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December 29, 2007


Well, I'm not a Pakistan expert, either, but:

If, however, the military turns out to be the guilty party, then things could get really nasty, really fast.

I suspect that we're not going to know for sure (even in publically-accessible terms) who was really "the guilty party" for a while. A long, long while, if Musharraf was really involved.

Or does Pakistan have a long-standing tradition of whistle-blowers who tell all -- and live to corroborate the tale?

(Cynical observers of US history between 1963 and 1969 might be tempted here to utter a few mordant chuckles.)

It is certainly true that a lot turns on who gets blamed for this, rather than who did it. It's also true that the military could have done it, of course, as could any number of other people. That said, I'm skeptical of Cernig's argument.

For one thing, it was predictable beforehand that Musharraf would be blamed for this. I think that while it might look here as though there's a consensus (among the people we're likely to read) that some sort of extremists are to blame, that's probably a lot less true in Pakistan, for (at least) this one reason: the army was responsible for her security.

For that reason, I don't think that anyone in the military could ever, for a moment, have thought that the army, and/or Musharraf, would not be blamed, at least for letting it happen.

And that means that while he might escape the bad consequences of being blamed here, he will almost surely not escape the bad consequences of being blamed there. And, again, they had to know this.

But doesn't that support Cernig's argument if the military was responsible for security but didn't follow through?

I'll certainly defer to you on Pakistan stuff, i just want to make sure I understand your point. Is it (1) skeptical of military involvement; (2) but military will be blamed, which is what really matters?

I also disagree with this, from Cernig: "Musharraf has already proven he and his military could hold the line against massive civil unrest in the areas he controls. As for the area he doesn't control - well, no-one does."

I suspect the army can control Pakistan, one way or another. But what has happened so far is *in no way* as bad as it could get, and it does not "prove" that M. can deal with it. -- After M. imposed martial law, Bhutto's party *did not* go all out against him. That made it much, much easier for him. As I said, I imagine the army will prevail even if they do. But there's a big difference between the kind of prevailing that happened last fall, and the kind of prevailing that he might have to do now.

It's also not clear what the army's limits are. Would they support M. indefinitely? If not, how bad do things have to get? If, as I assume, there are limits to their loyalty to him personally, then even if the PPP and its supporters cannot bring M. down by force, they might bring him down nonetheless.

That all depends on whether Bhutto's supporters go into serious, full-bore opposition, though. And I have no idea whether they will.

the million dollar question is whether this person acted without the help of the military or the intelligence services. The short answer is that I don’t know, but I suspect they did

I believe that "without" is supposed to be "with" (or, if you want to make things complicated, the "did" could be switched to "did not").

publius: I don't really know, of course. I just think that the military has a *lot* to lose from her death. They were not popular before -- my sense, from e.g. reading papers and stuff, is that while originally there was a pretty significant group of Pakistanis who said: well, sure, the army is suspending the Constitution and all, but things need to be shaken up, Musharraf has more than worn out his welcome in those quarters -- but they will be a lot less popular now.

I also think this "lot to lose" was entirely predictable. Those are really the only points I wanted to make.

I guess one more would be: I think it's worth asking to what extent the army is fully unified. Certainly "the Pakistani defense/intelligence agencies" are not. But is it possible that some group in the military was in some way involved, without the military as a whole being involved? I don't know the answer to that question.

I think we can all agree on a few things:

Al Qaeda is bad.
The Taleban is bad.
Hamas is bad.
Osama Bin Laden is bad.

And the Bhutto thing is no big deal because we already knew that al Qaeda is bad. Ding ding ding. Now we’re ready to go to work for the State Department.

And, for the grown-ups, please read the Muslim Student Association's link to the Qur’an and Hadith (start with Chapter 9 of the Qur’an):


"I’m far … far … from an expert on Pakistan."

Um. Good reason, then, to be posting?

Some might ask whether there is actually a difference now betwee, the Islamist extremists and the ISI, the latter being (from what I read) pretty out of control and highly sympathetic towards Taliban&Co (their bas_tard children as some call them).

