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Bhutto's Assassination Raises Questions about U.S. Aid to Pakistan


Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's political party continues to call for a United Nations investigation into her assassination. Opposition parties have condemned the government's decision to delay parliamentary elections until February 18, due to the rioting following Ms. Bhutto's death. But the opposition groups say they will participate in the elections, which were originally set for January 8. VOA's Ravi Khanna has more.

Pakistani opposition parties accuse the government of delaying elections to prevent a possible "sympathy vote" for Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. They say they fear the move also could lead to more violence in a country still shaken by the assassination last week.

But Samina Ahmed, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group, says the six-week delay is justified. She warns that Pakistan's transition to democracy could either be peaceful and orderly or bloody and chaotic. "We've already seen half the country up in flames and this is before Bhutto's murder,” she explains. “After Bhutto's murder we've seen the extent of public anger. Is this sustainable? No, it's not."

Some longtime observers of Pakistani politics note that Ms. Bhutto's assassins struck not far from army headquarters in Rawalpindi. They say that damages whatever trust people might have had in President Musharraf and the army to fight terrorism.

Husain Haqqani teaches international relations at the Boston University. He asks, "How can a government whose people do not trust it in a matter as simple as investigating the terrorist murder of the country's most popular leader, how can that government have the faith of the people in dealing with the terrorist problem?"

Haqqani says Pakistan's military is losing the support of the people, and that is not good for Pakistan or the United States because the army will have to fight the insurgents without public support. He questions why, despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid to fight extremists, terrorism is rising in Pakistan. "The number of terrorist deaths in Pakistan in 2006 was 1,471. In 2005, it had been only 648, so it was doubled. And now for 2007 the figure is something like 2,300."

Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute says the U.S. policy of giving so much aid to Pakistan may be the wrong approach. He says the army might be under the impression that it should keep terrorism going in order to get more U.S. aid and attention. "I think that we have created a perverse incentive for the Pakistani military. As long as there continues to be a terrorist threat in Pakistan," says Kagan.

Haqqani agrees. He says it is in Mr. Musharraf's interest to prop up the Islamists in Pakistan as a means for milking the United States for more aid.

Danielle Pletka at the American Enterprise Institute argues that instead of giving billions of dollars in military aid, more aid should go towards building a democratic society in Pakistan. "Aid should be directed to a purpose and that purpose should be to deepen civil society within Pakistan,” she says. “It should bring the kind of stability that derives from a more robust democratic system."

Husain Haqqani of Boston University says Washington should use military and economic aid as a leverage to turn Pakistan in the right direction. "Pakistan needs a strong government, a civilian government, that has control over the military and intelligence services. And that makes the turn around from the 'jihadi' past to a future in which Pakistan enters the stage of modernity."

He says Washington can make it possible by attaching strings to the aid because the Pakistani Army right now is very fearful of losing the U.S. aid and attention.

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