Snap Back to Reality

by matttbastard

Hey, remember when US VP Joe Biden was counted among the leading Democratic voices that supported militaristic nation-building in the Middle East/Central-South Asia back in the day?

Good times.

Now?

Well, not so much, thanks to the corruption-laden clusterfuck in Afghanistan:

Nothing shook [Biden’s] faith quite as much as what you might call the Karzai dinners. The first occurred in February 2008, during a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan that Biden took with fellow senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Dining on platters of rice and lamb at the heavily fortified presidential palace in Kabul, Biden and his colleagues grilled Karzai about reports of corruption and the growing opium trade in the country, which the president disingenuously denied. An increasingly impatient Biden challenged Karzai’s assertions until he lost his temper. Biden finally stood up and threw down his napkin, declaring, “This meeting is over,” before he marched out of the room with Hagel and Kerry. It was a similar story nearly a year later. As Obama prepared to assume the presidency in January, he dispatched Biden on a regional fact-finding trip. Again Biden dined with Karzai, and, again, the meeting was contentious. Reiterating his prior complaints about corruption, Biden warned Karzai that the Bush administration’s kid-glove treatment was over; the new team would demand more of him.

Biden’s revised view of Karzai was pivotal. Whereas he had once felt that, with sufficient U.S. support, Afghanistan could be stabilized, now he wasn’t so sure. “He’s aware that a basic rule of counterinsurgency is that you need a reliable local partner,” says one person who has worked with Biden in the past. The trip also left Biden wondering about the clarity of America’s mission. At the White House, he told colleagues that “if you asked ten different U.S. officials in that country what their mission was, you’d get ten different answers,” according to a senior White House aide.

Welcome to reality, Joe. Hopefully he can make the following point, as articulated byDDay, perfectly clear to the CiC:

Obama has a responsibility, not to rubber-stamp the views of Washington hawks and counter-insurgency lovers, but to outline the best possible policy for the future. I don’t see how committing 100,000-plus troops to Afghanistan for five years or more, to defend an illegitimate government, to fight an invisible enemy, fits with that mandate.

Now if only the veep would learn how to use ‘literally’ in proper context.

Related: Must-watch interview with former British Foreign Service operative and Afghanistan expert Rory Stewart, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Stewart contends Obama’s options are politically limited when it comes to refusing Gen. McChrystal’s immediate demand for more troops — but that the situation on the ground also means that any escalation in US forces will turn out to be a one-time only occurance.

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Read this Now or the Fat Cats on Wall Street Will Eat Your Cake

by matttbastard

Echoing Maddow above, Sarah J  (h/t for the vid) shamelessly drops the ‘p’ word (no, not that one–pervs) in what is (hopefully) the kickoff post to a timely series examining populist renewal and class consciousness in a time of economic crisis and political revitalization in the US:

In one of my courses last year, we read [Tom] Wolfe the same week as we read Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson was the kind of populist that we should be looking at now, moving forward. The consummate outsider, constantly angry at the powerful, constantly on the side of the little guy.

When I get angry at NPR’s Science Friday for being completely clueless about the purpose of an auto industry bailout, it’s that spirit that I’m invoking.

It’s not condescendingly taking a whiskey shot or implying that your audience is racist. It’s much more than that. Obama managed to ride populist support into the White House without ever attempting to change who he was. Because he gets it. He knows what it’s like to be broke, to have to decide between paying your heat and buying food. And yeah, it’s been a long time and two Ivy League schools since he’s had to make those choices, but I don’t think he’s forgotten.

As they say, read the whole damn thing.

No, seriously, gonow.

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Quote of the Day: The Gap

by matttbastard

If you were watching television you may not have heard that ordinary people too died in Mumbai. They were mowed down in a busy railway station and a public hospital. The terrorists did not distinguish between poor and rich. They killed both with equal cold-bloodedness. The Indian media, however, was transfixed by the rising tide of horror that breached the glittering barricades of India Shining and spread its stench in the marbled lobbies and crystal ballrooms of two incredibly luxurious hotels and a small Jewish centre.

