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December 27, 2007

A Death in the Family
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:31 PM * 124 comments

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated during a rally in Rawalpindi. She was shot by a motorcyclist who then blew himself up. Current reports estimate that 20 others were killed in the explosion.

Politics has been the death of that family; her father, ex Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged in 1979, and both of her brothers, Shahnawaz and Murtaza, were politically active before they died (one death was suspicious, one outright murder).

The murder of the main opposition politician puts the elections scheduled on January 8 at risk, just when the military president has become a civilian. A nation with a troubled history of democracy, two simmering wars on its borders, a growing pressure toward religious extremism, and a nuclear arsenal now has to find some measure of unity.

Meanwhile, a mother has lost her third child and a sister her last sibling. A husband is flying to the province of Sindh to bury his wife, and three children have lost their mother. In the midst of this public tragedy (in the classical sense of the term), they must be experiencing an intense and private grief.

Where, as they say, do we go from here?

Comments on A Death in the Family:
#1 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:10 PM:

I would ask, also, what the world has become that it is so easy for so many to dismiss this tragedy as trivial, deserved, meaningless, or simply not their concern, and for so many reasons.

#2 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:14 PM:

xeger, it's worse than that. It's being used as a political club against Hillary Clinton by one of Obama's advisors.

And Giuliani issued a press release almost immediately claiming only he could save us all from the terrorists who killed her ("and us at 9/11! Don't forget I was there!").

It's one of those days where the tragedy is bad enough, but the responses to it are nearly equally dismaying.

#3 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:25 PM:

The unsettling part for me is last month I listened to a very long and detailed interview with an expert on Pakistan history and politics on CBC radio. She laid out all the details of the corrupt system in such a way as to pretty much predict this event. Made it clear that the chaos periods are controlled by the tribal warrior caste of society as much as the order periods and it's been that way since the beginning.

This sets the stage for a republican wet dream.

#4 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:30 PM:

Was she the only viable opposition candidate, or are there others who can fill the vacuum left by her murder? Imran Khan is the only other opposition candidate I've actually heard interviewed, and every time he mentions his party is very small and he's only here to support the movement as a whole, not to win power for himself.

#5 ::: folk on LJ ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Linkmeister @ 2: Wow. Thanks for the link.

I find it dismayingly poignant that her father was killed by the generals in their ascendancy; she has now been killed by the Islamist extremists in theirs.

#6 ::: Piscusfiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:31 PM:

Here's a tidbit from a thought-provoking blogpost by Megan Carpentier:

And, of course, there are much, much larger political implications to Bhutto’s assassination and so the news tonight will likely focus on the implications for us as a country and on the campaign and blah blah blah, yes, it’s all really important. But, also, a lot of regular people died today, too. Some of them were poor, some were old, and they died taking advantage of their (current) right of free assembly, which most of us probably take for granted. They died and were horrifically injured participating in the political process of their country, even knowing that in the end it might not make any difference because they might still end up under the thumb of a dictator.

(Warning: at the bottom of the link, there are thumbnails of a graphic nature....)

Anyway, the thought that not just Bhutto, but quite a few of her supporters and people who just wanted to participate in making a difference in their country...that they all died alongside her, seems to make this even more personal. I can't imagine what life here would be like if I feared to participate in local rallies, and I hope it never comes to that.

#7 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 07:57 PM:

Nobody's claimed responsibility. That's unusual in itself in that part of the world.

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:03 PM:

shadowsong, Nawaz Sharif is the only other major opposition leader, and he's rumored to have announced he'll boycott the upcoming elections (if they aren't postponed). Bhutto's People's Party has no logical successor to her, from what I've heard.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:08 PM:

Benazir Bhutto was no angel. She was a clever, capable politician who had, you should remember, been ousted by the military.

Nonetheless, she was a democrat, a secularist, and a critic of Pakistan's out-of-control military. Her death is a huge blow to the long-term prospects for order in Pakistan. In fact, it's a huge blow against moderates throughout the Islamic world.

Abi's right to point out that there is a personal tragedy (a host of personal tragedies in fact since at least twenty other people died in the attack) as well as the public one. Certainly, Nusrat Bhutto must be anguished at the loss of three of her children. All public events have a private side, and it is all too easy to forget that.

#10 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:08 PM:

I'm a suspicious git, I see Musharraf's fingerprints all over this. If the shooter survived, I expect he'd be handed up to 'legal process' but it would be just for show.

It's to convenient.

I feel badly for the people hurt as well as people who think they're getting their freedoms and a just society, but are just being played by the government.

#11 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:10 PM:

Apparently, Nawaz Sharif was shot at by a sniper today as well. He's still alive.

#12 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:29 PM:

Piscusfiche: I am afraid to take part in rallies. Not for fear of death, but of being marked.

#13 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:31 PM:

My (local) friend talked to his wife in Karachi today - she's well, their family is safe at the moment, but he said "there are fires in every city in Pakistan."

#14 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:48 PM:

There will eventually be an ending to all this crap, but it will take decades, and I don't think they will be peaceful times.

I could be wrong; I hope that I am wrong. But I fear there will be rivers of blood before it's all done.

#15 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 08:58 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ #9: You're right Bhutto was no angel. She was ousted, not once but twice, with wholesale corruption as the charge both times. NPR reported this evening that her husband had such a reputation for corruption during her administrations that his nickname was "Ten Percent." She had a wonderfully sympathetic public personality, and the ability to get people onto her side, but once in power she simply returned the government to the time-honored practices of graft and nepotism that have been the hallmarks of every non-military regime.

This morning, soon after the news was announced, I saw a Pakistani acquaintance in his store. He was already worried about the safety of his family members during the violence that was sure to come. He said, "when the politicians are involved, only they benefit; the common people suffer." As we continued to talk, he opined that when the military is in power, the money all goes to the major officers and their families. When a civilian family is in power, the money goes to them and their friends. "And the common people continue to suffer--that is the part that never changes."

My hope (and I'm afraid it's a far-fetched one) is that somehow that suffering can experience a remission, however slight.

#16 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 09:28 PM:

Paula @10 - if that's true, we've seen the first use of a suicide bombing by a government entity. A government that has both nuclear weapons and suicide bombers is a rather terrifying idea.

#17 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 09:33 PM:

" find it dismayingly poignant that her father was killed by the generals in their ascendancy; she has now been killed by the Islamist extremists in theirs."

I'm not sure there's a difference. At the very least, the generals aided and abetted the Islamists by denying Bhutto the security measures she requested.

That said, it was bloody foolish for her to stop the car after exiting the rally so she could stand up and wave back at the crowd. If she's going to expose herself outside the vehicle, it wouldn't matter if Musharraf had provided an M-1 Abrams for her transportation.


#18 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 09:35 PM:

Abi wrote: "Politics has been the death of that family"

Pakistani politics has been the death of thousands of families, if not millions.

#19 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 10:07 PM:

LMB MacAlister #15: That would be the best outcome, the one all decent people would desire. I doubt, however, that it is very likely. Corrupt civilian politicians jousting with a corrupt military creates the opening for a cure that would be far worse than the disease -- the Talibanisation of Pakistan. With nuclear weapons,* at that.


*I seem to recall that when the Pakistanis tested their nukes in 1998, there were jubilant demonstrators holding placards proclaim the 'Islamic bomb'. This did not exactly fill me with good cheer.

#20 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 10:14 PM:

Linkmeister @ 2: It's one of those days where the tragedy is bad enough, but the responses to it are nearly equally dismaying.

One of the persistent local nutjobs immediately posted to several newsgroups about how the incident proves that Canada must secure its borders against Muslim fanatic immigrants, and also must not allow women into management positions.

He's got some personal problems.

