Bhutto killing makes a mockery of the West

By backing a politician whose democratic credentials are tarnished by corruption then leaving her exposed to assassination, the US has made itself look incompetent and revealed its plans for the country as half-baked.

The death of Benazir Bhutto, the leading candidate in elections planned for 8 January, is "bad news for Pakistan and the world", said Martin Hutchinson on Breakingviews.

The economy has been growing at a decent clip in recent years, but if it stalls, this nuclear-armed nation of 165 million increasingly radicalised Muslims could quickly prove dangerous.

Its population grows at 1.8% a year and a "huge cohort" of uneducated, unemployed and disenchanted youth would be a fertile breeding ground for extremism.

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And what a "propaganda coup" the extremists have been handed, said Michael Portillo in The Sunday Times. Bhutto's assassination has made a mockery of the West. America's deal for Bhutto to share power with President Pervez Musharraf was "half-baked": while Bhutto claimed restoring democracy to Pakistan would deprive the extremists of legitimacy, "you would not want to bet too much on such wishful thinking". Her democratic credentials were also tarnished by corruption allegations, and by returning her to Pakistan and leaving her so exposed to assassination, the US made itself look incompetent.

Unfortunately, when it comes to extremists, Bhutto's assassination is just the "tip of the iceberg", said William Dalrymple in The Observer. The Islamists are deep in the heart of Pakistan's politics. The manner of Bhutto's death shouldn't mask the fact that she was "as much a central part of Pakistan's problems as the solution".

Many Westerners see the march of political Islam as the triumph of an anti-liberal Islamo-fascism', but Islamists have succeeded in places such as Pakistan by portraying themselves as champions of social justice, fighting decadent leaders such as Bhutto.

Bhutto is being hailed as a martyr for democracy, but she was no Aung San Suu Kyi. During her first 20-month premiership she failed to pass a single piece of major legislation and Amnesty International accused her government of having one of the world's worst records of custodial deaths, killings and torture. Bhutto also had a reputation for corruption and did little for the poor.

Nor is it comforting to learn that Zadari and two "ciphers" will run the Pakistan People's Party until her 19-year-old son, Bilawal, comes of age, said Tariq Ali in The Independent. A political party should not be treated as a "family heirloom", to be disposed of at its leader's will.

Pakistan deserves better. It's not a failed state' in the sense of Rwanda or the Congo it's dysfunctional and has been for nearly 40 years because of the army's power. Musharraf should be replaced by a less contentious figure, to prepare the basis for genuine elections within six months.

I agree, said Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League and former prime minister of Pakistan, in The Washington Post. Musharraf must go, a broad-based national unity government installed, and the judiciary restored to its pre-November "emergency rule" condition. Finally, fair and impartial elections should be held so that the people, rather than a dictator, can decide who is to rebuild the country. If Musharraf is allowed to rule as he has done for the past eight years, "we are doing nothing but waiting for another doomsday".