Media Conference Call: Daniel Markey on the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto (Audio)

Media Conference Call: Daniel Markey on the Assassination of Benazir Bhutto (Audio)

from Media Briefings

More on:


Heads of State and Government

      OPERATOR:  Excuse me, everyone.  We now have our speakers in conference.  Please be aware that each of your lines is in a listen-only mode.  At the conclusion of the presentation, we will open the floor for questions and at that time, we will give instructions if you would like to ask a question.

      I would now like to turn the conference over to Gary Samore.

      MR. SAMORE:  Well, thanks to all of you for joining us to discuss the tragedy of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.  I'm the vice president and director of studies here at the Council on Foreign Relations and our main speaker will be Dan Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia. 

      I'll ask Dan to speak for just five or 10 minutes on some of the main issues:  Who do we think -- who does he think is likely to be responsible for the assassination, what are the implications for Pakistani politics; who benefits, who loses; what does it mean for violence and upcoming elections; and what are implications for outside powers -- the U.S. and Europe and others -- what can they do to help stabilize Pakistan?  And then after that, we'll open it up for questions.

      So Dan -- over to you.

      MR. MARKEY:  Thanks, Gary.

      Yeah, this is a bad day for Pakistan.  It's a bad day, I think, for the United States and I think we're going to paying a price for it for a while.  Let me try to answer some of the questions that you've raised, which I think are foremost.

      With respect to who probably did this, you know, all indications from any kind of intelligence or semi-intelligence would be that it's al Qaeda or it's one of the militant groups operating -- or based in Pakistan's tribal areas.  Baitullah Mehsud, one of the militant leaders who has been in a raging conflict with the state of Pakistan and who has expressed his desire to hit at various targets -- including people like Benazir -- is a potential target -- candidate for responsibility, but I think we can't rule out anyone at this stage. 

      I think that the problem -- and others have said this as well, including you, Gary -- is that most Pakistanis who are watching this, who have been watching Pakistani politics unfold over the past six months, believe that Musharraf or the people around Musharraf have created enough animosity for Benazir herself and for her party that someone within the government or someone affiliated with the government might have perpetrated this.  And I think that, quite honestly, that doesn't strike me as being a realistic assessment of what really happened.  But unfortunately, given the political conditions of Pakistan right now, the ramifications are that the belief -- the widespread belief that someone within the government did it or looked the other way and allowed it to happen will be very important politically.  And that gets me to the implications of this event.

      And domestically, within Pakistan, this is likely to throw off the election process.  There's a good chance that the elections will be postponed, although I haven't heard anything definitive on that.  I think that the government has expressed -- over time the government of Musharraf in particular, but others around him, have expressed their concerns about their capacity to hold elections without a great deal of violence.  And this is just another indication of what they're dealing with and their lack of ability to really control the situation -- even under what appeared to be a fairly tightly organized event.  And this is just going to get worse, particularly when you are likely to see street violence and you're already starting to see it in some of Pakistan's major cities, including Karachi.  And that will probably persist for some time and the government may be pressed or feel itself pressed to take, again, extra constitutional measures -- including what looks like martial law; although, I think that as a practical matter, they have nearly all the tools they would need in terms of policing and security to do what they would need to do without imposing martial law, but they may do that anyway.

      The other implications in terms of winners or losers -- one of the biggest questions in my mind right now is within the Pakistan People's Party -- Benazir's party -- who is likely to emerge with the mantel of party leadership at this stage.  And one of the problems of having almost dynastic leaders and an unchallenged leader of the party in Benazir -- and before her, her father -- is that you don't have any obvious candidates for who would take over.  She has not anointed a successor.  She has not made it clear who would take over, should something like this happened -- despite the fact that she's obviously been in danger for some time, she never did that.  And what that means is that at the very least, you're going to see jockeying within the party and at the worst, you'll see a disintegration of the party in general.

      One other point to make about the structure of the party is that a lot of -- their life's blood is money.  And they need that to run candidates around the country to maintain the organization.  And it's her husband, Asif Zardari, who's just flying in -- or maybe at this point has reached Karachi from Dubai -- who has been the moneyman.  And that puts him in an important position for determining what the future of the party is likely to be.  So he's somebody to watch among others.

      The other implications:  If the PPP goes down, then the other parties go up, and that includes Nawaz Sharif and his party, the PML-N.  Even though he's not technically running for office, he could be a -- he will continue to be a very important power player.  And then, of course, how this influences Pakistani perceptions of Musharraf and his party, the PML-Q?  Right now it doesn't look good for the reason that I explained before, that many people are holding him and his people maybe accountable or at least negligent for having allowed this to happen.  And I'm not sure that they can escape from that, and I'm not sure how they'll weather this latest storm on that front.