#21 ::: dogrose ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 10:17 PM:

I listened to a very long and detailed interview with an expert on Pakistan history and politics on CBC radio

T.W., do you have a link to the interview? If not, please tell us the name of the show, to facilitate googling.

My gut* tells me that it's horrified by "fires in every city in Pakistan" and anxiously anticipating worse to come; wondering why no one has claimed credit for Bhutto's murder; deeply worried about how this affects regional politics; deeplier worried about what's going on in the Northwest Province; struggling to find expression for its fury/despair/nausea re our invasion of Iraq; deepliest worried about those nukes.

My heart extends much love to Benazir Bhutto's family, experiencing a laser-specific loss in the midst of global attention and speculation; and more hope to the Pakistanis facing whatever's coming.

*I used to think that the organ of reason and emotions is the brain, until I learned that the gut runs the DHS.

#22 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 10:29 PM:

I also find it disquieting that no one's talking about Kashmiri politics as well. Perhaps they've calmed down, but a few years back, when I was corresponding with a Pakistani who was from Kashmir, one of his big complaints against Musharraf was the way he was handling the Kashmir issue, and I got the general impression that Kashmir was more of an issue than most Americans realized.

Or maybe not. Maybe I'm looking at a tree in the forest rather than the whole thing.

Nonetheless, it is disturbing. My best thoughts and wishes go out to Bhutto's family and the Pakistani people.

#23 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 10:30 PM:

Dogrose, oh geeze, I'll have to check the archives and transcript records to find it but the lady had written a book. She's one of the many exiles. Just the way it was all laid out who owns what and why and how they are connected to some one else. How the economy is owned by the military and so on.
I'll hunt around the CBC site.

#24 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 10:34 PM:

Whatever else happens, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal must be safeguarded from capture by religious fanatics in case this situation devolves into involuntary regime change.

#25 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 10:53 PM:

Oh cool As It Happens has an August interview with Bhutto herself:
http://www.cbc.ca/aih/features/2007/benazir_bhutto_20070807.html
She brings up a lot of similar information.

Still hunting. If only I was better at names.

#26 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 11:29 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ #19: Sorry, my Inner Pollyanna was having a sneezing spell. I don't know which of my two fears is the more real: that another general will take over who decides it's time to take India out of the picture, or that some Taliban sorts will take over and decide to "share" their nuclear wealth with someone who can pay for it.

It's obvious that Musharraf is ready to play serious hardball to retain power, and he was quite honest about his motivations (in his recent "why I'm declaring martial law" speech). Given the level of corruption inherent in all the other available choices, I've wondered at times whether the Pakistani people are at all ready to participate in any kind of democratic rule, at least at the national level.

#27 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2007, 11:43 PM:

#16, they don't have to deny or admit it. I just suspect it was something that was 'allowed.' How far they went to make it so remains to be seen. The truth may never come out.

#28 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:04 AM:

Dena #16: Ever heard of the kamikazes? (And I'm sure there were earlier examples.)

Earl #24: This seems like a hell of a good idea, but it's not too clear to me how to accomplish it.

#29 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:05 AM:

Dena #16: Ever heard of the kamikazes? (And I'm sure there were earlier examples.)

Earl #24: This seems like a hell of a good idea, but it's not too clear to me how to accomplish it.

#30 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:34 AM:

Of course you are right, Albatross.

#31 ::: amdin ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:48 AM:

Joyce @ #22: Kashmir is always an issue. It's never gone away, it's never gotten any better. It's not talked about anymore because it's not an immediate concern for anyone. It's not "sexy", it's not "topical". Kashmir is a very mineral-rich piece of land, but because it doesn't have the same top-level immediacy of say oil producing countries it's not really thought of by the outside world.

My mom's family is originally from Kashmir and I've had to resign myself to the fact that I most likely will never be able to visit it in my lifetime, never see it for all it's apparent beauty. All because certain parties refuse to stop fighting and start talking.

As far as the Bhutto situation goes, it's very sad on a humanistic level. It's very sad on a democratic level. I will say though, as an outsider (born and bred in Canada) with a lot of family in Pakistan, I'm also well aware of how bad Bhutto was while in power. I'm well aware of the way one religious sect of Islam was basically demonized and persecuted fully under her hand with her encouragement.

So yes, I'm torn because this is tragic and does not speak well of the country as a whole, and that does outweigh the fears I had at the thought of her coming into power again.

And yes, it does appear like there should be a 'But' right about now, and I want to write a 'But' but I have no idea how that sentence would end.

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 01:32 AM:

Whether Bhutto would have been good for Pakistan or not, her assassination is catastrophic. It sounds like there's violence in most of the major cities, although none of the reports I've yet seen have any real information about who is fighting whom. I would not be surprised if lots of people blame the current military government, and most especially Pervez Musharrif, for Bhutto's death, and some fraction of them are going to want revenge. I'm hoping they get their fill of rampaging around very soon, and get off the streets before the army shows up and starts shooting.

Unless I'm mistaken there's a great deal of pent-up frustration against the government, and it could be released in a major breakdown of civil order. One of the NPR interviewees this evening was a Pakistani here in the US who had been trying to contact his family. The ones he could get ahold of were just trying to get home before things fell apart on the streets. They, and the victims of the riots, are the ones I feel most sympathy for. I'm very much afraid they're in for a very bad time.

#33 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 01:39 AM:

I haven't heard if any particular group claimed responsibility for the much bigger bombing that killed ~140 people in the crowd greeting Mrs Bhutto's return from exile back on Friday, 19th October. But it could have been a quite different group to the one that organised this; there are far too many people who revel in the uses of violence.

#34 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 03:22 AM:

Linkmeister @ #2 Don't sweat Giuliani: "We must redouble our efforts to win the terrorists' war on us."

I'm certainly not an expert on grammar or diction --- but I think I have an explanation as to why Rudy is slipping in the polls...

#35 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 05:29 AM:

The only possible upside I can imagine is that, with one leader dead and the other widely seen as guilty, there might be space for a new, less corrupt power to rise. Bhutto's death could serve to catalyze a new democracy movement.

Not that this strikes me as likely. Far more likely, the Islamists will rise to fill the void, and the world will become that much darker. But the status quo is shattered, and what will come is impossible to predict. I'm crossing my fingers that it's something good.

#36 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 06:35 AM:

albatross #28: This seems like a hell of a good idea, but it's not too clear to me how to accomplish it.

Negotiate to have them hand over their nuclear weapons to the US, then pay them the replacement cost of those weapons and the technological infrastructure that made them possible so that Pakistan can afford to shift into some additional peaceful nuclear power plants. Then, sign a really definitive mutual defense treaty (similar to the agreements we maintain with Israel and Taiwan) so that it is completely unambiguous that they are under the protection of our conventional and nuclear capability.

The cost would be steep, but it's much, much cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear holy war.

#37 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 07:14 AM:

Earl Cooley III: Negotiate to have them hand over their nuclear weapons to the US, then pay them the replacement cost of those weapons and the technological infrastructure that made them possible so that Pakistan can afford to shift into some additional peaceful nuclear power plants.

You really don't have a clue about the political situation outside the borders of the United States, do you?

Pakistan has nuclear weapons -- and wants nuclear weapons -- because India has nuclear weapons. They've been at daggers-drawn for sixty years, have fought about six major wars, and nearly staged a regional nuclear war about three or four years ago. They hate each others' guts, have festering territorial disputes over Kashmir that periodically bubble up into a shooting war and/or terrorist outrages on either side of the border, and now they've got nuclear missiles pointed at each other. Last year they were installing a hotline between Islamabad and New Delhi, for much the same reason that Washington DC and Moscow installed a hot-line in the 1950s: to try and reduce the risk of kicking off the Big One by accident.

