December 27, 2007

Bad News

Benazir Bhutto was killed in Pakistan by a suicide bomber.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 27, 2007 09:25 AM

I have nothing profound to say about this but I have long viewed Pakistan as a Crypto-Failed-State. It seems to exist as a geographical, anti-Indian, cricket playing, entity and really not much else.

All that is really important to know about Pakistan is this :

Bin Laden More Popular Than Musharraf.

While other areas of the nut-bar producing World seem to have 'learned' something over the past few years, Pakistan has continued its rapid descent into Islamic Cluelessness and Denial.

Bhutto had faults but she was one courageous person. I feel sure she knew her like was in constant danger from the monsters in human form. Unhappily I fear the malignancy in Pakistan is now beyond all 'cures' except the use of last-ditch radical surgery designed to literally cutout the infected areas of the State that are in the grip of this lunacy.

How telling is it that Bhutto is now dead, while Nawaz Sharif, the 'closet' nut-bar Islamist, is still wandering around loose ? Easy to see who the threat was perceived to be. And who is viewed as 'meaningless'.

Ah well, looks like " the worse the better" is going to be the operating principle, after all, whether we like it or not. We can only hope for the better part at some point, because it surely is extremely likely to now get worse.


Posted by: dougf at December 27, 2007 09:49 AM

This news was THE First Thing I heard this morning when the clock-radio went off.
I thought 'Ah, Fuck' too. (Deep Sigh)
I then saw a replay of a recent interview with her on the Today show in which she expressed herself eloquently and courageously about standing up for her country and not being afraid. Whatever else she might have been, she was very brave.

Posted by: lindsey at December 27, 2007 10:55 AM

As the news was breaking, Patrick said (in the prior thread):

"In itself, this is bad. It is also bad that we are going to have to listen to years of conspiracy theories. It does show that Pakistan is going to need a lot of security for a long time. I really hope that the US doesn't find itself doing the work there, but I don't see anyone else who can."

For who (besides the US) could provide security in Pakistan, just ask the following:
- who shares a border with Pakistan, and
- has an enormous army, and also
- probably wouldn't mind having an additional domestic access to the ocean (if only to avoid shipping petroleum thru the pirate-infested Straits), and finally
- has a history of taking over neighboring countries (e.g. Tibet, but including bits of Pakistan and India) that are apparently in no condition to defend themselves?

Not saying that China would necessarily decide that it would be worth the effort. But if they are interested, they certainly have the resources to do so.

As for whether that would be better (from a pragmatic US perspective) than the current situation, that's a whole different question. But I would expect India to be extremely unhappy to see it -- even though it removed Pakistan as a military threat.

Posted by: wj at December 27, 2007 12:08 PM

This is very bad news, but I'm afraid it could be the beginning of somthing much worse.

Posted by: joefrommass at December 27, 2007 01:35 PM

It's been suggested that the bomber shot her, and then blew up the crowd.

Amazingly savage. An attempt a few months ago involved trying to hand her a baby girl with a bomb strapped to it.

Funny that the Washington post had to spin that story by speculating that the baby girl had been kidnapped - which I suppose made it seem more criminal and slightly less frightening than the paper (in India maybe) I read that reported that the terrorist handing over the baby was probably the baby's father.


Posted by: Josh Scholar at December 27, 2007 01:45 PM

Hitchens on the assassination.

Especially read the last four paragraphs.

Posted by: Josh Scholar at December 27, 2007 01:47 PM

Aw crap. From bad to worse.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at December 27, 2007 04:06 PM

I had a really nice Christmas holiday ... up to now.

Terrible news -- a courageous, beautiful, intelligent, yet highly corrupt (competent?) political opponent to the Pakistan dictator is murdered.

After multiple attempts.

How terrorism works -- the terrorists kill those who disagree in public.

The first Rule of Law is Enforcement. Terrorists are often successful at enforcing their rules.

Sigh. Sadness.