      With respect to the United States and other players -- India, China, so on, people who are concerned about stability in Pakistan -- this is a significant blow.  It's a blow in the immediate term, because it raises the stakes in terms of levels of political violence, street protests and so on.  And one of the ways that Pakistan could conceivably meltdown under a worse-case scenario is that the level of violence within the street gets out of hand and the army is incapable of controlling it and ultimately is forced -- is driven apart, as in the army breaks down as an institution.  So that's something -- I don't think that's likely to happen.  It wouldn't happen immediately, but it's the kind of thing that this sort of a tragic event that raises the stakes for something like -- that's sort of a really bad outcome to materialize.

      But more broadly, this is a major loss because the elections that were scheduled for early January had the potential to take the country forward, at least haltingly or slowly, towards a more manageable civilian/military partnership in terms of ruling the country, and Benazir would have been a significant part of that.  Despite all of her failures and her flaws -- her corruption and so on -- her failed prime minister-ships of the past, she was still a legitimate civilian leader who could have played a significant role and worked, at least in part, with Musharraf and the army to have a manageable political accommodation in Islamabad, and now that it obviously off the table.  So it sets that process back significantly.  And that's where the United States has essentially put a lot of its bets in terms of trying to move Pakistan forward.  And now I think the administration is very much going to have to reassess that strategy and pick up the pieces.

      So let me leave it there.  Hopefully that covered some of the main points.  And I'll throw it back to you, Gary.

      MR. SAMORE:  Well, thank you very much, Dan.  You've laid out, well, what looks like a pretty grim scenario.  Just while you were talking I've been watching CNN "Breaking News" and it looks like -- from the ticker it looks like Sharif has declared that he's going to boycott the elections.  I assume that means his party, PMLN, would boycott the elections -- which I think reinforces your argument that this -- that one immediate consequence of the assassination is that the elections are likely to be postponed.

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah.

      MR. SAMORE:  Let me ask just one follow-up question, because I think one of the key issues you identified is whether or not there's anyway for the PPP as a political party to survive.  And that really depends very much on whether there are people in the upper ranks who are capable of stepping forward. 

      MR. MARKEY:  Right.

      MR. SAMORE:  And as you pointed out, the way that Benazir Bhutto ran the party makes it very difficult.  There is no single individual.

      But I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the dynamics, and in particular, whether there are any family members or people close to the family who still might be able to step forward in this situation.

      MR. MARKEY:  Right.  Well, I mentioned her husband, Asif Zardari, who as I described is the source of a lot of financing within the party so he's going to be a power player.  Now, the problem with Zardari is that he's widely known to have been incredibly corrupt.  He has no broad political following of his own.  He basically was trading on Benazir Bhutto's name and was using his relationship with her to find himself a place to power.  So he's not a legitimate leader although he'll, as I say, be influential.  Others within her family have -- her brothers have died -- have been killed, and so they've been eliminated from the scene.  The Bhutto family, although she has children, I don't think that they're in a position now to claim a position of leadership although I guess that's remotely possible but I don't think so at this stage.

      There are others who are sort of second tier leaders, and what's interesting or in some ways tragic about the way she ran the party is that some of the most charismatic and effective of those leaders she sidelined because she found them to threaten her, and I'll mention two in particular.  One would be Sherpao, who was the former interior minister, who was just last week attacked in another suicide bombing at his home in a mosque in NWFP.  Now, Sherpao is the leaders of the PPP-S, or Sherpao.  He used to be a member of her party -- of the Pakistan People's Party -- until he split off I believe in part at least because she felt that he was a threat to her and she didn't want him to emerge as a potential leader.  But now that she's gone he may find himself in a position to sort of bring back some of his old relationships within the party and assume a position of power. 

      Another alternative is the widely acclaimed at this point Edzaz Assan (sp) who is the lawyer for chief -- for the chief justice Chowdhury who had been -- obviously as everybody knows had been kicked out and then reinstated over the summer and then eventually removed again under marshal law, and Edzaz Assan is currently, I believe, under house arrest at his home in Lahore.  He, however, retained his membership within the PPP despite the fact that he also was seen as a potential rival to Benazir, and he has a certain national legitimacy and profile that would make him a potential leader of -- potential -- you know, something of a reconstituted PPP or a PPP that had maybe fragmented into various pieces.  He might be a significant player to watch as well.

      MR. SAMORE:  Thank you very much, Dan, for that really insightful analysis.  I'd like to open it up now to people and, you know, just remind you to please identify yourself and Dan will be happy to respond to your questions.

      OPERATOR:  At this time we will open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question please press the star key followed by the 1 key on your touchtone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order they are received.  Our first question comes from Peter Spiegel from Los Angeles Times.