And you think offering them a handful of trinkets is going to buy them off?!?

(The threat of a bunch of Taliban-style bampots getting their hands on the Pakistani first strike capability is, IMO, much less serious than their current owners have a glitch in the radar net that's tied into their launch-on-warning systems, and mistaking a bunch of vultures for an inbound strike by Indian Backfires.)

#38 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 07:21 AM:

And while I'm on the subject -- any attempt by US special forces to seize control of the Pakistani nukes during a crisis would be incredibly dangerous. Firstly, these weapons are part of an active strategic deterrent, and sited on missiles or bombers on stand-by for war -- think in terms of raiding a SAC base in the 1950s. Secondly, a seizure attempt could easily be mistaken for an Indian commando attack intended as a prelude to a pre-emptive strike, and there's an obvious counter-move to that: launch on warning.

This isn't a case of securing a bomb in a basement. It's more like trying to disarm one of the superpowers during the Cold War in the 1950s. Want to risk starting a nuclear war by accident? "Mission Impossible" escapades against the Pakistani (or Indian) nuclear forces would be a very good starting point ...

#39 ::: neil ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 08:13 AM:

"The threat of a bunch of Taliban-style bampots getting their hands on the Pakistani first strike capability is, IMO, much less serious than their current owners have a glitch in the radar net that's tied into their launch-on-warning systems, and mistaking a bunch of vultures for an inbound strike by Indian Backfires."

Not sure I entirely agree. Yes there's clearly a higher threat right now from an accidental escalation between India and Pakistan. But no if Islamic fundamentalists or fundamentalists of any kind gained control of nuclear weapons that would not be less serious.

In the cold war MAD depended on both sides being rational. Fundamentalism is not rational, after all if God is on your side...

In any case India is no more likely to allow Pakistan to descend into civil war than the US would Mexico (if they had nuclear weapons).

That's why you should be worried.

#40 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 37

The "Taliban bampot" scenario is more likely than it might be in another country, because the security services in Pakistan have a long-standing habit of funding and equipping Islamist terrorist groups for operations against India. They might just be clueless enough to think that a small nuke smuggled into, say Bangalore, would be have good consequences from their point of view, would be sufficiently deniable to keep their own hands clean, and that their remaining arsenal would be an effective deterrent against a massive Indian counterstrike. Same point here as neil made in #39: many of the principals involved are not thinking rationally to start with, which makes the equation of deterrence very divargent; probably best described by, pun intended, catastrophe theory.

#41 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 09:56 AM:

But no if Islamic fundamentalists or fundamentalists of any kind gained control of nuclear weapons that would not be less serious.

See also George W. Bush. See also Ronald Reagan, the "Evil Empire" speech, and the history of Operation Ryan, Able Archer '83, and why we all nearly died in late 1983. (Back then, the Supreme Soviet really believed that Reagan's rhetoric was directed at them and he meant it. It scared them witless; it's a good thing the cold war ended before Idiot Son ascended to the throne, or by now he would have started the big one, by hook or by crook or by plain old fashioned incompetence.)

The Taliban do not impress me with their ability to operate and maintain any item of technology more sophisticated than an AK-47. They're basically illiterates when it gets much beyond memorizing the Koran. Their backers are the real threat, and for that you have to look to the high-ups in the ISI -- and they're already running the show.

In any case India is no more likely to allow Pakistan to descend into civil war than the US would Mexico (if they had nuclear weapons).

I think you misunderstand the geopolitical structure of the subcontinent rather badly. When was the last time Mexico tried to invade the USA, or vice versa? If your answer is "2002 -- and they've got nukes" then you're beginning to feel your way towards that particular realpolitik headache.

India's way of preventing Pakistan descending into civil war is more likely to involve a pre-emptive nuclear strike than sending peace keepers and cops and diplomats. All they need do is claim they had strong evidence of a fundy-owned nuke coming their way, and ...

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 10:12 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 41

India's way of preventing Pakistan descending into civil war is more likely to involve a pre-emptive nuclear strike than sending peace keepers and cops and diplomats

"Well, it stopped the rioting, didn't it?"

Seriously, someone in India with access to the Button might decide that nuking Pakistan would forestall the possibility of an accidental or factional launch of Pakistan's arsenal against India when the disorder got worse.

#43 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 10:14 AM:

Every time I look at video of a rally in Pakistan, it's hard to distinguish "rally" from "riot." I don't know how one provides good security with that level of crowd and disorder.

Regarding the broader picture - I think the US is facing a series of bad choices. Musharif is a power-hungry dictator, and the two main opposition leaders were both considered highly corrupt.

I also wonder about our ability to actually influence events in Pakistan. We can provide some aid, but in the end the Pakistani people call the shots.

#44 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 10:39 AM:

neil @ 39 ...
In the cold war MAD depended on both sides being rational. Fundamentalism is not rational, after all if God is on your side...

I certainly agree with your second sentence - fundamentalism (say [Communism|Capitalism] is Evil) is not rational. After all, if [the free market|the people] is on your side...

#45 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 11:35 AM:

dday, on Hullabaloo, makes the point that there's a certain amount of evidence pointing to Musharraf in the Bhutto assassination and in the attempt (the same day!) on Nawaz Sharif.

#46 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 11:51 AM:

Earl Cooley@36: Then, sign a really definitive mutual defense treaty (similar to the agreements we maintain with Israel and Taiwan) so that it is completely unambiguous that they are under the protection of our conventional and nuclear capability.

Er, can you give me a reference to such an agreement with Israel? I was under the impression that there was no formal defense treaty whatsoever. Far too limiting to both parties' freedom of action, and anyway the Israelis appear to have a perfectly adequate SLBM force of their own. Ambiguity is useful at times.

#47 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 11:57 AM:

LMB MacAlister #26: Both those options are possible, and seriously frightening. Let me suggest another: civil war on ethno-religious (secular/Islamist)lines, settled by one side or the other gaining access to Pakistan's nukes and putting them to use (perhaps removing 'sinful' Karachi from the map).

The 'get Kashmir' option seems very likely too (and a smart loony general might use it as a means of fusing both secular middle-class and Islamist support).

A talibanised Pakistan is also likely, and that would have some interesting repercussions (come back, Iran, all is forgiven!).

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 11:59 AM:

The BBC is reporting that Musharraf is blaming Al-Qaeda for the assassination.

#49 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:07 PM:

Sorry, I just assumed that the way Israel drags the US around by the nose ring meant that there was some sort of military treaty. In any case, I'd worry as much about an Israeli first strike reaction to an extremist nuclear Pakistani regime as an Indian one. Israel hasn't been particularly squeamish in the past when it was thought that a surgical strike in the region was in their best interests.

#50 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:09 PM:

#48: How convenient for him.

#51 ::: Suzanne F. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:13 PM:

"Anyone who says he can predict the consequences of a political assassination is a damn fool," says Eric Rauchway in the Washington Post.

#52 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:23 PM:

Earl Cooley III @49:

No treaty -- but a certain Israel-oriented PAC shovels a lot of funds into various US politicians' pockets. (Repukes and Dems.) Follow the money...

#53 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 12:26 PM:

Tariq Ali, a leftist (like me) Pakistani (unlike me) had a long piece on Bhutto and recent Pakistani history that I found informative.

His obituary in the Guardian suggests one possible good outcome, and speaks to the question of who might be her appropriate successor.

I'm finding the argument that Musharraf was better off with Bhutto alive, and that it was probably an Islamist group internal to Pakistan that carried out the assassination, persuasive, but my mind can be changed on this point with facts.

