In his article in the Financial Times that appeared on the morning of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, Steve Clemons, a foreign policy expert at the New America Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, was quoted making what turned out to be a prophetic utterance on the future of the US election campaign.
Stating that domestic issues were currently pre-occupying US voters, he thought this would only change if "... there is some collision of some kind—a disaster in Iraq, a high level assassination overseas or something of that order" ("War in Iraq slips down voters' agenda" by Daniel Dombey and Demetri Sevastopulo, FT, Dec. 27, 2007).
Within hours of Clemons making this statement Pakistan's opposition leader and a favorite to win elections scheduled for January 8th was assassinated. America's best hope for a successful transition to democracy and a positive outcome to the War on Terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan was dead.
A Pakistani national who edits a newspaper for the émigré Pakistani community in and around Chicago was interviewed later in the day on WGN's noon news program. He felt that "she was not murdered because she was a politician. She was murdered because she was a woman." She was the first female Muslim leader, an offence to more conservative and militant Islamists.
While this may be true, others interviewed on various news programs throughout the day speculated that al-Qaeda was behind the assassination because Ms Bhutto was perceived as an agent of American interests.
Either way, America's best hope for a peaceful transition to democracy in Pakistan is dead, and the country's future is even more uncertain. The country is seriously threatened by Islamic extremists, including al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the former religious zealots who ruled Afghanistan.
A victory by these groups would be far more serious than their victory in Afghanistan, as Pakistan is a nuclear power. Victory would also enable many more overseas Pakistanis and their descendants to return and learn terrorist tactics in the nation's training camps that trained the terrorists responsible for the attacks on London's transportation system in July 2005.
As in many former British colonies, Pakistan's ruling elite is pro-western and supportive of democracy. Benazir Bhutto was educated at both Harvard and Oxford universities. Although the Bhutto family dynasty came from this ruling elite, it had the support of many poorer Pakistanis, particularly in their own tribal areas.
Yet her two earlier periods in office as Prime Minister both ended abruptly amidst accusations of corruption—as had her father's term in office. Ms Bhutto's husband remains under a cloud of suspicion also. But this has not stopped her party from appointing him to a co-chair position with their son, currently a 19 year old freshman at Oxford University.
Corruption is a major problem in Pakistan and other Third World countries. It is the primary reason for the poverty that is so pervasive in many parts of the world.
This same poverty breeds extremism. In Pakistan, that translates to Islamic militancy among those looking to religion for economic and political salvation. Few understand the real menace of Afghanistan under the Taliban. All they see is the corruption of their politicians who exploit their power and influence for self-gain, thus giving democracy a bad name.
Ms Bhutto's assassination highlights a dilemma for the United States. Washington has been encouraging Pakistan's leader, Pervez Musharaff, to restore democracy through a free election. This is not the first time al-Qaeda has staged a major terrorist attack immediately before a national election.
Spain in 2004 is perhaps the best earlier example. But attacks have also occurred in other nations in an attempt to show contempt for democracy and influence the outcome of an election. Spain's conservative government fell to a new socialist government as a direct result of the subway attacks that left almost 200 people dead just three days before a national election. These pre-election attacks must raise questions about security as the US gets closer to its November election.
Also, being a friend of America is very risky. Ms Bhutto likely died partly because of her pro-American sentiments. Although they are both still alive, support by Britain's Tony Blair and Australia's John Howard for American policy contributed to the loss of their premierships. Truly, the United States has "become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth" (Deuteronomy 28:25 Deuteronomy 28:25The LORD shall cause you to be smitten before your enemies: you shall go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shall be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth.
American King James Version×).