      Q     Yes, thanks very much.  I'd like you to focus a bit more on options for the Bush administration.  Clearly, for the last month or two the whole thrust has been drop emergency rule and speed up to elections.  I guess A, do you think that now hindsight being 20/20 we pushed too hard for him to drop emergency rule and pushed too hard to get to elections, and now looking forward -- (inaudible) -- would it be wrong for the Bush administration to stay on that tack to push for elections to come quickly in January, and also to oppose any reconstitution of emergency rule by Musharraf? 

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, in terms of looking back in hindsight I actually -- I don't think that that was a mistake on the administration's part because this action, although obviously many people wanted to kill Benazir, no one knew when or if it would ever happen, and as it stood as of yesterday I would say that the Pakistani political situation was moving forward towards an election.  That probably would have been a beneficial thing.  So no, I would disagree with the first part of the question. 

      Now, how the Bush administration is likely to respond now is I think that they will react -- they will not propose anything in the way of a timeline for elections but there's every chance that the Musharraf government will seek to delay elections, especially if it's true that Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N decide to sit out the elections.  That means that there's a good chance that a new PPP might do as well.  Everything is too messy to move forward with the elections and they'll come up with a reason to push them off, and I think in that instance the Bush administration will accept it, will recognize that the situation has gotten a great deal messier, and won't push too hard at least in the immediate term as long as it looks like the elections are not indefinitely delayed. 

      Now, if the Musharraf government decides that they need to bring back emergency rule I think, again, you'll probably see concern on the part of the Bush administration because there's rather little that emergency rule provides the Musharraf regime in the way of power to control -- to stem violence -- street violence.  They can do a lot of that without emergency rule.  What it does -- emergency rule -- is give them the ability to detain people indefinitely, and that's not a power that they would necessarily need under these circumstances.  So I think there's a lot that they can do to keep a lid on the level of politicized violence within the country, at least street violence, without emergency rule so I still think the Bush administration will push to make sure that they -- or will criticize them if it looks like they're moving back in that direction and will hope not to see them move back in that direction. 

      So I don't -- I guess going back to the original question I don't think that they made a mistake in pushing against that.  I don't think they pushed too hard.  I think this is something that was -- had -- was the right thing to do and that unfortunately this is an act of violence that was perpetrated not, as I said, by the Musharraf government or because they chose to move in this direction but because there is a legitimate threat to political actors within Pakistan.  There is a legitimate security threat whether from al Qaeda or others who mean to totally derail the process.

      Q     Okay.  Thank you.

      OPERATOR:  Okay.  Our next question comes from Eric Ringham from Star Tribune Minneapolis.

      Q     Hi.  I'd like to follow up a little bit on that previous question if I may.  How are Musharraf's options changed by the fact that he's given up his position as chief of the army?

      MR. MARKEY:  That's a good point -- a good question.  At this stage I don't think that his options have changed all that much, and the main reason I believe that is because the new army chief, Kayani, who assumed Musharraf's powers in that institution, is very much of a loyalist at this stage to Musharraf and does not appear by all accounts to want to impose himself politically on the situation.  And so therefore I think the two of them will work together very much in cooperation in a way that was very similar to what we had in the past when Musharraf was actually in charge of the army.  So that -- I don't think that's going to be a significant problem. 

      Now, if you did see a real break between Musharraf and -- or a difference of opinion between the two of them, then conceivably the fact that Musharraf is no longer army chief would really hurt him and would really weaken him.  But I think that they're very much still on the same page and I don't have too many reasons to think that they're going to break apart at this stage.  So I would say it's -- right now it's a minimal change from where we were before.  He still retains the loyalty -- the capacity to order the army to do what he needs it to do.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Ellen Ratner at Talk Radio News Service.

      Q     Yes.  A couple questions -- when -- I guess a quick one first.  When did the husband get out of prison?

      MR. MARKEY:  That was a couple years ago.  I don't remember the exact date but it was --

      Q     And he's in Dubai now?

      MR. MARKEY:  He's flying back -- he was in Dubai.  He was flying back to Karachi.

      Q     Okay.  And secondly, I interviewed her a few years ago and one of the things she said to me was that she really felt that Musharraf completely looked the other way about terrorism and that he would say one thing to the United States and quite another thing -- did quite another thing.  What's your comment on that because she was very concerned -- just felt that he was --

      MR. MARKEY:  I'm sorry.  That Benazir said this?

      Q     Benazir said it -- yes.

