The tragic death of Benazir Bhutto has left her nation in shambles as members of the Pakistan Peoples Party march through the streets shouting slogans about the “General Killer” who they blame for her assassination. The out pouring of sympathy and respect for the brave Pakistan leader has, unfortunately, transformed a flawed person into an heroic icon. Ms. Bhutto, as prime minister, supported formation of the Taliban and undoubtedly was well aware that nuclear knowledge was being conveyed to other parts of the world. But, she did possess the quality of bravery and this is something President Musharraf must now demonstrate during the long night his nation now confronts.
What can President Musharraf do in order to unite his grief stricken country? He must first recognize that a victory for his Pakistan Muslin League in next week’s election will only further fracture Pakistan. Musharraf must rise above party concerns and reach out to the PPP and his opponent, Nawaz Shariff. A plea from the president to his countrymen to vote for PPP candidates and those of Shariff would resonate with people chanting hatred toward him. This approach would cast him as a statesman who has abandoned partisan party politics in order to unify his divided nation. He could appoint a bipartisan commission to thoroughly investigate and reform the notorious ISI which is believed by many to have had a role in the assassination. Regardless of whether the rumors are accurate, the leadership of the ISI must be thoroughly revamped in order to restore public confidence.
President Musharrf has never displayed statesmanlike qualities because in his heart there is a hunger for order and control. He may wind up selecting the road of authoritarianism or he can walk down the more precarious road to democracy. If PPP candidates and Shariff win control of Parliament, they can unite with the president and address issues of poverty and terrorism. The alternative is further division, further chaos, and further terrorism.