What impact will the assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto have on the US presidential race? The simple answer is: none at all. For sure, the presidential candidates from both parties, who may have had a couple of conversations with Bhutto in the past, are trying to score political brownie points over those opponents who cannot claim this dubious privilege. It may make them appear more 'presidential', but they know it is just a passing blimp that holds no interest for the average American voter. It is a sound bite that will soon be forgotten.
It may surprise them to know that what they say matters even less to the people most affected ? those living in South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). The average Joe in this region knows that, whoever wins the election in 2008, the US Pakistan policy will remain the same. Yes, the new president will make all the right noises about how important it is to put Pakistan on the road to democracy, but he or she will continue to adopt a policy that is best for America; not what is best for Pakistan.
There is nothing wrong with that, per se. Almost all nations of the world give priority to their own self interest. What annoys people in this region is the ingrained hypocrisy in the pronouncements of the US government. Like now, for instance, the Bush administration is publicly urging President Musharaff to hold free and fair elections, blah-blah, while simultaneously reassuring the dictator that the billions of dollars of American aid will continue to flow; no matter what. The Pakistani public is not fooled. It knows that Musharaf remains in power only at the pleasure of the US President. If America is serious about restoring democracy in Pakistan, all it needs to do is withdraw the support that has propped up the general for the past six years.
The Pakistani public anger at the US is intermingled with scorn. For the past six years, Musharaff has deluded the US Administration into believing that all those billions of dollars and sophisticated armaments that have been flowing into his coffers like an open tap are being put to good use fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The reality, which is apparent to everyone but Bush, is that most of the money has been diverted for domestic use and the bulk of the armaments are meant to face down Pakistan's traditional foe, India. This is not Pakistani scuttlebutt, but the findings of reputed American intelligence agencies.
Consider what is happening on the ground. The Taliban, far from being finished, are regrouping and stronger than ever. If they did have a safe haven in Pakistan's frontier region, into which they could escape and recuperate ? and where American and NATO forces are forbidden to pursue them – it is probable that the Taliban would have been decimated by now. The general has put on occasional shows of killing or capturing a few dozen Al Qaeda foot soldiers ? to make sure the money keeps coming from an obliging Bush – but the guys who call the shots and plan the attacks are safely ensconced in Pakistan's North West region. Yes, Al Zawahari and his "martyrs" are now biting Musharaff in the ass, but the resurgent Al Qaeda is a Frankenstein's monster the general himself has nurtured over the years.
It is possible that, subsequent to Bhutto's assassination, events in Pakistan may spiral out of control ? even for the US. What is increasingly clear is that, no matter which way the political situation resolves itself, it will not be good for America. If I may make an analogy, Musharaff is Bush's Enron. Billions of dollars invested, with zero returns. After Bush loses his day job, it is doubtful that he will be taken on as the CEO of a major corporation. The more likely scenario is that he will be put out to pasture. My heart bleeds for him.