The future of Pakistan is now blurrier than ever. With the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, stability and peace of the country are at stake. Pakistan"s military ruler Pervez Musharaf condemned the assassination of his political rival, and so did American President George Bush and other Western officials. Yet it is patently clear that both Musharaf and Bush share the responsibility of the assassination.
It is too early to judge who killed Bhutto. It might be extremists, but it is also possible that Musharif and Pakistani Intelligence killed her, as her husband suggested. In her last speech, Bhutto attacked terrorists and Musharaf, and asserted her confidence that her party will secure a comfortable victory in the upcoming legislative elections. Exactly which of these statements cost her life is a question yet to be answered.
Yet in both cases, it was the failure of American foreign policy that killed Bhutto. The US support of Musharaf while claiming to support democracy empowered radicals, who were pushed to disbelieve in the fruitfulness of peaceful reform. Musharaf, who portrays himself as a "moderate" ally of America, capitalizes on American support to crackdown on his political opponents. The emergence of a "moderate" yet powerful opponent threatens his very existence, and therefore Bhutto had to disappear. He knows that American supports Bhutto, but he also knows that his regime gets more support, and that the pressure for reform and democracy is not real.
The catastrophe Pakistan is now facing does not come as a surprise to observers. Following Bhutto"s return to the country a few months back, a wave of violence and escalations has erupted, sending alarming signals for the future of genuine reform in the country. Within a couple of months, at least 550 people were killed and injured and President Musharaf declared the state of emergency. As independent judges took a stance against Musharaf and Nawaz Sharif returned to the country, tensions were on the rise. International pressures were not enough for Musharaf to give up on running for presidency, and nothing seemed to stop him. Bhutto"s assassination came as another (and hopefully the final) step in the wrong direction.
The story in Egypt is almost the same. Another military governor is ruling the country, and has been holding presidency for over 26 years. Mubarak portrays himself as a moderate ally for America in the Middle East, a mediator in peace talks, and a partner in the war on terrorism. Yet his authoritarian policies have led to the emergence of terrorism, and scrutinizing CVs of terrorists chased by international society reveals that a large number of them were previously imprisoned and subjected to torture in Egyptian prisons.
With the American pressure for change in 2005, two significant trends were on the rise, and seemed to challenge Mubarak"s thrown. Liberal and Islamist reformers emerged as potential alternatives for a regime suffering from eroding popularity and increasing public discontent. Ayman Nour, a young articulate parliamentarian and a prominent liberal reformer contested Mubarak in the presidential elections. Despite massive media distortion campaigns, massive voting of government employees and election manipulation in some areas, Nour came second, and appeared as a real threat for the devilish inheritance plan by which Gamal Mubarak is expected to take over his 79-year-old father"s presidency.
It was only a couple of months later that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country"s largest opposition group and the region"s most powerful and influential moderate Islamist movement, contested the ruling NDP in the parliamentary elections, and scored a manifest victory. The group contested on only 150 seats (one third of the parliament) and secured 88, despite massive arrests for group"s supporters and fixing results. Mubarak"s regime attempted to portray the group"s success and a threat to democracy, claiming the group will undermine civil liberties and minority rights. An OpEd piece published by the group"s deputy chief Khayrat el Shater in the Guardian clarified the group"s stances of different issues, and was followed by practical stances of elected MP manifesting their belief in equality and justice, and conforming that democracy promotion in the top priority on their political agenda.
Although publicly supporting democracy and condemning the crackdown on political opponents, the American administration continued to support Mubarak"s regime. Its pressures did not prevent him from resorting to extralegal measures to get his political prisoners out of his way. Today, both Nour and el Shater are in prison, ironically in the same prison. The former was sentenced to 5 years over clearly fabricated charges, while the latter is currently standing before a military tribunal expected to conclude very shortly with prison sentences, after he was acquitted 4 times by civilian courts, which found the charges he"s facing to be "groundless, fabricated and politically motivated with no substantial evidence whatsoever."
Alarming signals sent by the developments in Pakistan over the past months are echoed in Egypt. Nour and el Shater are both behind bars, and Mubarak is continuously resorting to extralegal measures to silence his opposition. Over the past few months, tens of reports have been released revealing stories of citizens being tortured by officers in police stations. Workers and government employees have repeatedly protested the rapid increase in prices as economic indicators illustrated a 25% increase in prices of the basic goods and commodities. The constitutional amendments that were ratified a few months ago allow for further violations of human rights, and close the doors of peaceful reform. Increasing tensions between Bedwins in Sinai and security forces further complicate the rule of law, and the regime intensified its crackdown on press by sending 4 independent newspaper editors to prison.
Lack of sufficient pressure for change and reform in Pakistan while continuing to support the dictatorial regime paved the way for the ruthless assassination of Bhutto and around 20 of her supporters. It is clear that stability of the region will be severely undermined in the aftermath of the assassination. Yet it seems the lesson has yet to be learned, as America and Western government continue to support Mubarak"s regime while providing only verbal support for democracy advocates in the country.
Bhutto"s death will cause a setback for the war on terrorism in South East Asia, and Egypt is now following the footsteps of Pakistan. The reverse of America"s unconditional support for Mubarak in now essential save the country and the region from an unknown destiny.