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On the Record

Assassination Raises Fears of Renewed Turmoil in Pakistan

World leaders condemned the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Thursday, saying her death was an attack on democratic reforms and civic society in the restive South Asian nation. Regional experts examine what her death may mean for Pakistan’s political future.


 (excerpts):

JUDY WOODRUFF, host: Stephen Cohen, this has been all over the news today, as far as I can see. We are devoting an entire hour to this. Does — is the death of Benazir Bhutto, does it merit that much attention in this country and elsewhere?

STEPHEN COHEN, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies, Brookings Institution: I think it does because she was in a sense the best hope for a moderate, reasonably secular Pakistan, in tune with the rest of the world and Islam that Pakistan had produced in a long time. She had many failings, but I think, on balance, she was going to be — she would have been a better leader her third term, had she won or had she had that opportunity.

And I think her death, but this way, is really strengthening the forces of darkness in Pakistan, and they’re going to see this as a great victory. And the ineptness of the government in protecting her or coming up with any reasonable solutions I think is going to come back to haunt them.

I think there will be more changes in Pakistan, more dramatic changes in Pakistan. And I don’t expect the present setup to remain as it is now.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Cohen, given that, why was she the hope that you just described?

STEPHEN COHEN: Well, I don’t say she was a great — a likely — I don’t think — I think she would have had trouble doing what she wanted to do.

But I think she was the most charismatic and I think dynamic and perhaps intelligent leader Pakistan has produced in a long time. And I think she stood head and shoulders above the rest of the politicians in that regard. So, I think she also had good international ties, especially with the United States.

Pakistan’s problem, of course, in terms of democratization and liberalization, is that two of its major foreign friends, the U.S. and China and Saudi, two of them are not interested in democratization. Nor are they interested in deep social reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, you are saying that the forces, that — that what?

STEPHEN COHEN: That she was bucking the Pakistan army, which is retrograde in terms of its understanding of Pakistani development, which is totally India-focused, and had no interest in what’s going on in the country, except control. And, also, Pakistan’s external support is the Chinese and the Saudis, who are not terribly supportive of a democratic Pakistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying she would have been strong enough to stand up to them, whereas there may not be anyone else who could do that.

STEPHEN COHEN: She would have given a good fight. And I think she would have held her own. She understands how the world operates. And I think she was intelligent enough to manage that. She would have made compromises, but I think she would have made some progress as well.

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