#54 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 01:02 PM:

What strikes me as strange is the use of a gun by the assassin and then the use of a bomb that also killed the assassin. For that reason, I just can't help but think the bomb was remote controlled and used to silence the assassin so he couldn't testify about anything such as implicating co-conspirators.

Was there any footage showing the assassin actually detonated the bomb?

#55 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 01:05 PM:

Dogrose 21,

Well now I have a new found hatred for the CBC archive and search system. Sorry found a lot of other articles and interviews on Pakistan but not the one I was looking for. Then again it often takes months for some of the broadcasts to get online if they get uploaded at all; only a small number get online right away.
I do see a common theme though in all the ones I did find and it's not good.

#56 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 01:28 PM:

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Getty photographer John Moore was within feet of Bhutto, taking pictures. Here they are, with his audio narrative: first shots fired, then the bomb blast, captured in his photos:


Looseheadprop, a prominent poster for FireDogLake on her sister's impressions of Bhutto

Bennie Bhutto

"She was a bright young woman and SOOOO interested in human rights and world events, and certainly made me feel uninformed. She was one of the people who got me started on my news addiction, because she insisted that you could never read a news story from just one source. You had to read the same story in several different papers if you had any hope of getting an accurate feel for what happened. Even then, she was a savvy consumer of information."

"She grew into an elegant, self-possessed and powerful woman. By her very existence as a leader, she elevated other women in Pakistan and around the world. She lived a brave life and did not let fear stop her from doing what she was trying to do."

The darkness won a big victory the other day.

#57 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 01:33 PM:

John @ #53, that LRB article was indeed informative. I feel like I need a program after reading it, and I'm not sure I'd trust any publisher of said program, but still...

#58 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 01:52 PM:

Bhutto's assassination also illustrates just how dangerous one-family parties are. When the family's gone, so are the parties and any opposition politics.

What still itches is that interview she did with David Frost on November 2, in which, during a long exposition she stated that Osama bin Laden had been killed. It went right by almost all the world, it seems, and certainly right by Frost. There's been no follow-up of any kind. Unless this was a different Osama bin Laden, who anyone more familiar with Pakistan than I would have known about?

You can find it here.

It comes about 6 minutes into the interview.

Love, C.

#59 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:03 PM:

The US has not had a defense treaty with Taiwan in some decades - Jimmy Carter dissolved it as part of normalizing relations with the People's Republic (China, not Cambridge). The US policy since then was one of "strategic ambiguity" - I'm sure you aren't surprised which President didn't understand that.

There was a report in early November about Pakistani schoolkids interpreting politics through the lens of Harry Potter. Bhutto was cast in the role of Dolores Umbridge (although other articles say that Bellatrix Lestrange was also a contender). I am grateful for Abi for reminding me of the simple human cost, and Tariq Ali for his obituary.

#60 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:08 PM:

Chris #43:

This is the thing that drives me nuts about the coverage of the Bhutto assassination I've seen in the last couple days. There's this underlying assumption that we're somehow going to be deciding who will end up in power there, despite the fact that the military dictatorship currently running the place (with lots of guns, secret police, jails, torture chambers, etc.) seems to have only a tenuous grip on deciding that. It's like the old line about "who lost China?", asked as though US politicians were really going to determine who ended up in control of China.

We really don't have the ability to control who comes to power in other nations. We can give money or withhold it, we can kill people and wreck things on a large scale, we can invade (at a high cost, and probably not for another decade or so, till memories of Iraq fade), we can sometimes carry out assassinations and bombings and such, and we can threaten to do those things, but that's about it. We won't be deciding who comes to power in Pakistan, in the same way we won't be deciding who comes to power in Egypt, Iran, Syria, Russia, Indonesia, Israel, etc. It's just not something we can do most of the time.

Despite this, I fully expect to hear cries of "who lost Pakistan" if Pakistan falls under the power of even nastier characters with even stronger ties to wild-eyed fanatics than the current regime. As though it was somehow decided in Washington.

#61 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:24 PM:

Albatross @ 60 - You put it more forcefully, but I agree. We can't decide who's in power in Pakistan. We can try to influence and shape, but that's it. And yes, we will hear "who lost Pakistan" if (when?) it's lost.

The other problem is that having a "peaceful" Pakistan is rather important if we want to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan. Unless you want to ask Iran for overflight rights :-) (Yeah, Russia's the other possibility, but that's a damn long tail to carry).

#62 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 02:37 PM:

albatross @ 60:

We really don't have the ability to control who comes to power in other nations.

A specious argument, since no one anywhere has that power. We sure are good at making sure people we don't want to come to power end up dead, though. We're also pretty good at torturing entire nations until they give in--think Nicaragua.

That "we" up there is bitter in my mouth.

#63 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 03:39 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 41

Urm, the pre-emptive Nuclear strike was what I was getting at. You've misunderstood the Mexico reference (and yes I'm aware that Mexico has neither invaded the US recently as well as not possessing any nukes), probably my fault for not being clearer.

Nor was I prescribing MAD as a sensible way to do things, indeed I think you've illustrated the point rather better than I could with the following:

"...it's a good thing the cold war ended before Idiot Son ascended to the throne, or by now he would have started the big one, by hook or by crook or by plain old fashioned incompetence."

The point being our views are not in fact that far apart. It's just that sticking point of fundamentalists with nukes. I still think that is equally as bad.

For example, do you sleep tighter at night knowing the Idiot Son and his cohorts control one of the world's biggest arsenals?

#64 ::: Jackie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:02 PM:

I get the feeling that the people in Pakistan don't believe that they have any say who's in power there either.

#65 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:18 PM:

It's a bit odd that in less than 24 hours it can be definitively announced Bhutto's assassination was organized by al-qaeda, when not a single culprit has been announced for any of the other over 80 suicide bombings in Pakistan in 2007; nor has there been any arrests in those bombings.

But this one, they know, and so soon.

Whilst the potus gop wannabes are all making as much tough hay as they can, calling us to be terrified here of the Pakistani terrorists -- al-qaeda and the taleban. Guiliani, in particular --ugh.

#66 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:27 PM:

Here is the transcript that the Pakistan government has released of their chosen blame targets. Note: they released a transcript only, not the actual recorded conversation.

I don't know about you, but I'm suspicious.

#67 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Jackie L @ 64: The one bright spot in the situation, by Tariq Ali's analysis, is that Bhutto's assassination frees up the PKK to return to its democratic traditions and develop leadership not tarred with Bhutto's history.

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:38 PM:

John 67: I think you mean the PPP (Pakistan People's Party), right? The PKK is a Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey and Iraq.

#69 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:42 PM:

John @ #67, minor nitpick: I think you mean PPP, the Pakistan People's Party, rather than PKK, the Kurdish fighters in Northern Iraq and Turkey.

#70 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:42 PM:

Synchronicity!

#71 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 04:43 PM:

Xopher @ 68: Oops. Thanks!

#72 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 05:25 PM:

Constance, #58: Holy SHIT. If that's true, then it opens up a whole new -- and very nasty -- angle of suspicion about who was responsible for the assassination. Not to mention the very large question, as you said, of why there has been NO follow-up on this anywhere.

#73 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 06:14 PM:

Neil @#63

For example, do you sleep tighter at night knowing the Idiot Son and his cohorts control one of the world's biggest arsenals?

No disagreement here, or generally, but what are the words "one of" doing in there?

#74 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 06:41 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 40:
They might just be clueless enough to think that a small nuke smuggled into, say Bangalore, would be have good consequences from their point of view, would be sufficiently deniable to keep their own hands clean, and that their remaining arsenal would be an effective deterrent against a massive Indian counterstrike.

I think this is very unlikely -- how could they hope to think it would be "deniable"? The Indian reaction to just about any major terrorist attack is to blame Pakistan[*], and a nuclear bomb really couldn't come from anywhere else.

