Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has been marked by the political blogosphere as the topic of choice for this morning, which reflects the obvious importance this event has for the world. Not wishing to add greatly to the amount of such comment, I confine myself to three thoughts on the matter, one topical and two more tangential.

Firstly I am reminded of an American commentator on BBC Radio sometime in the early autumn who caught my attention. Sadly I cannot recall his name but he was a senior ex-military or ex-intelligence type who spoke with authority and sound common sense and dealt in an exemplary fashion with the hostile BBC interviewer who was more bent on getting his own partial views of the US on the record than listening to the answers to his sallies.

The US commentator was, to the evident fury of the interviewer, being bullishly optimistic and sanguine as to the prospects in Iraq which elicited what he thought would be the killer question, to wit: “Well, is there anything in that part of the world which troubles you at all?’:

There is one thing which really frightens me and that is Pakistan. Thinking about it keeps me awake at night.

I made a mental note at the time of the tone of his reply which was both genuine and quietly alarming, for it was plain from his answer that the prospects for Pakistan were a matter for really serious and realistic fears on his part. His point was twofold: that The West had to play above its normal game in order to help bring about a situation with which we could live in Pakistan and that a failure to do so was potentially as bad a state of affairs as could be imagined. Events have proved him thus far absolutely right.

Secondly, one notes that Musharraf and the military insist that security arrangements for their nuclear weapons are considerable and effective. One hopes that that is so, but all will remember the break up of the Soviet Union and the grave risk to the integrity of its nuclear weapons security posed by its rapid demise. Given fears that Islamo-Fascist fundamentalists may at some stage have had sympathizers within the weapons programme and have considerable operational freedom within Pakistan, one hopes that the USA has a ‘worst case scenario’ plan designed to provide support to the Pakistan military in the event of a serious problem.

Finally an historically tangential thought: can we now say that Mountbatten’s yielding to the desire of Muslims in India to have a separate state was premature? Would it not have been better to take a more robust line with Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League in keeping India intact whilst allowing a high degree of autonomy to the areas of India which had significant Muslim majorities. Ghandi and Nehru led a largely secular India to independence and, though there have been blips along the way, India has a record of largely stable, secular democracy (with three short periods of coalition government in which the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP was dominant partner) which has in turn brought strong economic growth, turning India into a potential major power of the mid to late 21st. century.

Pakistan on the other hand has had a solid diet of wars with India, civil war, military rule and unstable democratic governments that have often foundered on the rocks of corruption and incompetence. Today it is at risk of serious civil and religious strife which may have profound implications for the whole world. This hardly betokens Pakistan as having been a success as an independent nation.

Against that India’s history may have been very different with a large Muslim majority in its midst, so its success may have eluded it in the face of other problems posed by that significant minority.

Sadly the ‘What if?’ school of history tends to fruitlessness for we know that events turned out otherwise and we can never know if our proposed alternative would have been better or worse and we are left with frustrating speculation. That is certainly so here.

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