"some" is not aimed at anyone specific and does not intend to imply anything.

Hartmut beat me to it but military and Al Qaida involvement are by no means exclusive options. The ISI originally funded the Taliban and there are many supporters of Islamic fundamentalism in the army and especially in the ISI. Musharraf hasn't even dared to seriously try to purge them, although he did fire some of the leadership when he took over. It's easy to envision a scenario where Al Qaida provided the assassin and sympathetic elements in the military provided intel and ways to defeat security. Notably, the Army cordon failed to stop the guy while the inner PPP cordon succeeded. We can at least say that if Bhutto's party were entirely responsible for her security she'd probably be alive, so the military was at the very least negligent.

Well, I recently called your Bartlett post one of your best. This is one of your worst posts.

1) You acknowledge limited knowledge of the country and its ins and outs.

2) Secondly, you decide the military is the likely culprit. WTF does that mean? The military in any country is not some monolithic entity.

3) And you conclude that no matter who it turns out to be, we should resist taking Musharraf's government's word for it. So you admit we will never know, the world will never know, Pakistan will never know.

So what si the purpose.

BTW, hilzoy's comments are very perceptive. Sometimes if you want to know who did something, instead of looking to see who has the most to gain, ask who has the most to lose and who woudl benefit from that.

Ofcourse, when aren't her comments eprceptive? Missed you, hilzoy.

I'm sorry to say I disagree with this approach, "who benefits" is an extremely tempting but extremely fruitless line of questioning in such societies. Every apart from Bhutto benefits really, and any of dozens of conspiracy theories are plausible.

Generally in the West we are eager to attribute unlimited deviousness to those governments we brand with the 'regime' label - Pakistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran etc. - but the reality is often much more prosaic. If really powerful people in Pakistan want to neutralise Bhutto, they have more open ways of doing it, these aren't people who feel the need to conceal their power.

I'm not ruling anything out - and it's doubtful we'll ever have a solid explanation - but I'm skeptical that any high-level generals would feel the need to operate this way, they're not the type to hide or apologise for their actions.

Also, while it's a sad day for Pakistan politically-speaking, let's not weep to much for Bhutto. It's a sad reflection on that country's politics that some well-connected crook hoping for her third round at the money trough was considered their salvation. I don't wish anyone their death, but this lady seems seriously over-hyped by western foreign ministires in recent years.

It's a sad reflection on that country's politics that some well-connected crook hoping for her third round at the money trough was considered their salvation.

Any country which has appointed a pair of well-connected crooks to be President and Vice President, twice, really needs to consider that Benazir Bhutto was no more corrupt that Pakistani politicians generally - and much more effective than the usual run.

Any country which has appointed a pair of well-connected crooks to be President and Vice President, twice, really needs to consider that Benazir Bhutto was no more corrupt that Pakistani politicians generally - and much more effective than the usual run.

I had no idea that byyningman was a country. Good show old man! Have you gotten your UN seat yet? Might I trouble you for diplomatic immunity?

I was not aware that Bhutto's level of corruption was the norm for Pakistani politicians nor that she was "more effective" than most. Do you have any citations for either assertion? Certainly, her regime's activities in Afghanistan make me uncomfortable about her effectiveness.

I think the real issue here is that most people we see in the media who are talking about how terrible a tragedy this is for Pakistan and how great a leader Bhutto was don't actually know anything about Pakistan. They don't read Urdu, they haven't studied any history, they don't talk with actual Pakistanis, etc. So their opinions derive solely from the fact that Bhutto was a Harvard grad, worked at the Crimson, met all the right people, maintained ties throughout her exile, and generally convinced idiotic westerners that she was Pakistan's salvation. And maybe she was! But most of media folk saying that seem to have no basis for believing that beyond how personally charming and pro-western she seemed. The Reaganesque media hagiography is getting a bit thick, and I suspect that byrningman may have been reacting to that.