[*] E.g., the December 2001 attack on the Indian parliament building by Kashmiri militants, which led to a large-scale Indian mobilization against Pakistan.

#75 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 06:57 PM:

Dave Kuzminski @ 54:
What strikes me as strange is the use of a gun by the assassin and then the use of a bomb that also killed the assassin.

I don't find this very strange; the purpose was almost certainly redundancy. After all, Butto had narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a few weeks ago, when just a bomb was used. Even if the gun succeeded, the bomb would then kill some of the Bad Secular People who chose to work with Bhutto. (I'm assuming the attacker was from one of the Islamist groups.)

(It was reported that the Kashmiri militants who attacked the Indian parliament building in December 2001 had explosives strapped to their bodies, even though they were also armed with guns.)

#76 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 08:02 PM:

Peter Erwin @ 74

Deniability doesn't have to be plausible, though in this case the ISI can always claim that the bomb was stolen by militant terrorists, or was sold on the black market by renegade physicists, or even came from the Soviet arsenal somehow. They don't need to prove any of these things, anymore than Idiot Son has had to prove the lies he told before invading Iraq.

As for the Indian military replying in kind, as I said, one could take the position* that the remaining deterrent force of Pakistani nukes would prevent the Indian military from using their own nukes, and that a conventional counterstrike would grind down to the same stalemate we've had in Kashmir for the last 6 decades. Again, the issue isn't whether these statements are true, but whether people in certain positions of power are willing to believe them to be true. Whatever we may think of the level of competence of government officials, the actions of the Bush administration gives us a sobering example of lack of rational consideration of the consequences of the use of such power.

* I certainly wouldn't, but I'm not a Pakistani security official.

#77 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 09:03 PM:

Bruce @76: you are getting dangerously close to the plot of a thriller I'm working on the outline of. Please stop? I'd like to earn a living.

#78 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 09:12 PM:

Charlie @ 77: If he screws it up for you, I'll happily give you the plot of mine JVP verged on at your blog a while back.

#79 ::: Neil ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 09:29 PM:

Raphael@73
Because it's dangerous to make assumptions

#80 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 09:54 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 77

Sorry, don't want to get in the way of a good story; I'll stop now. I look forward to reading it.

#81 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 10:08 PM:

John A A @ 53: It's good to read someone who sees even the faintest glimmer of hope about now.

#82 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 10:39 PM:

Charlie Stross' Alternate History Universe, in which the parallel universes cross and the fiction writer and the prophet collide....

#83 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2007, 10:58 PM:

At Firedoglake this sentence can be found, a quote from a McClatchy report.

"According to McClatchy, the police at Benazir Bhutto's rally abandoned their posts at some time before the shooting:"

This adds to my suspicions toward Musharraf. Just sayin'.

#84 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 12:25 AM:

Benazir Bhutto was on the kill lists of Usama Bin Laden and the other fundamentalists in Pakistan because she was an uppity woman who didn't know their place. You have to remember that the thing that is most likely to cause an Salafi to go into a fit is the thought of an independent, educated woman.

CNN when into detail just how poor Bhutto's security was, the risks she took every day, and how the Pakistani government refused her requests for the equipment and personnel she needed.

Look at the video clip that's on CNN. The shooter was well trained. He knew what he was doing.

Going to find out who trained him and who sent him is not going to be easy.

#85 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 01:53 AM:

#84 Robert: Especially since he conveniently blew up right after shooting her, and since the result of any investigation carries all kinds of enormous political implications within Pakistan, maybe leading to a civil war.

#86 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 07:40 AM:

Mike Huckabee knows right what to do, though: the US reaction to the assassination should be a crackdown on illegal immigrants from Pakistan.

"In light of what happened in Pakistan yesterday, it's interesting that there are more Pakistanis who have illegally crossed the border than of any other nationality except for those immediately south of our border."

Good ol' Governor Mike wouldn't have just pulled that number out of his ass, would he? I mean, a guy who wants to be President of the USA just making stuff up? That couldn't happen!

#87 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 08:25 AM:

James D. Macdonald @ 86

Until recently I dismissed Huckabee as a run-of-the-mill Fundie with theocratic aspirations. Lately he's been showing all the signs of wanting to be the Man on Horseback, and giving some indication that he and/or his handlers have some idea of how to do that. That's scary; I think there are a lot of voters in the US who would be very happy to keep Bush on as "The Man Who Will Save Us From the Terrorists" if only he hadn't proved to be so incompetent at the actual saving. Finding someone like Huckabee they can transfer that allegiance to might lock us even further into the spiral of blind faith, carte blanch to the crazies running things, and political and diplomatic disaster followed by wild flailing to correct and/or cover up the blunders that we've had for the last 7 years. We can't afford any more of that, and I don't expect the rest of the world to put up with us while we do it.

#88 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 10:29 AM:

Bruce Cohen@87

Not particularly worried about Huckabee right now. Odds on the Senior Partners in the GOP coalition (that is, the plutocratic wing) will stomp him once they finally coalesce around a single candidate (probably Romney). On the whole, the longer it takes for them to do this the likelier it is to cause problems for the GOP, so I'm not exactly hoping for the stomping to take place TOO soon.

(Don't see Huckabee as any sort of "natural successor" to Bush. Romney is Dubya Jr. Giuliani is Dubya squared. Huckabee is Robertson The Next Generation.)

#89 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 11:30 AM:

Huckabee is scary because he's not one of the moneycons. He's got a genuine right-wing populist streak in him, not unlike some other notable Arkansaw politicians--Faubus comes to mind. That makes him dangerous differently from the other Grand Old Partyers. He's not a racist, like the segregationist Fulbright, and I suspect he has more honest feeling for the poor than both Clintons combined, but he, unlike the kurrent krowd of klowns, has the right stuff to live up to the F-word.

#90 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 11:54 AM:

#58 Constance Ash
What still itches is that interview she did with David Frost on November 2, in which, during a long exposition she stated that Osama bin Laden had been killed. It went right by almost all the world, it seems, and certainly right by Frost. There's been no follow-up of any kind.

Bhutto's claim that Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh killed Osama bin Laden is not credible. Sheikh Omar has been in custody since 2002.

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 12:23 PM:

Brenda 90: She could be mistaken about the perp and still right about the event itself. Do you trust our government(s) to tell us the truth about that? I don't.

Or, of course, it could all be bullshit. No way of knowing, unless OBL turns up alive again.

Man, I wish that man would die.

#92 ::: Ronit ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 01:01 PM:

Barnett Rubin of NYU on Bhutto's assassination. (Got around the subscription wall by using Googlenews.)

He says it was al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, working to protect the al-Qaeda sanctuary in northwestern Pakistan.

There's also a fascinating, brutally frank Q&A with Barnett Rubin on Harpers No Comment; the only comforting thing that can be said about it is that it appears to be safe for Charlie Stross to read, for various values of "comforting".

#93 ::: Brenda von Ahsen ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 01:37 PM:

She could be mistaken about the perp and still right about the event itself. Do you trust our government(s) to tell us the truth about that?

No, of course not. Still, her claim is that Sheikh Omar killed OBL. That claim is not credible and by making it her credibility on the matter is diminished.

Here is what she told the BBC on Oct 1

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said on Monday that she might allow a U.S. military strike inside Pakistan to eliminate al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden if she were the country's leader.

"I would hope that I would be able to take Osama bin Laden myself without depending on the Americans. But if I couldn't do it, of course we are fighting this war together and (I) would seek their cooperation in eliminating him," Bhutto said in an interview on BBC World News America.

And then in Nov. she claims that Sheikh Omar, whom she knows has been in custody for the last 5 years, killed Osama? I'm supposed to take her seriously about that?