We’re told one of these hotels is an icon of the city of Mumbai. That’s absolutely true. It’s an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day. On a day when the newspapers were full of moving obituaries by beautiful people about the hotel rooms they had stayed in, the gourmet restaurants they loved (ironically one was called Kandahar), and the staff who served them, a small box on the top left-hand corner in the inner pages of a national newspaper (sponsored by a pizza company I think) said “Hungry, kya?” (Hungry eh?). It then, with the best of intentions I’m sure, informed its readers that on the international hunger index, India ranked below Sudan and Somalia. But of course this isn’t that war. That one’s still being fought in the Dalit bastis of our villages, on the banks of the Narmada and the Koel Karo rivers; in the rubber estate in Chengara; in the villages of Nandigram, Singur, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Lalgarh in West Bengal and the slums and shantytowns of our gigantic cities.

That war isn’t on TV. Yet. So maybe, like everyone else, we should deal with the one that is.

– Arundhati Roy, The monster in the mirror

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Mumbai Attack Resources

by matttbastard

Canadians concerned about relatives/loved ones in Mumbai can call the Department of Foreign Affairs at 1-613-996-8885 from inside Canada or 1-800-387-3124 from other countries. US citizens contact special State Department call center phone number set up for the crisis: 1-888-407-4747. UPDATE For Australians:1300 555 135 or +61 2 6261 3305 (DFAT) UK: 0207 008 0000 (Foreign Office) (h/t Brandy Betz)

Please add additional resources in comments and I’ll update accordingly.

– Indian dead tree media: Hindustan Times, Times of India, The Hindu, Outlook India, Deccan Herald, Indian Express

list of Mumbai bloggers liveblogging events as they unfold, comprehensive round-up from DesiPundit

– Vinu’s Mumbai attacks Flickr photostream UPDATE new sets from Vinu here and here, ashesh shah’s photostream (h/t Gauravonomics) UPDATE Boston Globe photoset (h/t dina)

Google Map of attacks

– regularly updated Wikipedia page

YouTube and VodPod videos, sorted by date (most recent first)

– Ongoing coverage from Neha Vishwanathan of Global Voices Online [UPDATE Global Voices special Mumbai attacks page) and from GroundReport.com

searchable list of injured/dead

– regularly updated emergency information at Mumbai Help

PinStorm information page

– Livestreams from CNN-IBN and NDTV

– Twitter content marked #mumbai, Colaba, Oberoi, Taj

Mumbai Tweetgrid (automatically refreshes)

– invaluable Twitter updates from MumbaiAttacks, zigzackly, vinu, gsik, chhavi, asfaq and dina .

SkyNews MicroBlog

Timeline of terror attacks in India, 1993-present

UPDATE public Google Notebook aggregating key points and facts (thanks, Anannya Deb!)

UPDATE Mahalo , Addictomatic and NowPublic pages

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

Pakistan Update: Of Gunfire, Grassy Knolls and Bumped Heads

by matttbastard

The word of the day is ‘conspiracy’. As in ‘conspiracy theories‘. Consider the waters thoroughly muddied:

An elusive Taliban leader with links to Al Qaeda is emerging as the key suspect in Thursday’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto, killed as she campaigned for a third term as Pakistan’s prime minister.

Intelligence services in Pakistan and the West yesterday identified Baitullah Mehsud, a 34-year-old pro-Taliban militant commander, as the man behind the plot to kill Bhutto, leader of the popular Pakistan Peoples Party, in the run-up to Jan. 8 elections in the nuclear-armed nation.

Yesterday, Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a spokesperson for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry, cited an intercepted telephone conversation between Mehsud and one of his operatives as proof the terrorist organization was responsible.

“We have an intercept from this morning in which he congratulated his people for carrying out this cowardly act,” Cheema said.

