Of all the mistakes the Western democracies have made in countering Islamist terrorism, there is none more significant and potentially damaging than our indulgence of military rule in Pakistan under President Musharraf. (I've previously commented on Pakistan's dubious and untrustworthy role in this struggle here and here.) The last thing Western governments should do after the cruel murder of Benazir Bhutto is to compound that error by acquiescing in any assurances from Musharraf that a new state of emergency is required to defeat domestic terror. Joshua Kurlantzick of The New Republic succinctly sets out the temptation and the reasons for rejecting it:
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 United States, his major patron, that he will use the emergency period to finally crack down on insurgents operating with near-total impunity along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Some in Washington would be pleased: The Bush administration has been pressuring Musharraf for years to lead such an operation.
Unfortunately, Musharraf has already proven incapable of this task: Reimposing a state of emergency would hardly restore Pakistan's stability. As The New York Times recently reported, the Bush administration now admits the Pakistani military has wasted and diverted massive amounts of the American aid designed to strengthen the battle against Al Qaeda and the Taliban--aid that has cost some $5 billion. Unsurprising, then, that the White House itself admitted in an intelligence assessment this summer that Musharraf's supposed battle against terrorists was failing miserably. Yet at the same time, Musharraf has neutered Pakistan's political culture, helping create a vacuum in which there are few other credible leaders besides Sharif and the slain Bhutto. With Bhutto gone, Musharraf may--surprise--again fill that vacuum. That could be the greatest tragedy of all.
It may also be the speediest route to a Talibanised nuclear-armed state.