I changed it to "country" because I didn't intend to make a personal attack on byr: I wanted to note that the casual attacks on Bhutto for her corruption come as often from people who do not regard their own country's history of internal and external corruption as anything particularly blameworthy.

Is it unusual in the US for someone to become President while still having a charge of insider trading - apparently dropped merely because at the time he allegedly committed the crime, his father was President - hanging over his head? Is it unusual for someone to hand the company of which he was CEO, which fattened itself greatly at the government trough while he was CEO, to become Vice President and then within his first term as V-P, hand that company rich no-bid contracts? Is the untraced disappearance of $8.8 billion from the Development Fund for Iraq so normal in US politics that it was unsurprising that Bush and Cheney were never called to account for their administration just "losing" one-third of the DFI?

Never mind whether the corruption charges alleged against Benazir Bhutto were normal in Pakistani politics. (They were.) Are they anything next to the corruption charges that could be alleged against Bush and Cheney, were anyone in the US with the power to do so interested?

Corruption of US politics aside, I think we can agree that the assassination of Bush and/or Cheney, followed by the death of their killer along with two dozen people standing next to the killer, would be bad, on all levels.

So can we agree this is also true of Benazir Bhutto? Like it or not, in Pakistan she was immensely popular, and would likely have won a third election had she run for office. Whoever benefits by her death, the people of Pakistan are the losers, as are the people of neighboring countries. This is so, regardless of which of the corruption charges brought against her may be true. Her corruptness as a politician is irrelevant to the disaster her assassination brings - just as Bush's corruption would be if he were assassinated.

I changed it to "country" because I didn't intend to make a personal attack on byr

Actually I'm Irish, and while we certainly do have corruption in our politics, we also have had some pretty admirable tribunals lately to bring even the highest people in the land to account, but I digress...

Naturally high-profile political assassination is a terrible thing for Pakistan but I was merely pointing out that an absurd array of mawkish obituaries are perhaps misplaced in this case. And there is fire under that smoke - even the Swiss prosecuted for money-laundering, which is akin to being arrested for singing the anthem in the US.

Westernised does not mean 'good'.

I'm going to second Jesurgislac's opinion here: Benazir Bhutto's relative levels of "corruption" (which by all accounts would have been considered heinous by US/Euro standards, but more-or-less typical for Pakistan) are most decidedly NOT the issue.

Martyrdom by political assassination creates, in so many cases, a "halo effect"; which can persist for a very long time (John F. Kennedy comes to mind) - but the immediate aftermath of a political murder isn't, IMHO, quite the time to try to quash it. That's what "history" is for.

Oh, and FWIW, I also agree with publius: the near-instant "Al-Qaeda did it" "solution" to the Bhutto assassination is just a little TOO quick and way TOO convenient not to raise suspicions of glib misdirection (and with the useful side-effect of damping calls for a truly independent investigation). Mind you, Al-Qaeda actually might have done it - I certainly wouldn't put it past them - I just think something a little more like actual proof might be helpful.

I tend to agree with byrningman. Pretty much with everything said, but particularly that the encomiums for Bhutto, whose previous reign was deeply corrupt, and whose subsequent career was more so. Why we should ignore this, I don't know.

There are a hell of a lot of better people in Pakistan, and many aren't the children of folks like this. Bhutto was a war-monger. I was unclear that folks on the left, theoretically, approved of stuff like that, although the past has provided an abundance of revolutionary exceptions. But "we will fight for a thousand years" isn't exactly Gandhi.

Then there's the whole founding the nuclear weapons program. I'm again disinclined to applaud.

And as a rule, I don't favor hereditary rule. I tend to also hope that leftists wouldn't approve of that, but, again, one never knows who will find reasons to applaud what. Creepy corrupt hereditary rulers-now-and-again apparently have some appeal.

But it's not as if Pakistan lacks for genuine democrats. They just tend to be in jail. Why not favor that whole democratic movement thing, instead of hereditary personality cults?