“We have irrefutable evidence that Al Qaeda and its networks are trying to destabilize the government,” he added. “They have been systematically attacking our government, and now a political icon.”

“Irrefutable”, eh? Insert Inigo Montoya quote here:

The government released no audiotape of Mehsud’s purported conversation in the Pashto language with another militant, whom he called Maulvi Sahib, or religious leader. But, in a government-provided transcript, Mehsud is quoted congratulating Maulvi Sahib for the deadly work of the two men who were apparently directly involved in Bhutto’s assassination.

Unsurprisingly, the PPP has called “bullshit”:

The Pakistan Peoples Party rejected government claims that a Taliban commander linked to al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto, as the death toll from rioting rose to 32.

Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani Taliban commander linked to al-Qaeda, is suspected of plotting the Dec. 27 suicide attack that killed Bhutto, the Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told reporters yesterday. Mehsud denied the claim, Agence France-Presse reported, citing a spokesman.

The government “is trying to divert the investigations into Bhutto’s killing,” Farhatullah Babar, her spokesman, said in a phone interview today. “Mehsud had already denied he planned to assassinate Bhutto.”

[…]

“If the government had accepted our demand of holding an independent inquiry by overseas experts into the Oct. 19 bombing on Bhutto, this would not have happened,” Babar said.

Also, in an article examining the shifting explanation re: cause of death, The Star touches upon why Pakitsan’s gov’t is trying so desperately to establish the convoluted “bumped her head” narrative:

The question of whether she died of violence or an unfortunate accident is important because if she did not die because of foul play there is less chance that her death would be considered that of a martyr.

At this point, I would say their efforts aren’t succeeding. Unified in anger and frustration, Bhutto’s supporters continue to demonstratively express their emotions, as chaos threatens to engulf the nation:

Masked gunmen killed a supporter of Benazir Bhutto early on Saturday, while security forces shot dead two other party activists as a mob tried to force its way into an oilfield, police said.

The killings take the death toll since Bhutto’s assassination on Thursday to 40, including four policemen, and came as protesters torched shops, lorries, welfare centers and ambulances overnight as violence entered a third day.

A 27-year-old man wearing a tunic made from a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) flag had just shouted “Bhutto is great” when he was gunned down while returning from the mausoleum where Bhutto was buried on Friday, police said.

“Two gunmen were waiting in a vehicle, their faces covered, and they opened fire,” said Shaukat Ali Shah, deputy inspector general of police in the city of Hyderabad in Sindh.

Separately, up to 400 PPP activists carrying banners portraits of Bhutto and wielding bricks, tried to burst into an oilfield facility near Hyderabad before dawn, when security forces acted on orders to shoot violent protesters on sight.

“The mob was warned,” Shah said. “Two people were killed.”

Almost all of the deaths since Bhutto’s killing occurred in the southern province of Sindh, the PPP’s power base, where the Election Commission said several of its offices were set on fire and electoral rolls and ballot boxes destroyed.

VOA reports that Musharraf wants “firm action” to be taken against rioters, reportedly telling security officials “those looting and plundering cannot be allowed to damage lives and property in the guise of protest.” Cutting through the euphemistic fog, Pakistani blogger Inspirex reports that “[a]ccording to varios [sic] news reports, Sindh Rangers have been issued Shoot at Sight orders across the province.” Metroblogging Karachi has posted several personal accounts of the violence currently gripping the region.

Regardless, whether matryr status will have any lasting effect on events in Pakistan (other than inspiring protests and rehabilitating Bhutto’s spotty reputation) remains to be seen. As analyst Ayesha Siddiqa notes:

…”al-Qaida” is just a name which can be used to mean everything or nothing. It will now be difficult to find out who exactly killed Benazir – especially when the government made sure they washed away all forensic evidence in the twelve hours after the murder.

