Terror v Democracy in Pakistan

Wall Street Journal, October 25 , 2007

After more than a decade in exile, Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan, returned home to Karachi last week to throngs of cheering supporters. Her triumphal arrival was marred by a terrorist bombing that killed more than 130 people, and underscored this fact: Terrorism is a threat to Pakistan and its people, and not merely a response to the foreign policy of a distant superpower.

For too many Pakistanis, this is a hard fact to accept. Many seem to believe that the war on terrorism is America’s war and that if it did not stand with the U.S., then Pakistan would be safe from attack. This is not true. Pakistan has been a terrorist target since the 1980s, when its security services got involved in proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

A compilation of published figures shows the trends. In 2006, 1,471 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. Of these, 608 were civilians, 325 were security personnel and 538 were terrorists. That’s an increase over 2005, when the number of fatalities was much lower: 430 civilians, 137 terrorists and 81 security personnel.

This year terrorists stepped up their attacks even before Ms. Bhutto’s return. In the first 10 months of the year, a reported 2,037 people were killed. The number of suicide bombings in Pakistan is also up compared to previous years.

Pakistan clearly has a terrorist problem and needs to fight the organizations that carry out these attacks for the sake of its own people.

The willingness of the United States to provide economic and military aid for fighting terrorism is incidental. Those who punish men for not growing a beard, or who wish to subjugate women, or who behead human beings like animals are not open to persuasion. They will not stop if Pakistan were to distance itself from the U.S.

The attack against Ms. Bhutto reflects a deep-seated anger among global jihadis who shake at the thought of a woman leading the world’s only nuclear-armed, majority-Muslim country. It’s not the first time this anger has been directed at Ms. Bhutto. When she was elected prime minister for the first time in 1988, fatwas were issued by radical clerics condemning her and the decision to elect her. Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 attack on New York’s World Trade Center, has also admitted to plotting an attack on Ms. Bhutto in 1989.

Ms. Bhutto is clearly a brave and courageous woman who cannot and will not be deterred easily by either the threats of terrorists, or the machinations of those within Pakistan’s covert security services who have consistently conspired against her. Even after the attacks, Ms. Bhutto did not change her stance against terror, nor did she back away from her demand for restoration of democracy and free and fair elections.

Ms. Bhutto’s suspicion is that certain elements within Pakistan’s ruling establishment might be behind the bid to kill her. These fears should not be disregarded, even though it is difficult for Gen. Pervez Musharraf to accept that some of his close friends and associates may be complicit or tolerant of mass murder. Ms. Bhutto’s fears come from almost two decades of being hounded by jihadis and their allies in Pakistan’s security establishment. It’s crucial for Pakistan to address her concerns.

Mr. Musharraf needs to open his heart to genuine democracy. And that must include listening to the complaints lodged by the people’s representatives against his friends and allies in the establishment. In any case, Mr. Musharraf has wasted six critical years in the war against terrorism by failing to purge the government and intelligence services of hard-liners who supported jihadis in the past, and who have maneuvered behind the scenes to stop true democrats from gaining power.

The massive demonstration of support for Ms. Bhutto and her Pakistan Peoples Party last Thursday confirms that her popularity remains undiminished by the political developments of the past two decades.

Before Ms. Bhutto’s return, the conventional wisdom offered by many pundits and some politicians was this: Ms. Bhutto is seen to be too pro-American and too pro-Musharraf to be popular in Pakistan. But neither of these suggestions, nor the charges of corruption and misrule that have been repeatedly lodged against her over the past 19 years, seemed to carry much weight with the millions of people enthused about Ms. Bhutto’s return.

From America’s point of view, the good news is that the people who were cheering in the streets of Pakistan for Ms. Bhutto will likely cheer against terrorism under a government run by her. Pakistan’s war against terrorism will likely make better progress with the support of the people than it has in recent years under an embattled military dictator.