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Life After Bhutto

Life After BhuttoWith Pakistan's future uncertain after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Tufts experts paint a complex picture of the political landscape in the Islamic nation.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.07.08] The Dec. 27 death of Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani prime minister who had returned this fall from exile to challenge President Pervez Musharraf in an upcoming election, threw Pakistan into a crisis. According to Tufts experts on the situation in the Islamic nation, Bhutto's death leaves more questions than answers, and the fate of Pakistan remains unclear.

Several Pakistanis had rallied around Bhutto's promise of democracy, but her death was not entirely unforeseen.

"Pakistanis were quite clear that she was taking risks that were endangering her life," Abbas Hassan, a doctoral candidate at The Fletcher School who served in the administrations of Bhutto and Musharraf, told The Boston Globe. "It became clear she would be eliminated, if not by the terrorists, then by the establishment."

Bhutto was buried without an autopsy, and media reports indicate the government seized medical records pertaining to her treatment immediately after her death. Pakistani officials also blamed a bump on the head incurred while avoiding the attack, rather than a bullet or shrapnel, for her death.

"To her supporters, it sounds like they're belittling her murder, belittling her assassination. And they won't accept this fact from what they see to be a tainted source. And that causes a problem," Vali Nasr (A'83, F'84), a professor of international politics at The Fletcher School at Tufts, told CNN.

The Pakistani government's explanation that al Qaeda was behind the attack that killed Bhutto is not entirely credible, according to Nasr, an expert on Islamic and Middle East issues.

ValiNasr"The idea that al Qaeda was behind this plays very well in America in the environment of fear, of terror," Nasr (left) told CNN. "But it's not necessarily convincing to Pakistanis who think it's too simple to blame a political murder on al Qaeda."

In the wake of Bhutto's death, much of the blame has been cast at Musharraf, who has been criticized for not offering her protection. Prior to her death, Nasr explained, Bhutto herself blamed the government and intelligence groups for attempts against her life.

"Given that in Pakistan there's a great deal of suspicion about the hidden hand of intelligence agencies and their relationships with extremists, this kind of conspiracy theory carries a lot of weight," Nasr told CNN.

Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), should retain influence thanks to its popularity, whether or not a member of Bhutto's family retains control of it.

"There is a large number of people in Pakistan who seek to have a left-of-centre party and the PPP fulfils that need," Ayesha Jalal, the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts and an expert on South Asian affairs, told Financial Times. "That space occupied by the PPP will still be there."

South Asian politics are based more around power, dynasties and allegiances than ideology, leaving little room for new groups or ideas, Jalal explained to The Christian Science Monitor.

"Despite all the talk of democracy, within parties there is no democracy," Jalal told the Monitor. Newcomers to the political scene, Jalal added, "don't have a chance to win."

Before Bhutto's assassination, Jalal told the Monitor that if Musharraf's party retained power through an electoral process, "there will be no peace in Pakistan."

"He would be calling the shots," she explained to the newspaper. "People would be coming to him for patronage."

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