I dislike conspiracy theorizing more and more these days. It's a very bad way to think. I am deeply saddened at her assassination. I think she was Pakistan's best hope. But I don't harbor any illusions about her.

#94 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 04:42 PM:

If, as seems likely, Bhutto was wrong, either on purpose or by mistake, about Osama bin Laden's death, it seeems she wouldn't have been a credible leader either,at least judging on her past record. We want to believe in saviors so badly, it's sending this nation, at least, into a death spiral.

In the meantime, Robert Fisk,in The UK Independent, has this to say;

in The UK Guardian, this.

and in the previous issue of The London Review of Books, this.

This is how Fisk ends the first article:

But back to the official narrative. George Bush announced on Thursday he was "looking forward" to talking to his old friend Musharraf. Of course, they would talk about Benazir. They certainly would not talk about the fact that Musharraf continues to protect his old acquaintance – a certain Mr Khan – who supplied all Pakistan's nuclear secrets to Libya and Iran. No, let's not bring that bit of the "axis of evil" into this.

So, of course, we were asked to concentrate once more on all those "extremists" and "terrorists", not on the logic of questioning which many
Pakistanis were feeling their way through in the aftermath of Benazir's assassination.

It doesn't, after all, take much to comprehend that the hated elections looming over Musharraf would probably be postponed indefinitely if his
principal political opponent happened to be liquidated before polling day.

So let's run through this logic in the way that Inspector Ian Blair might have done in his policeman's notebook before he became the top cop in London.

Question: Who forced Benazir Bhutto to stay in London and tried to prevent
her return to Pakistan? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who ordered the arrest of thousands of Benazir's supporters this
month? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who placed Benazir under temporary house arrest this month?
Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who declared martial law this month? Answer General Musharraf.

Question: who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Er. Yes. Well quite.

#95 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Jim Macdonald #86: I heard Huckabee say that on NPR this morning, and my first thought was that this man should under no circumstances be president. My second thought was that whatever he's smoking, it's really bad stuff.

#96 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 06:17 PM:

It so easy to hear the siren call of conspiracy theory when you read articles like this:
http://www.straightgoods.ca/ViewFeature8.cfm?REF=1
With just a single leap of imagination I can see her martyr's death being perfect for justifying going after those terrorists in a particular way previously not an option. So maybe some one was counting on her to be a sacrificial lamb of sorts.
Yep with this much stench of corruption about it's very easy to be hypnotized by conspiracy nightmares.
I need more real facts out there that don't come from liars, cheats, thieves and murders for my sanity to hold onto.

#97 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 06:44 PM:

Seems to me that when you've got an assassination that two or more people cooperate in, that's conspiracy by definition. Can you think of any possible explanations for this murder that aren't conspiracy theories?

#98 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 09:27 PM:

Matt Austern @ 97 -
Seems to me that when you've got an assassination that two or more people cooperate in, that's conspiracy by definition. Can you think of any possible explanations for this murder that aren't conspiracy theories?

There is "conspiracy to commit murder" and then there is "And then the time-travelling assassin from the future's past - in the employ of the Gnomes of Zurich by means of the Illuminati's third hand - opened up with his highly specialized sniper rifle from the Grassy Knoll - no, not that one, that one was cleared by the Men In Black, the other one, from twelve seconds in the future. But he was just a distraction. The real sniper..."* conspiracies.

The trick is, in trying to track down the first one, you don't get caught up in the second one. Sometimes the cigar really is just a cigar, and while (especially in Matters Politic) Occam's Razor isn't always correct - it's still the safe way to bet.

*Sadly, even some in our own government are unable to tell one from the other - witness the various attempts to kill Fidel Castro, all of which sure as hell look like they were constructed by time-traveling gnomes using third-eyes to gain wisdom about grass-smoking gnolls... or something.

#99 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 10:47 PM:

Sadly in such a seriously f* world I might prefer the future illuminate gnomes. It's less despair inducing than the reality of corrupt and incompetent assholes with power and good people being helpless.

#100 ::: jayskew ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 11:09 PM:

#94: Maybe she meant to say murdered *for* Osama bin Laden, in the same way that Neil Armstrong meant to say one step for *a* man.

Let's ask her and see, er, well....

#101 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 11:21 PM:

Apparently the doctors now say that the shots missed. Bhutto was killed when the explosion slammed her head against the sunroof of the car.

The news last night said, of Huckabee claiming Pakistanis are the most common illegal immigrants other than those south, that they aren't even in the top 25.

#102 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2007, 11:50 PM:

jayskew 100: He did. I heard it. I've heard the tape since, and he definitely said "for-a" man. He kind of slurred the 'a' but it was there.

#103 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 12:00 AM:

T.W. @ 99 -
Sadly in such a seriously f* world I might prefer the future illuminate gnomes. It's less despair inducing than the reality of corrupt and incompetent assholes with power and good people being helpless.

Conspiracy thinking is seductive for precisely that reason - the reality is so often so petty and small and... banal... that it's so very tempting to want to believe that there is some higher level of organization, some secret cabal of operatives that are really pulling the strings, that the seemingly random and stupid pronouncements and dictates have some deeper meaning and significance.

In part this is simply pattern recognition (which our brains are really, really good at - to the point of always wanting to do it, even when there isn't any patterns to be found). Part of it, I think, is the idea that, if there is some limited number of people At The Top, then maybe they can be reasoned with, or bullied, or, in extremis, killed*, and Things Might Get Better.

(Un)fortunately, the truth is so often so much smaller. There aren't any Gnomes in Zurich (no matter how much Ken Hite's favorite Crazyperson writers might claim otherwise... :-), the only gnolls out there are in D&D supplements, and ballistics are a complex science with some annoying "gotchas" that run counter to "common sense" analysis.

No Reptoids, and while there are certainly cabals of individuals whose interests run counter to what we would consider to be socially or economically healthy, they are rarely all that secret - if only because secrets are really, really hard to keep secret, even when they are small and banal.

*In the end, if the group or individual devoted to it is persistent and dedicated enough, anyone can be killed, no matter how much protection they wrap themselves in. It's just a question of opportunity, will, and expenditure of sufficient resources.

#104 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 04:04 AM:

xkcd to the rescue

#105 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 05:36 AM:

going off on a tangent regarding Occam's razor:

Occam's Razor is worse than worthless, it has no mathematics backing it up, you can never prove that something conforms or does not conform to Occam's razor. I've heard people make all sorts of assertions that they claim are backed by Occam's razor when really what they mean is by rhetorical argument I will make this seem to be the simpler of two arguments (often they don't even try to make their argument the simplest, they just assert it is the simplest and go on) and then by finishing everything off with ta-da! Occam's Razor!! They win.

Fuck Occam. He died in the 1300s. His world was radically different than ours. In his world magic did not exist, in our world the technological possibilities are so advanced that for most people they must be understood as magic (any sufficiently advanced technology is magic if you don't have any training in that particular technology, and every human has training only in a limited subset of the current technologies that make our world possible. [apologies to Clarke])

In Occam's world the peoples and cultures involved in any particular wide ranging problem were probably very few and probably very similar to each other. In our world disputes are often not just international but global. To figure out what are the simples explanation for people's actions when those people come from many different cultures radically different from yours is an exercise in futility.

The simplest possible explanation in the killing of Bhutto, what is it?

Can anyone reasonably argue that another explanation is simpler?

The factors that affect the killing cannot be quantified and we cannot out of the possible explanations determine which is the simplest.


(note: this is nothing against Scott Taylor [although the examples of illuminati gnomes up there do not really apply to occams razor so much, only part of the razor is needed to cut them out, the part that is the word 'possible'], I am just against overuse of Occam's razor, it's a dull antique instrument, pretty to display but not for actual real world use)
--getting back on track.

