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December 27, 2007
The tragic Dec. 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, poses great challenges to that nation's move to full democracy, while underscoring its importance in the war against terrorism. To gain some perspective on the situation, the Stanford News Service asked a few of the most pressing questions to Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a professor (by courtesy) of political science and sociology, and coordinator of the Democracy Program at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.
Q. Who do you think is responsible for Benazir Bhutto's assassination?
Diamond: This is a terrible tragedy. It's pretty clearly the work of Islamic terrorists in some form. Either Al-Qaeda itself, or some affiliate or sympathizer, since this is only one of many attacks both on her and President Musharraf by the same Islamic extremists.
Q. Should the Pakistani elections be postponed?
Diamond: I think the best answer to this question has been given by former ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain. Her point was that, more important than whether the elections should be postponed, is the process by which the decision is made. The key issue here is that President Musharraf has to stop dictating, and consult more in making crucial decisions on Pakistan's political future. This in particular has to be a decision that commands consensus among various political parties.
Q. What does this mean for the future of democracy in Pakistan?
Diamond: Obviously, this is a very great blow to the democratic process. The country's most passionate advocate for a return to full civil democracy has been assassinated. But the aspiration for democracy still remains widespread in the country and the critical need now is for a truly free and fair electoral process, and that has not been the case up until now. There's been extensive government manipulation and control of the Urdu-language media, an obvious lack of security for opposition candidates, and a general climate of intimidation on behalf of government forces. If Pakistan is going to return to democracy this has to change and the United States should demand that it change. Probably the best course at this point would be broad consultations among the various political forces, leading to a postponement of the election and mutually agreed-upon steps to ensure a freer political climate and a more level playing field.
Q. What does this mean for the war on terror?
Diamond: This is yet another sign that Pakistan—and in particular its Northwest Frontier Province—has become one of the epicenters of the global jihadist movement. If we are going to be successful in rolling back Islamist terror in the world we have to be successful in Pakistan. That cannot happen unless Pakistan gets a more legitimate form of government that can command the democratic support of the people. The answer is not another state of emergency. The answer is for President Musharraf to take more sincere and far-reaching steps to restore genuine democracy to Pakistan and thereby achieve a more sustainable national consensus for fighting terrorism within the country.
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