And, obviously, "Cheney is corrupt" is hardly a reason to praise some other corrupt hereditary wannabe ruler. I mean, therefore Putin is also good? WTF?

"Naturally high-profile political assassination is a terrible thing for Pakistan but I was merely pointing out that an absurd array of mawkish obituaries are perhaps misplaced in this case."

If there were someone praising the assassination here, I'd missed that. Otherwise, non-existent comments tend not to need to be refuted.

I've not noticed anyone suggesting it was a good thing, myself.

I'm quite confident that Bhutto was the best available, simply because the other two relevant choices were so bad. Sharif has been playing footsie with the Islamists for years (his party has done a lot to install the kookier aspects of Sharia) and Musharraf is directly attacking core elements of civil society like regular elections and the judiciary. The extreme allegations against Bhutto are implausible (if she really had run off with billions, she would not have come back) and while mid-scale corruption is a bad thing, it doesn't strike at the core of the society like Musharraf's and Sharif's policies have.

So the assassination of Bhutto is triply bad; a personal tragedy, an invitation to more politics by assassination, and the loss of the candidate with the best policy positions. Westernized isn't always good, but basic rights for women and an independent judiciary are, and in a very important way too. She had significant flaws, but she was by far the most powerful politician pushing for a potentially functional Pakistani society, and her disappearance leaves a great vacuum.

byrningman: but I was merely pointing out that an absurd array of mawkish obituaries are perhaps misplaced in this case.

Whenever a prominent politician is assassinated, there will always be an absurd array of mawkish obituaries. That would doubtless be true even if it were Dick Cheney. There is no point in getting mad about this, and you may remind me I said so if Dick Cheney is assassinated and we are faced with an even more absurd array of mawkish obits.

It is still a hellish thing to have happen, even so.

"I'm quite confident that Bhutto was the best available, simply because the other two relevant choices were so bad."

The "other two"?

You mean the two previous corrupt Prime Ministers who are all that are ever mentioned in the Western press?

Were they really the only two people in Pakistan capable of being Prime Minister?

That seems doubtful. Is there some reason that we should believe that if people don't get front page NY Times or WaPo profiles, that they don't exist? Should we really believe that of all the lawyers and parliamentarians and leaders in Pakistan, none exist other capable of leading the nation other than those two?

If so, why?

"Invalid email address '[email protected] '"

Oh, of course.

I think you're overlooking the proximity to the parliamentary elections in your analysis, above.

The Pakistan military autocracy, led by Musharraf, had put a lot of effort into investing these elections with respectability... Musharraf resigning as armed forces head, etc. They had to know this would ruin them. So for this to have been blessed by them, they would have had to had a sudden change of heart, in the last few weeks... for no apparent reason.

A radical faction of indeterminate size within the military or the intelligence service? Possible. Musharraf or his closest supporters directly? Nah.

As has been pointed out, the ISI was a founder of the Taliban, and presumably in good with Al Qaida. I'm guessing here, but the ISS presumably could arrange for an assassination without the permission of the Pakistani Army.

i've been traveling so I'm only now seeing all this. This all makes sense. I probably should have made a couple of points clearer than i did - and toned down others. It's astute obviously (i now see) that that the military could actually be harmed by this b/c everyone will blame it. i hadn't thought of that - so points to hilzoy. but that said, i think the ppp/bhutto threat to the political economy is real as well. and i suspect certain rogue elements thought a bhutto-less ppp would be easier to control in the long run. i also think it's inconceivable that this person didn't have some inside help. i don't think M knew anything about it. but my hunch is that he knows a guy who knows a guy who could figure it out pretty quickly, if he were so inclined.

But whatever, I'll quit digging now - and i'm too tired to try to spell all this out in the detail it deserves tonight.

and as for the comments about not having expertise, jeez louise. if i let such trifling inadequacies stop me, i'd never post anything :)

"and as for the comments about not having expertise, jeez louise. if i let such trifling inadequacies stop me, i'd never post anything :)"

Absolutely nothing personal, publius -- and I absolutely mean that -- but if more bloggers took another attitude, I think we'd all be better off.