And it’s not like there isn’t historical precedence for the undertaking of extra-judicial measures on the part of the Pakistani security and intelligence apparatus. In a recently published LRB essay examining the the US-brokered “arranged marriage” between Bhutto and Musharraf, Tariq Ali recalls at length the assassination of Benazir Bhutto’s brother, Murtaza:

[I]n September 1996, as Murtaza and his entourage were returning home from a political meeting, they were ambushed, just outside their house, by some seventy armed policemen accompanied by four senior officers. A number of snipers were positioned in surrounding trees. The street lights had been switched off. Murtaza clearly understood what was happening and got out of his car with his hands raised; his bodyguards were instructed not to open fire. The police opened fire instead and seven men were killed, Murtaza among them. The fatal bullet had been fired at close range. The trap had been carefully laid, but as is the way in Pakistan, the crudeness of the operation – false entries in police logbooks, lost evidence, witnesses arrested and intimidated, the provincial PPP governor (regarded as untrustworthy) dispatched to a non-event in Egypt, a policeman killed who they feared might talk – made it obvious that the decision to execute the prime minister’s brother had been taken at a very high level.

As Robert Fisk, commenting on Ali’s essay, notes:

When Murtaza’s 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, rang her aunt Benazir to ask why witnesses were being arrested – rather than her father’s killers – she says Benazir told her: “Look, you’re very young. You don’t understand things.” Or so Tariq Ali’s exposé would have us believe. Over all this, however, looms the shocking power of Pakistan’s ISI, the Inter Services Intelligence.

This vast institution – corrupt, venal and brutal – works for Musharraf.

But it also worked – and still works – for the Taliban. It also works for the Americans. In fact, it works for everybody. But it is the key which Musharraf can use to open talks with America’s enemies when he feels threatened or wants to put pressure on Afghanistan or wants to appease the ” extremists” and “terrorists” who so oppress George Bush.

Speaking of George and Co., The Guardian reports that the US is scrambling for a Plan B:

US officials based in Pakistan were sounding out senior members of her opposition Pakistan People’s party about a possible successor. They were also in contact with members of the other main opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League, led by Nawaz Sharif, even though the US had previously opposed his return to Pakistan because of links between his party and Islamist extremists.

President George Bush called for the election to go ahead, though he avoided mention of whether Pakistan should stick to the January 8 timetable. An announcement on whether to delay the election has been left until the end of the three days of mourning.Asked whether the US was confident that Pakistan could stage an election in January, the US state department spokesman, Tom Casey, said: “Well, we’re going to see what happens.”

The assassination of Bhutto has thrown into disarray Bush administration hopes of establishing a degree of security in Pakistan. Since 9/11, Bush has relied on the military-run government of President Pervez Musharraf as an ally in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida. With Musharraf’s loss of popularity, the administration placed its hopes on a return to democracy and the emergence of a Musharraf-Bhutto coalition.

US intelligence analysts warned that al-Qaida, which has a hold in Pakistan’s tribal areas – where the US believes Osama bin Laden is hiding – and in cities such as Karachi would be strengthened by the chaos in the aftermath of the assassination.

John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA, predicted that the chaos would last for weeks at least and that the capacity of Pakistan’s authorities to deal with al-Qaida during that time would be diminished.

WaPo has more:

President Bush held an emergency meeting of his top foreign policy aides yesterday to discuss the deepening crisis in Pakistan, as administration officials and others explored whether Thursday’s assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto marks the beginning of a new Islamic extremist offensive that could spread beyond Pakistan and undermine the U.S. war effort in neighboring Afghanistan.

U.S. officials fear that a renewed campaign by Islamic militants aimed at the Pakistani government, and based along the border with Afghanistan, would complicate U.S. policy in the region by effectively merging the six-year-old war in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s growing turbulence.

“The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably tied,” said

J. Alexander Thier, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan who is now at the U.S. Institute for Peace.

[…]

How the United States responds will hinge largely on the actions of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, in whom U.S. officials have mixed confidence. If there is indeed a new challenge by Islamic militants emerging in Pakistan, then the United States will have to do whatever it can to support Musharraf, the U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.

