Although Bhutto had, for months, considered making an alliance with Musharraf, in recent weeks she had tried to lead the opposition in both decrying Musharraf’s tactics and preparing for the January 8 vote. In fact, Bhutto’s party might well have won. Numerous polls taken in the fall showed Musharraf’s popularity plummeting. One poll taken in September by the International Republican Institute showed Musharraf had a favorable rating of only 21 percent, and only 16 percent of Pakistanis would vote for his party. (By comparison, Bhutto has posted much higher favorable ratings in polls.) And even if her party had lost to Musharraf’s because of vote-fixing, Bhutto’s personal popularity meant she could have instigated widespread street protests after the election, which might have galvanized public support against the general.
With Bhutto gone, Musharraf will have far more freedom to
operate. Her party could still win the upcoming election, riding a sympathy
vote, but it is just as possible that her supporters will fragment without
their leader, since Bhutto herself had worked to block rivals from amassing
power bases within the party. Her supporters could disintegrate into street
violence. Some could target Musharraf, whom they might view as the hand behind
the bombing, given that the killing took place near the heart of
Worse, the general himself may play on Bhutto’s death to
claim that only he can lead the battle against militants and restore stability.
The chaos around Bhutto’s killing could provide Musharraf the opportunity to
postpone the election and re-impose a state of emergency he recently lifted. (The New York Times, citing a Musharraf aide, reports
that "no decision has been made on whether to delay the elections.") Musharraf
could simultaneously assure the
Unfortunately, Musharraf has already proven incapable of this task:
Reimposing a state of emergency would hardly restore
Joshua Kurlantzick is a special correspondent for The New Republic.
By Joshua Kurlantzick