The phrase conspiracy theory has come to be used in a similar dishonest method of argumentation as Occam's razor, to brand something a conspiracy theory frees you from having to engage with the argument made. This is especially useless in the context of large organizations that can be said to have far ranging goals and plans in both time and space, such as governments, and this lack of utility is even more pronounced in the case of the current American Government which I think Occam's razor (see what I did there?) would tell us was just a mess of conspiracies jostling for dominance.

To say that Conspiracies do not exist just look up Operation Northwoods. The reason that this particular conspiracy is instructive in light of the current American government is that it is borne from the same hyper-paranoid personality type that currently seems to dominate high policy (Dick Cheney, anyone?)

Cheney is especially interesting as a nexus of Conspiracies because he also seems to be liable to believe in very complicated conspiracies, for example his views on the Soviet Union back when it was a going concern. One of the things that I have found in life is if someone thinks everyone else is conspiring they start to conspire in retaliation.


(the foregoing does not mean that I subscribe to the general 9/11 conspiracy theories that there were explosives in the towers or some stupid shit like that.)

#106 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 06:07 AM:

bryan @ 105

Occam's razor is indeed rather dull and rusty. By some accounts* the simplest, indeed the only logically credible, explanation for the complexity of the world we see is that there is no "we", Kimosabe, that there's only one of us (me, of course), and the rest of that stuff is the lies and illusions of the Cartesian demon who manipulates my senses. This is, of course, the mother of all conspiracy theories. And it has the "virtue" that it's totally unfalsifiable. It also doesn't matter a bit whether or not it's true; my actions within the realm of the world around me that may or may not exist will be the same as long as the demon doesn't slip up and provide me with a way to confront it directly.

* See Heinlein's "They", for instance.

#107 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 06:20 AM:

Getting back to the topic of Pakistan, now that the pooch has been well and truly screwed, is there anything that any outside agency can do to help prevent a rapid slide into civil war and/or iron dictatorship? I know the US government still thinks it has magical powers in this area of diplomacy, but let's take the reasonable stance and assume that no Western government can do anything useful in the near term. Could some other or some group of other Moslem countries, for instance, make the situation any better, either through diplomacy or military action? Does Iran have any influence? I'm assuming that memories of Afghanistan prevent Russia from having any influence on the situation.

My gut feeling is that the rest of the world can do very little about the way the situation evolves in Pakistan, but I'm hardly an expert on the politics, sociology, economics, and military capabilities in that part of the world; maybe the prospect's not as black as we think.

#108 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 06:21 AM:

And secondary to what bryan says in #105, certain things are clear about Pakistan right now -- notably the key player to consider in evaluating the prospects of any reform-minded politician is the army. Not "the army" as a monolithic organization that defends the nation, but "the army" as a class of powerful quasi-feudal officers who manage many of Pakistan's biggest industrial companies (yes, the nationalized industries are run by the army) and have a lot of personal wealth at stake. Also the ISI, which makes the pre-Church commission CIA look like a model of openness and accountability. (Has anyone else around here noticed that the Red Mosque -- which the army stormed a couple of months back, killing lots of fundamentalists -- was built by and for the ISI?) To some extent the Taliban in Pakistan are a sock-puppet threat created by the ISI for their own purposes -- although whether they're under the ISI's control is another matter, as is the question of who the ISI (or even its intenal department heads) are loyal to.

In other words, it's possible that the army or intelligence agency bumped off Bhutto explicitly against Musharraf's orders -- or in accordance with them -- or that it was the Taliban disobeying orders -- or obeying them -- or someone else entirely.

Against this background one can construct any number of intricate conspiracy theories, and the damnable thing is that there probably was a conspiracy but we're probably never going to find out which one it was.

#109 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 10:18 AM:

I'm tending to assume that at least some members of the ISI and the Pakistani military sympathize greatly with the Taliban (or with al-Qaeda, since they aren't necessarily the same people) and probably would be quite happy to help along an assassination or two, with or with the knowledge of their official superiors.

#110 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 11:23 AM:

TW #99: Yeah. One of the more upsetting things of the last few years has been understanding, at a deep level, just how incompetent a lot of the folks in power are. Greg Cochran wrote some interesting articles/essays/posts along these lines, basically pointing out places where the decisionmakers were obviously, deeply unqualified to make the decisions they were making. (So have plenty of other people, but I recall those essays in particular for some reason.)

I've seen this realization commented on by many older people--in McPhee's _The Curve of Binding Energy_, nuclear weapon designer Ted Taylor makes a comment like this, saying basically that when he started designing weapons as a young physicist, he was convinced that the political decisionmakers were wiser than he was, and would use good judgement. And as he got older and saw more, he lost pretty much all of that faith. But hearing about it and having it are two very different thing.

It's not that I thought the people in power were brilliant or benevolent before. I thought they were mostly competent but amoral. But really, a lot of times, they're incompentent and amoral. W is an obvious example, but he's far from alone, and it's not just a phenomenon of this administration.

#111 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 11:40 AM:

Charlie Stross #108: Your definition of 'the army' as an oligarchic officer class is also true of armies in most Latin American countries. That class's promotion of its interests (which may or may not always coincide with the interests of the landowning and mercantile upper classes) has been a central feature of Latin American politics since the era of independence. Pakistan, in several ways, replicates the particular problematics of Latin American socio-political structure (powerful landowning class, major role for religious institutions, limited control by the state in some areas).

#112 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 11:44 AM:

Bryan #105:

The problem is, the more complicated your model describing the world, the easier it is to fit any number of events or data points. There needs to be some way to prefer simpler explanations to more complicated ones, to counteract the ability to always make more complicated ones fit the data better.

The real problem is how you measure the simplicity of a model in the real world. Given the existence of nations, national intelligence services, classification, etc., many pretty far-fetched sounding things wind up becoming rather simple. "The ISI had Bhutto bumped off" is a simple explanation, "A bunch of guys working in secrecy, drawing salary from an organization based on controlling a certain territory with a monopoly on violence and collecting money from the inhabitants of that territory by force, decided to send one of their number to contact some other amorphous group to get one of *their* number to murder this woman who sought power over this organization based on controlling territory" sounds pretty complicated. But that's really just a measure of what assumptions and background knowledge you bring to your discussion.

#113 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 12:08 PM:

Occams' Razor often works just fine, when you have sufficient evidence (finding sufficient evidence may be the problem). Even in situations where it is, insufficient (and I do, in fact, say right above that it is not always correct), it at least allows one to avoid many measures of insanity (The US had Benazir killed because she was possibly going to stabilize the situation in Pakistan, and take Their Man out of the equation, and thereby lead to a solution in Pakistan/Afghanistan, which they deliberately want destabilized... for some dumb-ass reason!).

Who killed Benazir? I don't know. I have some suspicions, but right now the possible culprits are many, the leads are few, and everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else, or is being silent. I don't know as the truth will ever be known. Was the ISI involved? Very likely - but given that there is strong evidence of several different factions in ISI (some pro-islamist, some pro-Taliban, some pro-Military (but not necessarily pro-Musharraf), etc. - and all pro-"let's not get screwed" to a greater or lesser degree), that doesn't necessarily mean any particular other faction (Islamists, Taliban, Musharraf, etc.) was involved. In the mean time, I try to keep an open mind - if it turns out that the bomber was, in fact, a US plant, well, it's another reason to string Cheney and crew up by the neck until dead, dead, dead - not that we don't have enough of them already (Treason is a capital offense - you only need one conviction). If it turns out to be Musharraf - I won't say I'll be horribly surprised. Hell, maybe it was Sharif, and the sniper attack on him was a false-flag operation.