“Pakistan must take drastic action against the Taliban in its midst or we will face the prospect of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of al-Qaeda — a threat far more dangerous and real than Hussein’s arsenal ever was,” he said, referring to the deposed Saddam Hussein.

The same WaPo dispatch indicates that the US is running with the Interior Ministry’s al Qaeda/Taliban story (if not dictating it outright):

U.S. intelligence and Defense Department sources said there is increasing evidence that the assassination of Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister, was carried out by al-Qaeda or its allies inside Pakistan. The intelligence officials said that in recent weeks their colleagues had passed along warnings to the Pakistani government that al-Qaeda-related groups were planning suicide attacks on Pakistani politicians.

The U.S. and Pakistani governments are focusing on Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, as a possible suspect. A senior U.S. official said that the Bush administration is paying attention to a list provided by Pakistan’s interior ministry indicating that Mehsud’s targets include former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, former interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, and several other cabinet officials and moderate Islamist leaders. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a hit list, but we take it very seriously,” the official said. “All moderates [in Pakistan] are now under threat from this terrorism.”

Mehsud told the BBC earlier this month that the Pakistani government’s actions forced him to react with a “defensive jihad.”

After signing a condolence book for Bhutto at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Rice said the United States is in contact with “all” of the parties in Pakistan and stressed that the Jan. 8 elections should not be postponed. “Obviously, it’s just very important that the democratic process go forward,” she told reporters.

A quick “compare and contrast review: “Asked whether the US was confident that Pakistan could stage an election in January, the US state department spokesman, Tom Casey, said: “Well, we’re going to see what happens.”

Ok, let’s continue:

“We’ve really got a new situation here in western Pakistan,” said Army Col. Thomas F. Lynch III, who has served in Afghanistan and with Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for Pakistan and the Middle East. He said the assassination marks a “critical new phase” in jihadist operations in Pakistan and predicted that the coming months would bring concentrated attacks on other prominent Pakistanis.

Over at Bread and Roses, the ever-quotable skdadl made the following astute observation:

What is out of control in Pakistan is the military and intelligence elites. They aren’t unified, but the different factions are all very powerful, and any one of them could do something bananas at any time. Musharraf’s days are probably numbered.

I don’t know how this problem is addressed, but one thing I am sure of: Americans don’t know how to address it.

They certainly don’t, but someone forgot to inform the usual suspects of this all-too-apparent fact. I wouldn’t be surprised to see O’Hanlon and Kagan’s preemptive strike option given greater consideration now that Plan Bhutto is no longer on the table.

(This also seems like the perfect time to post a link to Najum Mushtaq’s aptly titled The Neocons on Pakistan: Neat, Simple, and Dangerously Naïve.)

On the off chance that elections do happen to take place as scheduled, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is looking to fill the secular void left by Bhutto:

Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister who had brought a raft of corruption charges against Ms. Bhutto and her family, needs to forge an alliance with her currently leaderless political party to challenge the government of President Pervez Musharraf. On Saturday, he flew on a chartered plane to Moenjodaro, where South Asian civilization was born some 5,000 years ago, and from there he drove in a long, dusty convoy of cars to this ancestral village of Ms. Bhutto’s, where senior leaders of both their parties met briefly to condole and discuss the way forward.

Mr. Sharif has already said his party would boycott the polls, scheduled for next month. Aboard the plane to Moenjodaro, he said he hoped Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party would join the boycott.

The party was noncommittal. Farhatullah Babar, a party spokesman, said it was too early for his organization to make a decision about whether to go ahead and contest the elections. The party’s executive council is scheduled to meet Sunday afternoon to discuss its future plans, including “how the party will be led and by whom,” he said.