Mind, I'm not talking about professional credentials. I'm a huge believer in non-professional expertise often being larger than that of many in the academic world, great respect as I have for true scholars.

But less mouthing off on a "here's what I think, even though I really have little knowledge about the situation, but I've read the newspaper, and everyone else has an opinion" would be a truly great thing in the blogosphere, in my opinion. Really.

Having sufficient background knowledge and expertise about a situation to be able to judge who is and isn't talking bullsh*t, and whose interests are being pushed by which person, and why, in any given story, is crucial. Bloggers who can lend that should do it.

If, on the other hand, they only have an opinion based on a bunch of newspaper and magazine articles, my own opinion is that, as a rule, they should shut the hell up.

How much background you have in Pakistani affairs, or years spent in the country, or languages you speak, or expertise in any of their cultures, or friends there you can consult, or whatever, I have no idea, so I'm not passing judgment on your personal ability to speak to this particular issue, to be sure.

But on the general issue of the wonderfulness of bloggers just mouthing off because they read today's newspapers, absent specific wisdom to interpret something, I'm not someone who urges everyone to just blather away in public, I'm afraid. Far too much noise to signal in that.

And there are plenty of people who actually know what they're talking about on any given issue. I favor not distracting from them, though simple pointers are often useful.

Another way of framing that observation is that it's ultra-common, and deservedly so, in the blogosphere, for many to observe how awful many longtime newspaper/magazine columnists are, and how they're long past their sell-by dates, and how they have little useful left to say.

I don't think the virtue of the blogosphere is to add a lot more people like that. I think it's to enable us to read people with genuine insight, if we can find them.

But the flaw of those columnists is that they've long since turned to simply having to churn something out two or three times a week. Bloggers turning to simply posting because an issue is in the news, and their blog hasn't had a post in a couple of days, is the exact kind of awfulness.

That's my point. Let none of us ever post simply because there's been nothing posted in a few days, so we need a post.

Of course, taking this attitude also results at times, such as me in many months, not posting much, but is that really worse than just churned-out posts-on-the-news-of-the-day?

Depends on the philosophy of the blog, actually.

Re: Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Personally, I think people minimize the dirty little reality that the military could exterminate the ‘lawyer class’ in a few minutes. They’ve got the money and the guns. But is it worth $2 billion a year? History’s a bitch and things stateside aren’t really resting on a sound foundation.

Re: “The Beltway Boys”

‘She was a modernist.’ ‘The way to move forward is to pressure Musharraf to embrace democracy.’ And again, and again, and again. I respected these guys’ opinions four years ago.

I was an original skeptic, but when the Iraqi voter turnout was higher than the American voter turnout I was stunned. All of those purple thumbs made me change my mind and question my prejudices. But I didn’t understand the Sunni/Shia divide. Since that time, I’ve read, I’ve observed, and my understanding has evolved.

I now know that the Shia went to the voting booth because they were directed to do so by their Imams, who recognized the power over the Sunnis that was being offered to them on a silver platter. Any rational human being can see this in hindsight if they choose to look. And they can also see that if the Iraqis are given a chance to vote again in an environment free of the Americans, they would vote to never vote again.

The difference between me and the ‘Beltway Boys’, being the two and the million, is that I can admit I was wrong.