And Operation Northwoods gets used just as much to justify wild conspiracy theories as the term "conspiracy theory" is used to try and suppress them (and not so wild ones as well). Let's not forget that, at the time, neither the Department of Defense (as an integrated unit) nor the Pentagon they lived in was even twenty years old (the D0D was formed in 1947, and the Pentagon was finished in 1943) - it was a new organization (in terms of organizational management), in a new building. And, most importantly - Northwood never actually went anywhere.

Like invasion plans for Canada (War Plan Red), or any of a number of other classified war plans, projects, code names, etc. that have been declassified since, it was a set of proposals that never got green-lighted, and never went beyond the proposal stage. The entire declassified Northwoods document, including prefaces and classification sheets, is 15 pages long (The actual annex containing operational possibilities is six pages). The most developed of the proposals is a little over a page in length. It is not a detailed plan, or a set of operational orders - it's a set of suggestions, possible avenues of attack, and undeveloped ideas, which are specifically mentioned as being a "preliminary submission suitable for planning purposes only" and "arranged neither chronologically nor in ascending order". The total number of people involved in Northwood's creation was likely under a dozen - add in the JCS, McNamara, Kennedy, etc. and probably less than twenty people actually knew about Northwoods at all - and twenty people can keep a secret, if properly motivated (witness Ft. Hunt).

#114 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 12:13 PM:

Scott Taylor (#103): very well said! Conspiracies certainly exist, but some of the more tinfoil-hat theories always strike me as overestimating the enemy (whether that be terrorists or part of our own govt.). Though terrible things do happen, there rarely seems to be some cold, clear mind able to foresee the real consequences enough to merit a "bwa ha ha!"

#115 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 12:54 PM:

Scott Taylor @ 103:

Conspiracy thinking is seductive for precisely that reason - the reality is so often so petty and small and... banal... that it's so very tempting to want to believe that there is some higher level of organization, some secret cabal of operatives that are really pulling the strings, that the seemingly random and stupid pronouncements and dictates have some deeper meaning and significance.

I have very little to add to this paragraph. I just wanted to reprint it in all its glory. Faren's right--this was very well said.

What I do have to add is this: I was talking to an old friend I hadn't seen in a while a year or so ago, and discovered he'd turned into a 9/11 nutcake. He was laying out his line of bullshit on me, and I was disagreeing with it. (And no, I didn't say "line of bullshit" to him. He's a friend, but not that close a friend.) I disupted the idea that the US government had the capability to carry out a successful false flag operation of that nature and magnitude without being detected. His reply?

"Wouldn't it be more frightening if they couldn't?"

At that point I boggled and began to end the talk.

#116 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 01:20 PM:

"Occams' Razor often works just fine, when you have sufficient evidence (finding sufficient evidence may be the problem)."

again, Occam's razor doesn't define any way of quantifying information to properly weigh it.

It does allow us to separate ideas between the possible and impossible. I believe the impossible is basically any explanation that requires supernatural explanations.

As for likelihood I have difficulty in categorizing this. There are things that I believe unlikely but these are really just based on my beliefs and prejudices, there are numerous things that I would have believed unlikely at one time that have come to pass, or that have been shown to have been the case.

"And, most importantly - Northwood never actually went anywhere."
It was my understanding that Lemnitzer was quite taken with it however.


#117 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 03:03 PM:

I believe we have a winner in the cui bono contest:

Benazir Bhutto's 19-year-old son was chosen Sunday to succeed her as chairman of her opposition party, extending Pakistan's most famous political dynasty but leaving the real power to her husband, who will serve as co-chairman.

Those of you who followed the link that both Constance and I posted to Tariq Ali's article in the London Review of Books know that Bhutto's husband has been accused of complicity in the murder of Bhutto's brother:

The tribunal said there was no legally acceptable evidence to link Zardari to the incident, but accepted that ‘this was a case of extra-judicial killings by the police’ and concluded that such an incident could not have taken place without approval from the highest quarters. Nothing happened. Eleven years later, Fatima Bhutto publicly accused Zardari; she also claimed that many of those involved that day appear to have been rewarded for their actions. In an interview on an independent TV station just before the emergency was imposed, Benazir was asked to explain how it happened that her brother had bled to death outside his home while she was prime minister. She walked out of the studio. A sharp op-ed piece by Fatima in the LA Times on 14 November elicited the following response: ‘My niece is angry with me.’ Well, yes.
#118 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 04:09 PM:

Charlie Stross @ 108:
To some extent the Taliban in Pakistan are a sock-puppet threat created by the ISI for their own purposes -- although whether they're under the ISI's control is another matter, as is the question of who the ISI (or even its intenal department heads) are loyal to.

I rather doubt the Pakistani Taliban are any kind of sock-puppet of the ISI at this stage, particularly given the rising number of Taliban attacks (including suicide bombings) being made against the Pakistani military itself (e.g., this attack on Dec. 23).

#119 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 05:37 PM:

Single family political parties make for something very like monarchies. 19-year-old son & heir = the Prince. The father standing in for his young son = regent. Not very democracy-making.

Additionally, if all the family's gone, so is the party. There's no structure left out of which to build a serious oppositional force.

Which is another reason so many so dislike the idea of Hillary in the wh. If she does get in that makes for only 2 families to occupy the wh since 1989 - 6 terms. Not very democracy-making either. No inducement there at all for Hillary to dismantle dhs, or any of the other structures, rules and laws that undermine the Constitution and make for the desired 'unity' presidency.

In the meantime, Our Mayor Mike, is constructing his own monkey-wrench 'unity party' for potus election 2008.

Love, C.

#120 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 10:10 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 111: Very good points, all; it's good to see someone else has noticed the great similarities. For those who seem to find themselves completely confused by the goings-on in Pakistan, I strongly recommend reading lots of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. The principles are all the same, including those covering the dynamics of multiple militaristic oligarchies (and wannabes) fighting on the side for the position of The Military.

#121 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 10:17 PM:

Marilee @ #101: You may be well aware of this by now, but scads of Benzair's associates who were there have now decried the announcement of that "new development." This afternoon, there was an interview on NPR of her chief of staff, who said it was "ridiculous" (as well as a number of other derisive adjectives), and who said Benazir bled out on the way to the hospital, through bullet wounds in her neck.

In other news, I have it on good authority that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy died as a result of having inadvertently stabbed himself in the temple with Jackie's hatpin. This tragic and ironic fatal injury occurred as JFK was childishly whipsawing his head back and forth in complaint of the sudden, unexpected acceleration of his Lincoln limousine. And John Connelly's injuries were faked.

#122 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 10:55 PM:

Fragano@95: smoking my ass -- his comments about the tax code make it clear he's dropping brown acid, if not something Tim Benzedrino gave him.

Scott@103: re footnote: I've read that there 25 people (5 positions, 4 deep in backups) on Sophie & Ferdinand's route, other accounts speak more of accidents (including the limo having to back out of a blockage on the planned route).

Marilee/LMB: another cui bono claim. Musharraf's government (the only party that I've heard that claim attributed to) wins stability (at least) and freedom from charge/countercharge/investigation (in some happy land) if the death is shown to be an accident, while asking about the training of someone who could run up and hit someone with a few handgun shots(*) opens many cans of worms.

* in the head/neck, yet! They should hire this person for the NYC police....

#123 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2007, 11:10 PM:

LMB MacAlister, #121, in fact, I watched a video on NBC Nightly News tonight and it's clear she was shot. Chip, you can see the shooter on the video.

#124 ::: Anna ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2008, 05:50 PM:

WE don't go anywhere. This was not an American or European leader who was assassinated.

Where do the Pakistanis go from here? I would think that was up to them.

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