Musharraf regime. The huge outpouring of support among her followers is a clear indication that Pakistanis would prefer a nation based upon democratic values.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who have offered official condolences to the Pakistani people, continue their efforts with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to work toward the goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During the same week as the Bhutto assassination, Olmert and Abbas agreed to set aside divisive and contentious issues, such as Israeli settlement expansion, and to focus on meeting their goal of an independent Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.
We pray that Benazir Bhutto will not have died in vain, and that the values of democracy, the rule of law and moderation that she championed will prevail not only in Pakistan and the Indian Subcontinent, but among responsible Muslim leaders, such as Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who have reaffirmed their commitment to work toward peace and reconciliation with Israel. It is also incumbent upon Americans to realize the continuing danger violent extremists pose. We must continue to make our friends and neighbors at home and abroad aware of the battle Israel fights daily against such dangerous elements. As Bhutto’s assassination shows, that battle is not Israel’s alone but a call to arms for all peace-loving peoples. A peaceful Middle East and movement toward moderation and the rule of law in Pakistan and throughout the Muslim world would be the best possible tributes to the legacy of Benazir Bhutto.