Pakistan: The Fallout after Bhutto’s Killing
The killing of top Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has triggered a storm of political unrest, which only time and military intervention will calm.
The killing of top Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has triggered a storm of political unrest in the South Asian country. For now, Pakistan People’s Party activists are the ones engaged in rioting and arson against facilities of government and rival parties in the two main provinces of Punjab and Sindh. But soon this violence could lead to clashes between various groups. The situation already is getting out of hand for the police, and it is likely that paramilitary and military forces will be called in to quell the growing disturbances.
As the guarantor of state stability, all eyes are going to be on the Pakistani military to see how quickly it can contain the fallout from Bhutto’s death. Given that the country was already going through a period of significant instability coupled with the unprecedented jihadist insurgency, questions remain about whether the army will be able to gain control of the situation quickly. Bhutto’s death creates a major vacuum in Pakistan, and will make it difficult to stabilize the situation since her Pakistan People's Party, which is the only true national-level party, is going to weaken without her. This will lead to a fragmentation of the political landscape and by extension the country.
The Pakistani military is strong and large, and eventually will take care of the situation. It can make a strong showing in the major cities, especially in Punjab. Even so, stout resistance from an urban population is a very challenging thing.
It is highly unlikely that elections can be held any time soon, and the imposition of martial law is also a distinct possibility because that will give the army direct control of the situation. Meanwhile, the double polarization of the country -- where Islamist forces are struggling with mainstream ones on one hand and the pro-democracy forces are competing with authoritarianism on the other -- will further complicate matters if the army takes direct control of the situation.
Depending on how rapidly the situation deteriorates, army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani could step in and take charge. But he will have to tread carefully and work with an array of civilian forces because direct military rule could worsen the situation. There is also the potential for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who could see Bhutto's death as an opportunity, to reinsert himself in a new military junta. Either way, a cooling-off period will be required before stabilization can be achieved.