If Ms. Bhutto’s party does forge ahead with elections, it is unclear whether Mr. Sharif will be persuaded to drop the boycott and join the race. A Peoples Party spokeswoman, Sherry Rehman, said both parties shared the same goal: the restoration of democracy. “We had a very good meeting,” she said Saturday evening. “They were very deeply aggrieved by our loss. They said it’s their loss.”

As they say, developing…

Update: More in depth analysis from The Pakistan Policy Blog, Dave @ The Beav and Cernig @ The Newshoggers.

Update 2: The Pakistani Spectator makes note of the obvious parallel between the Kennedys and the Bhuttos.

Update 3: Bloomberg News updates its report from earlier today:

The [PPP] will name Bhutto’s successor tomorrow and may also decide on whether to participate in the elections or call for postponement, AAJ television channel reported, citing Bhutto’s widower Asif Ali Zardari. Bhutto has named a successor in her will, Zardari said.

Update 4: Sylvia @ Problem Chylde has compiled an exhaustive, must read collection of Bhutto-related links, including this unfortunate post from Moe @ Jezebel (yes, Jezebel *sigh*):

So, was Musharraf, who’d just grudgingly conceded to share power with Bhutto and give up his army leadership position, behind the hit? That’s what conspiracy theorists inside my kitchen seem to believe. But then you’ve gotta wonder how he did it. Did Mr. Enemy of Terrorism Musharraf contract out a suicide bomber from Al Qaeda Inc.? Or does the Pakistani Army have a top-secret suicide unit, and if so, what do you have to do to get yourself enlisted in that? Josh Foust, of Registan.net and “That’s So Jane’s!” columns of yore says the theory doesn’t make sense. “She works much better as an opponent than as a martyr” for Musharraf, he claims. CNN seems to be focused on the question of what happens next: will they invoke military rule? (Isn’t that what you would do?)

Ok, I don’t expect Foreign Affairs or Le Monde diplomatique to opine on Paris Hilton’s recent inheritance trouble. Methinks the folks @ Gawker Media should avoid attempts at serious foreign policy analysis (note: ZOMG Bhutto was gettin’ teh FAT!!111 doesn’t cut it) and stick to their area of expertise, ie, insubstantial celebrity panty-sniffing. To quote Ilyka Damen, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!

Recommend this post at Progressive Bloggers

“She has been martyred”. UPDATES GALORE

by matttbastard

Oh, shit:

Just days before parliamentary polls in Pakistan, leading Prime Ministerial contender and anti terrorism crusader Benazir Bhutto was shot dead during an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. “She has been martyred,” said party official Rehman Malik. The Associated Press, citing Malik, reported that Bhutto was shot in the neck and the chest before the gunman blew himself up. At least 20 bystanders were killed in the blast. Bhutto was rushed to a hospital But, at 6:16 p.m. Pakistan time, she was declared dead.

“”How can somebody who can shoot her get so close to her with all the so-called security?” said a distraught Husain Haqqani, a former top aide to Bhutto, shortly after news of her death flashed around the world. Haqqani, who served as a spokesman and top aide to Bhutto for more than a decade, blamed Pakistani security, either through neglect or complicity, in her assassination. “This is the security establishment, which has always wanted her out,” he said through tears.

[…]

Haqqani, now a professor at Boston University, isn’t sure what the latest bloodshed means for his country. “Will the Pakistani military realize that this is going to tear the fabric of the nation apart, and so really get serious about securing the country and about getting serious in dealing with the extremist jihadis?” he wondered. But he made clear he feels the best chance for such a policy has just evaporated. “She did show courage, and she was the only person who spoke out against terrorism,” he said. “She was let down by those in Washington who think that sucking up to bad governments around the world is their best policy option.”

Superlative ongoing coverage over @ The Newshoggers; many more reactions from around the blogosphere @ Memeorandum.

Related: There goes that liberal New York Times again…

Update: More reactions from Muslima Media Watch and Politblogo.