Posted by: Tom Grey at December 27, 2007 06:25 PM

In several articles you mention how important it is to the Iraqi people to share a cup of tea, like breaking bread with them so to speak. Is there a place that we can send some tea that it would get to them. A small gesture, but another way of reaching out to the Iraqi families. Just an idea.
Thanks for the always amazing articles...God Bless you in the coming year and Be Safe.

Posted by: Anna at December 27, 2007 06:34 PM

Sorry, Anna, I have no idea how you could send Iraqis some tea.

Spirit of America is a charity that does good work in Iraq (I used to do contract work for them) and you can donate to Iraqis through them. But I don't think tea is an option.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 27, 2007 09:04 PM

Mark Steyn posted some comments on NR that I really do agree with. I remember thinking back when she returned to Pakistan that it was only a matter of time until she was killed. I'm not surprised at all by this. Hitchens comments on Slate about her Bravery, recalling personal anecdotes, but something about all this doesn't shock me. If Pakistan is going to go in the right direction, they really do need someone, or some people, that are more remarkable than her. I may get flamed for this, but it's just how I feel.

Posted by: Meg at December 27, 2007 09:26 PM


This is kind of a sensitive subject in some ways because sharing tea is also a matter of hospitality, which is a critical thing for the culture. Offering to share hospitality with Iraqi's in Iraq could be viewed as an indication that America was making itself at home; so it will be denounced as that by our enemies. Our generosity is often taken the wrong way by people in the region, it is insulting to the people there to be unable to offer hospitality.

One way that this might work would be to share a virtual cup of tea online through some video chat. Since it would be physically impossible for either party to be inhospitable, both parties could drink their own tea and honor would be served. If you could set this up with a local cafe where you are, somebody in Iraq could do the same thing. If you are interested, post something on my site and I'll discuss this offline.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 27, 2007 11:49 PM


Nobody trusts the US to stay, nobody trusts China to leave.

The biggest reason why China would want to do this is to blood their army, which hasn't faced a real opponent since Vietnam kicked their asses up around their ears, almost thirty years ago. China suffered almost as many casualties in six weeks as the US did in ten years.

China hasn't had a reality check on their military development, and they know it. Nobody in the history of the world has implemented a fraction of the changes the People's Liberation Army has with as little combat experience. For all their nifty new toys, their doctrine hasn't been tested and their coordination hasn't been stressed.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 27, 2007 11:57 PM

What's the Indian take on the assasination of Bhutto? We are so focused on what it means for our foreign policy--which is natural--that we are failing to look at this through Indian eyes. After all, if it looks like the Islamists get their hands on Pakistan's nukes, India might feel obligated to pre-empt. Yeah, Islamists hate Christians and Jews, but they also have a special hatred for Hindus.

I don't watch Pakistani politics like a hawk, but from what I understand it, it seems like an Islamist takeover might be a real possibility. Does anybody have any idea what America's response might be in the event of that ... eventuality?


Posted by: Zak at December 28, 2007 06:41 AM


The Islamists are getting 4 percent in the polls. The highest they've ever won in an election in all of Pakistan's history was 12 percent.

Islamists usually look a lot more popular and powerful from a distance than they really are. I don't see how they can take over. They sure can cause a lot of trouble, though.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 28, 2007 10:29 AM

Fair enough, Michael. However, I keep reading disturbing polls that indicate OBL is poular in Pakistan:

"WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- a key U.S. ally -- is less popular in his own country than al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a poll of Pakistanis conducted last month by an anti-terrorism organization. Additionally, nearly three-fourths of poll respondents said they oppose U.S. military action against al Qaeda and the Taliban inside Pakistan, according to results from the poll conducted by the independent polling organization Terror Free Tomorrow. "We have conducted 23 polls all over the Muslim world, and this is the most disturbing one we have conducted," said Ken Ballen, the group's head. "Pakistan is the one Muslim nation that has nuclear weapons, and the people who want to use them against us -- like the Taliban and al Qaeda -- are more popular there than our allies like Musharraf."

