Conspiracy and Democracy in Pakistan
Editorial; New York Times, January 7, 2008
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has bowed, somewhat, to domestic pressure and called in Scotland Yard to help figure out who killed Benazir Bhutto. A credible investigation is urgently needed and Mr. Musharraf — who has no credibility of his own — needs all the help he can get.
Unfortunately, the ex-general immediately raised doubts about how much freedom British police will have to do their job. Even as he insisted that he wants to know how his political rival really died, he insisted that no government officials were involved and warned against investigators going on a “wild goose chase.” That doesn’t sound as if he’s ready to encourage full cooperation.
The government says the assassin was a Qaeda operative, while Ms. Bhutto’s followers charge that it was the work of people with either past or present ties to Mr. Musharraf. Until there is a credible explanation, there is no hope of calming the country’s turmoil. And more turmoil is the last thing that Pakistan, with its nuclear weapons and its cozy ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, needs.
Investigators are already facing serious technical obstacles. The crime scene was hosed down by government workers, washing away potential evidence. And there was no autopsy done on Ms. Bhutto’s body — both because her husband didn’t want it and because Pakistani officials failed to order it. An autopsy may be the only way to determine if she was shot, as her supporters believe but the government initially denied, and who aimed the weapon.
Even if he permits a serious investigation, Mr. Musharraf will need to do a lot more to calm furies in Pakistan. He delayed this week’s planned parliamentary elections until Feb. 18. For the vote to have any hope of legitimacy, Mr. Musharraf must now release jailed democratic activists and lawyers, lift press restrictions, allow international monitors to observe the polling, and permit Nawaz Sharif, now the country’s most prominent opposition leader, to stand for election. The United States must insist that Mr. Musharraf do all of this and make clear that ballot-rigging will be exposed and condemned.
The weaknesses of Pakistan’s democracy go beyond Mr. Musharraf. The fact that Ms. Bhutto’s political party quickly chose her husband — long tainted by charges of corruption — and her college-student son as its leaders underscores the system’s feudal nature. Real democracy will take a long time to build in Pakistan, but it’s the only path to stability. And it needs to start now.