Update 2: Ongoing liveblogging of media coverage from Pakistan Policy Blog; Pakistani blogger Teeth Maestro, who “was never a fan of her style of politics corruption” but who is now “quite literally forgiving her for everything”, provides an impassioned example of how volatile emotions are in Pakistan following Bhutto’s assassination:

As the country plunges into chaos with news of riots already afoot throughout Pakistan. Yes we will recover, yes the world will move on, but we will surely remember her ultimate sacrifice for Pakistan.

My analysis of who is to blame may be quite simple as we have been repeating the same thing over and over again – The Americans MUST stop their adventures and infiltrations into other countries and their war on terror has destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan stands on the edge ready to plummet into darkness. This war on terror is a war of the Americans and NOT our war.

We Pakistanis Plead with the movers and shakers in United States to Please For Gods Sake Leave US ALONE

Update 3: Momekh @ Metroblogging Lahore:

I personally have never supported Ms Benazir and her party (the PPP). But this, by all means, goes beyond the immediate politics of pretty much everything. It goes without saying that no one, and I mean no one — even for a moment — deserves to go this way, to die in such an unnatural manner and for such obnoxiously stupid reasons. Fate, as we already should know, is not without a sense of irony; Benazir has died (primarily) due to gunfire wounds while leaving a political gathering at Liaquat Gardens; Liaquat Gardens is not only named after, but is also the same place where the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Khan Liaquat Ali Khan was murdered with a bullet.

On the evening of 27th December 2007, Ms Benazir Bhutto died due to injuries sustained in a suicide bomb attack on her life. I feel like repeating this to actually believe it. I feel that almost everything within the Pakistani political makeup will change. There is already incident reports of people ransacking offices of political officials, of protestors burning vehicles and the subsequent sense of fear that things will turn for the worse. I, unfortunately, also feel that the same unjust rule, the same all-consuming lust for power, the same indifference that seems to be root cause of everything evil and the same ‘wheeling and dealing’ associated with the politicians of today will continue unabated.

More on-the-ground coverage @ Metroblogging Lahore and Metroblogging Karachi.

Update 4: CNN just reported that Pakistan’s military has gone on a state of “red alert”.

Update 5 – various: The CS Monitor reports that upcoming elections are in jeopardy and martial law may be imminent:

 The killing of Bhutto leaves a question mark over whether elections can go forward. A political field without her will profoundly affect the larger political dynamic that Mr. Musharraf has been carefully crafting to remain in power. But more immediately, the death of one of Pakistan’s most prominent political leaders has shaken the country. “The country has been pushed into another dark period of uncertainty,” says Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Riots erupted in Rawalpindi soon after the news of her death was confirmed. The city has been the site of several suicide bombings in past months, though most have targeted security forces. Private television channels also reported riots in major towns across the country, especially in Sindh, Bhutto’s home province.

The magnitude of Bhutto’s death obscured another act of political violence Thursday. Four supporters of Bhutto’s opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N), were shot dead at a political rally in Islamabad.

“I think the elections will be canceled,” says Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani security analyst and author of “Taliban.” “We can’t have elections when the country is in this state of violence. We may see the imposition … of extraordinary measures like martial law or a state of emergency.”

In an interview with the BBC, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif also hinted that elections could be postponed: “None of us is inclined to think about the election.”

[…]

Bhutto declared herself lifetime chairman of the party she inherited from her father. Observers are unsure who might take over the reins of the party now.

“It may take months for the party to decide their new leader,” says Hassan Aksari Rizvi, an independent political scientist in Lahore. “I don’t see how they can contest an election scheduled in a few days without a coherent leadership.”

More from AP:

“Shortly after Bhutto’s death, Musharraf convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the election, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.”

Violence erupted as news spread:

As news of her death spread, supporters at the hospital in Rawalpindi smashed glass doors and stoned cars. Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of complicity in her killing.

Angry supporters also took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well other areas, chanting slogans against Musharraf. In Rawalpindi, the site of the attack, Bhutto’s supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled from the scene.”

