Washington Babylon — December 27, 2007, 12:19 pm

Pakistan: First Reaction from Wayne White

At this early stage it’s hard to gauge the fallout and implications of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, but the impact will clearly be huge both in Pakistan and in regard to American relations with that country. The situation is disturbing. President Pervez Musharraf only recently lifted a state of emergency. With parliamentary elections scheduled for two weeks from now, opposition leaders Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both former prime ministers, had agreed “to cooperate in some constituencies by not fielding candidates against each other, in a bid to defeat contenders from the Musharraf-backed party.”

Bhutto had strong support from some within the Bush administration because, as the New York Times summarized today, “she was openly critical of Mr. Musharraf’s ineffectiveness at dealing with Islamic militants and welcomed American involvement, unlike…Sharif.” The assassination, the story continued, “adds to the enormous pressure on the Bush Administration over Pakistan, which has sunk billions in aid into the country without accomplishing its main goals of finding Osama bin Laden or ending the activities of Islamic militants and Taliban in border areas with Afghanistan.” Pakistan has also figured in the U.S. presidential race. Just recently, Barack Obama said the U.S. should hunt down bin Laden in Pakistan, with or without Pakistani permission.

I called Wayne White, the former deputy director of the State Department’s Middle East and South Asia intelligence office, to ask for his thoughts on the issues. Our brief interview follows:

How will Bhutto’s assassination play out in regard to the parliamentary elections?
People will watch closely to see where her constituency goes and who it blames for her death. The assumption is that the assassin is an Islamic militant, but there will doubtless be conspiracy theories in Pakistan that blame Musharraf. If those theories take hold it could energize her base and move votes to her party or to [the party of] Nawaz Sharif, the only opposition figure left standing at this point. It’s bad news for Musharraf, which is another reason he probably had nothing to do with this. He was upset by the return of Bhutto and Sharif, but he’s not stupid. The last thing he would want to happen is for one of them to get killed. If he’s thought to be involved in this, it will erode his popularity and base.

How should the United States respond to Bhutto’s assassination?
The administration should stand back and see how things shake out. The best position right now is to not get involved in Pakistan’s internal politics. There is a strong and rising anti-American current over there, which should give us pause. To the extent that the United States signals support for anyone, it weakens that party. We should support the democratic process and not worry about the outcome as long as the winners are from Pakistan’s mainstream secular political class.

What is the best outcome?
Regardless of who wins the election, the best outcome is simply stability. That’s why calls for U.S. intervention in Pakistan, whether justified or not, are highly irresponsible. That fuels militant Islamic sentiment, which is a major force in Pakistan’s politics. The United States is never going to be satisfied with the level of support it gets from the government of Pakistan, because it’s just not politically possible for the government there to side too closely with us. What you want is political leadership with credibility in the country and that will press to the limits of what is possible. Any leader from the country’s political mainstream will do their best to keep a grip on security because terrorism threatens them as well as us. They will be predisposed to help us.

Sharif spoke outside of the hospital where Bhutto died. How do you think he feels about another secular leader being killed by Islamists? He is not going to be averse to cooperation on terrorism, even if he has to be somewhat evasive and secretive about it at times. We should ignore anti-American rhetoric on the part of political candidates, which is designed to win votes–just as much of U.S. election rhetoric should be ignored. Rhetoric won’t have an impact on actions taken after the elections, so ignore the rhetoric and count on the current ruling political class to secure an outcome with which the United States can live.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2015

Loitering With Intent

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Polite Coup

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Findings

What Went Wrong

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Shooting Down Man the Hunter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
What Went Wrong·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In the seventh year of his presidency, Barack Obama was presenting himself as a politician who followed the path of least resistance. This is a disturbing confession.”
Photograph by Pete Souza
Article
Surviving a Failed Pregnancy·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If this woman — who spent her days studying gray screens for early signs of gestation — could not see my pregnancy, what were the chances that anyone else would?”
Illustration by Leigh Wells
Article
Interesting Facts·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“My husband is forty-six. I am forty-five. He does not think that, in my forties, after cancer, chemotherapy, and chemically induced menopause, I can get pregnant again, but sisters, I know my womb. It’s proven.”
Photograph by McNair Evans
Post
Kid Chocolate’s Place·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Cuban eyes often look close to tears.”
Illustration by the author
Article
Thirty Million Gallons Under the Sea·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If you short-circuit the bottom, you threaten the entire cycle,” Joye told me. “Without a healthy ocean, we’ll all be dead.”
Illustration by John Ritter

Length in days of the sentence Russian blogger Alexei Navalny served for leading an opposition rally last year:

15

Israeli researchers developed software that evaluates the depression of bloggers.

A teenager in Singapore was convicted of obscenity for posts critical of Lee Kuan Yew, the country’s founding father, that included an image of Lee having sex with Margaret Thatcher.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today