It strikes me that blaming al Qaeda for something is a lot like blaming Satan or the boogeyman or the Forces of Evil. Al Qaeda's a global brand name now used by all sorts of violent people, many of whom bear little relation to one another. When you say that al Qaeda did something it's pretty close to saying "an unspecified bad guy did it". Even if it's true in some sense, it doesn't tell you much.

gary - i see your point, and i've often had similar thoughts. but i actually think the best bloggers are those who can offer interesting insights based on nothing more than reading a bunch of newspapers articles. not everyone can do it, but those that can make for interesting reading.

that's why i find myself most commonly reading people like drum, benen, yglesias, marshall, douthat, and hte late billmon. none of them are narrow specialists. they just read a lot of newspaper and are well-read, and they often have interesting things on all of these thigns. they are generalists, but good ones.

the more narrowly focused blogs, while less guilty of being full of crap at times, tend not to keep my attention as much (largely b/c of the narrow focus).

so, while certainly not putting myself in the generalists' league, i prefer their approach. and having a full of crap post from time to time are "experiment costs" of that approach. this is subjective preference obviously, so others may well disagree

publius: The bottom line is that the post sparked an interesting and informative discussion. That’s the hallmark of a good post IMO.

As to the specifics in this case, it sounds more and more like we’ll never know for sure.

The military and Musharraf were going to be blamed no matter who managed to kill Bhutto. So if you're going to be blamed for what you want to happen anyway...what's the old saw "better to be hanged for a sheep than a lamb"? After all, the notion that the military might lose control of the parts of Pakistan that anyone at all is capable of controlling is flat ludicrous. A third of the population lives in military-built housing and the military controls over a quarter of the economy.

As one astute blogger put it - if the Musharraf regime isn't complicit why are they doing such an amazingly good job of making it look like they're doing a cover up?

Thanks for the kind words and links, Publius. I've a couple of new posts up including a pic of one of the assassins and AP video of the bloody interior of Bhutto's car. Could a sunroof lever really have caused that?

Regards, C

Gary, as to my own qualifications, much comes from book learning and following the Pakistani/Indian press I admit - but I spent 12 years doing upwards of $4 million a year business with the Pakistani business community in the UK and ended up friendly with several prominent figures including two who are now MP's. I know enough to know when I'm being insulted and called a gorra.

Regards, C

I don't really know, of course. I just think that the military has a *lot* to lose from her death.

I agree. It's seems that Mushi has lost his Tweedledee that allowed him the illusion of democratic governance. I'm inclined to believe that it was a low level plot by some true believers, not that that would rule out a military role.

"gary - i see your point, and i've often had similar thoughts. but i actually think the best bloggers are those who can offer interesting insights based on nothing more than reading a bunch of newspapers articles. not everyone can do it, but those that can make for interesting reading."

Sure. Being smart, well-informed, and writing well are specific talents, and generalists with a few minor specialties are a benefit to us all. I wasn't trying to draw any kind of dichotomy between the virtues of generalist bloggers and specialist bloggers.

I was trying, however inadequately in my late-night pontificating, to draw a dichotomy between good generalist bloggers and bad generalist bloggers.

It's a wise person who knows their limitations, and a wise blogger is no different.

And anyone who blogs a lot will make a crap post now and again, of course. Goodness knows I've made hundreds. In fact, Blogger helpfully informs me that I've posted 8385 blog posts, and that doesn't count the times I've blogged at other bloggs, let alone my previous many years of previous writing on Usenet, in little magazines and fanzines, for work, etc. So I've doubtless written the equivalent of thousands of crap blog posts over the years, even if I flattered myself that only one out of eight posts were crap.

So I hardly condemn anyone for not always being brilliant every single time.

I just wish Matt Yglesias would let me proofread his posts. Or would get someone to do it.

But I read him faithfully, nonetheless, despite how crazy it drives me that he can't write a post without weird glitches being present.

Just as I regularly read some of the others you name; so, good point. Sorry I wasn't more clear.

"We're sorry, your comment has not been published because TypePad's antispam filter has flagged it as potential comment spam. It has been held for review by the blog's author."

That's a new one.

Does anybody think this transcript is legit?

Does anybody think this transcript is legit?

i have no reason to think otherwise. what kind of person wouldn't believe a document released by a government trying to deny its involvement in something ?

oh cleek,

you are such a cynic!

I'd give you some advice, but you have no free will, and therefore it wouldn't help.

For now, I'll leave advice to the experts.

some advice... i already have Vista!

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