There is also still some dispute over the exact circumstances of Bhutto’s death:

The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed a rally of thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. There were conflicting accounts over the sequence of events.

Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s security adviser, said she was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up.

But Javed Iqbal Cheema, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told state-run Pakistan Television that Bhutto died when a suicide bomber struck her vehicle. At least 20 others were killed in the blast, an Associated Press reporter at the scene saw.

CFR Senior Fellow Bruce Riedel says assassination “almost certainly” work of al-Qaeda (which has already claimed responsibility h/t Cernig):

Bruce Riedel, a former defense and intelligence official who helped make South Asia policy in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, says he believes Benazir Bhutto’s assassination “was almost certainly the work of al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s Pakistani allies.” He says, “Their objective is to destabilize the Pakistani state, to break up the secular political parties, to break up the army so that Pakistan becomes a politically failing state in which the Islamists in time can come to power much as they have in other failing states.” He says the United States should press the government of President Pervez Musharraf to go ahead with the parliamentary elections—perhaps after a brief pause. “The only way that Pakistan is going to be able to fight terrorism effectively is to have a legitimate democratically elected secular government that can rally the Pakistani people to engage al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist movements,” he says.

Riedel casually dismisses the notion that Bhutto’s killing could have been carried out by Pakistani military intelligence:

I am sure that conspiracy theories about that will abound in Pakistan. She was widely disliked in the intelligence apparatus, but it was more likely the work of al-Qaeda and its cohorts. Now it is certainly possible that they had penetrated and had sympathizers within the Pakistani security apparatus and had advance knowledge of her movements. It is clear from the al-Qaeda attacks in the past, including on President Musharraf, that al-Qaeda has sympathizers at the highest levels of security, and intelligence which provided information on his movements in the past which facilitated the efforts to kill him.

Cernig points out that trying to differentiate between AQ, “rogue elements” within Pakistan’s security apparatus and Musharraf is largely redundant:

It may well be that some Islamist extremist group will eventually get the blame for assassinating Bhutto, but no Islamist group in Pakistan is free of the Pakistani intelligence agency’s influence. All, from AQ and the Taliban on down, have been used as proxies by the ISI. According to some reports, British intelligence even gave the US Mullah Omar’s telephone number – at his ISI safe house in Quetta, Pakistan. The current head of the Pakistani military, a long-time Musharraf loyalist, was promoted to that post from his previous position as head of the ISI. Politically, the main islamist party backs Musharraf in the Pakistani parliament. The notion that Musharraf is battling or fears his own supporters or proxies is simply spin promulgated by Musharraf and his ISI themselves.

With that said, Cernig quotes Jason Burke of the Guardian, who notes:

There are many within the Pakistani establishment who would have wanted her dead. Is President Musharaf among them? I think not. He is a soldier, a nationalist, a pragmatic and far from a convinced democrat, but I do not think he is a closet Islamist. He does not benefit from her murder as it undermines his sole justification for being in power: that he is the only person around capable of maintaining order – with the army as well. Yet there are others within the military, and especially the sprawling intelligence services, who do not necessarily follow his orders.

Among the many reactions from US presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, two in particular stand out. 

First, Democratic candidate Bill Richardson thinks the US should hold Musharraf accountable for Bhutto’s death [edit: and get all interventionist on his ass]:

“The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan’s return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence. … President George W. Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government.”

And then there’s Mitt Romney, seemingly determined to trump “double Gitmo” with an even more ridiculous over-the-top foreign policy statement (IMO he doesn’t succeed):

“This points out again the extraordinary reality of global violent radical Jihadism … This type of loss of life points out again the need for our nation and other civilized nations of the West and of the Muslim world to come together to support moderate Islamic leaders, moderate Islamic people to help them in their effort to reject the violence and the extreme.”

Big ups teh white man’s burden, bi-partisan stylez!

Romney really doesn’t have a clue. Perhaps he really is the most Reaganesque of all the GOP contenders.

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