Even if the polls are wrong, Pakistani society is dangerously factured and the military -- and especially ISI -- are apparently riddled with Taliban sympathizers.

However, if I've learned anything about Middle East watching, it's that it's foolish to make predictions (unless one predicts that the Palestinians won't get their act together, because they won't).


Posted by: Zak at December 28, 2007 10:49 AM

Mr. Totten,

Have you ever thought of doing a story from Pakistan? Or do you regard that as being even more dangerous than Iraq?

Posted by: Meg at December 28, 2007 10:56 AM

I'd like to see a poll asking Pakistanis who they would rather have as president of Pakistan, Musharraf or Osama bin Laden. That would force them to take the question a little more seriously.

But Musharraf is the Yasser Arafat of Pakistan anyway. He's a scumbag dictator, compromised by his own links to terrorists, and not a real ally. So I'm not terribly concerned about this poll.

How many would vote for bin Laden in a race where Musharraf wasn't the only opposing candidate? If Islamist parties only get 4 percent in the polls now, my guess is that around 2 percent of Pakistanis would vote for Osama bin Laden as president. (I'm assuming, safely I think, that not all Islamists are as extreme as he is.)

It's easy to cheerlead bin Laden when he kills people in other places, like the United States and Iraq.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 28, 2007 10:57 AM


I am considering going to Pakistan. And it probably is more dangerous than Iraq because I wouldn't have any bodyguards.

Iraq is objectively a lot more dangerous, in general, but not for me personally because I can embed with the military and have the best security detail in the world.

If I do go to Pakistan, you won't know it until I am out.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at December 28, 2007 11:01 AM

No, go to Iran!

Posted by: Zak at December 28, 2007 12:09 PM

Sounds like I'd better read up on the traditions of the Iraqi people. Thank you Michael and Patrick for pointing out to me the meaning of sharing tea. It was something I didn't know. Made me realize the vast difference in our cultures.

Posted by: Anna at December 28, 2007 02:31 PM


You wrote: "The Islamists are getting 4 percent in the polls. The highest they've ever won in an election in all of Pakistan's history was 12 percent. Islamists usually look a lot more popular and powerful from a distance than they really are. I don't see how they can take over."

I don't think the Islamist plan in Pakistan is to win power through the ballot box so the level of popular support probably isn't all that important to them. Given the weakness of Pakistan's central government, Islamists probably have two reallistic paths to gaining power, which are both based largely on fear and intimidation. Thus, a logical short term strategy would be to stage a coup by Islamist or Islamist sympathizing officers in the Army and ISI to gain control of the exisiting government. A long term approach would be to slowly expland the areas under their control and their infiltration of the Pakistani Army until they believed it would fail to oppose a series of armed rebellions by affiliated groups. This could be done on a piece-meal, province-by-province basis until the whole country was swallowed up.

Posted by: Mark-In-Chi-Town at December 28, 2007 04:02 PM


Properly established, this could be very interesting and a productive activity.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at December 28, 2007 06:23 PM

"Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf -- a key U.S. ally -- is less popular in his own country than al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to a poll of Pakistanis conducted last month by an anti-terrorism organization"

I personally cannot read much from it.

Does it mean Al-Qaeda is very popular or it does it mean Musharraf is not very popular or both ... or something else?

From the same article:

"Laden has a 46 percent approval rating. Musharraf's support is 38 percent ... Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto -- a relatively moderate and progressive figure, as well as a woman -- had a 63 percent approval rating."


According to CNN it is the same poll:

"There were a few bright spots in the poll results, however ..." - it is in regard to Bhutto's 63%.

Go figure.

Posted by: leo at December 28, 2007 09:11 PM

No, go to Iran!

I suspect Michael's prior coverage of Iran's pet terrorist outfit has landed him on Iran's 'do not allow entry' list.

Re the poll: asking people 'do you approve or disapprove of [insert name here]' is a very different question than 'of these three, which do you like most'?

In the latter case, you expect x+y+z+declined = 100%. In the former, you don't.

Posted by: rosignol at December 29, 2007 03:27 PM
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