      MR. MARKEY:  Yes.  Well, she has been very critical of Musharraf, obviously from her exile, and then also upon her return she was critical and in some ways for good reason.  What she offered was a vision of civilian leadership in Pakistan that would be able to attack the problem of extremism, militancy, and terrorism because it actually had a legitimacy -- a popular legitimacy -- that Musharraf did not enjoy.  She often especially -- I don't know, not within the past year or so but before that she tended to really focus on what she would label Musharraf's duplicity.

      She tended to change that message as she was reconsidering her return back to Pakistan, but she would go on about how he had essentially made deals with the terrorists or with the militants, that he was working with them and, as you say, would look the other way.

      Now this gets a little bit complicated because there's a certain truth to what she was saying.  You know, for Pakistan, historically, the militants, and many of them, and including some who are now al-Qaeda, have been political -- I guess, they have cooperated with them politically, they have worked with them; they have fostered them; they have nurtured them; they've provided them safehaven -- because they were seen, historically, as a means to project Pakistani power and influence into Afghanistan, and then also on Pakistan's other border, into India, into Kashmir, and so on.  And so these groups were seen as being useful. 

      What's happened since 9/11 -- at least my read, is that gradually, slowly but surely, Musharraf himself and then increasingly others around him including top -- the top level of the army, have recognized that these groups, these militant groups were first of all, not particularly helpful.  Some of them were direct threats to them, especially al-Qaeda, after he was attacked several times.

      (In progress after audio break) -- including military steps, including intelligence steps to attack this threat, which is partially why the level of violence has gone up in the past year or so, is because these groups have seen themselves become the targets for the Pakistani army, for the Pakistani intelligence services, and they have struck back. 

      And what's very sad about this is that maybe Pakistan waited too long, to a point where these groups -- these militant groups were, in fact, in some ways stronger than the state's ability to rein them in.  And that may be what we're -- what we're seeing now. 

      Q     One quick question on top of that, which is that there was all kinds of stories also -- her coming barefoot to her dead brother, that she had arranged his death? 

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah, there are stories about that.  My understanding is that, once again, she and others in her party were concerned about someone stealing the leadership of the -- the reins of power within the party.  And that the -- the story that I heard, and I don't know if it's true, is that she gave a green light for them to tell her brother to back off, because he was essentially -- he represented an alternative leadership within the party. 

      And what she says -- or has told some people, is that people interpreted her green light differently and they actually went and killed him, which was not her intention.  And that she was incredibly distraught and upset when she found out what had happened.  I don't know what the truth is, but these are just some of the stories that I've heard. 

      Q     Thank you. 

      MR. SAMORE:  Our next question comes from Jonathan Marcus at BBC. 

      Q     Yeah, Dan, hi.

      MR. MARKEY:  Hi. 

      Q     Good afternoon to you.  Yeah, a question.  Really, I mean, the Americans now are thrown back very much on General Musharraf for the time being.  We see all sorts of reports of growing strains, tensions, unhappiness with Pakistan's military's capabilities, and so on.  Can you -- (inaudible) -- sort of set out how Washington views General Musharraf precisely at the moment? 

      And the second question -- I think one that has interested a lot of us outside the States:  I mean how far did the very different messages that we hear from the various candidates on the campaign trail, about Pakistan, what should be done, and so on -- how far do those, kind of, complicate the message, the signals that are going out to the region from Washington? 

      MR. MARKEY:  Good questions.  With respect to the first one, on how exactly the United States government views Musharraf, I mean, I think it's, first of all, important to recognize that various branches of the U.S. government have always viewed Musharraf differently, and this, I think, will persist.  And this has been some of the tension that you've been picking up on and that's been widely reported over the past months and year, indeed. 

      And the fact is that in -- and I think in the circles that matter most, in the White House, Vice President's office, the top of the State Department, even the top of the Defense Department, there is a general consensus that while Musharraf is not perfect, and while his country has failed to do a lot of the things that they most wanted him to do, he is -- he is not to be condemned, he is still a partner, and he is still very much of a helpful partner. 

      And I don't think they're going to stray from that.  And in fact, I think if anything, this latest tragedy is likely to reinforce beliefs within those offices that Pakistan is a dangerous, messy place, potentially very unstable and fragile, and that they need to cling to Musharraf more even than they did in the past.  So I think -- I think that's going to reinforce those views. 

      There have been other parts of the U.S. government, particularly those who have seen the Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, and have been very disturbed by the rise of the Taliban over the past several years -- or the return of the Taliban, as a significant threat to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and others who have always been very skeptical about Musharraf's intentions, will continue to be so.  Probably not to the extent that they would believe that he actually manufactured this latest crisis, but at least that they would see that he's -- he's still not a useful guy to work with.  And, if anything, he is even less popular now than he was before. 

      So that's where the tension will emerge and continue to do so as we look ahead.  But I think that the weight of the administration is still very much convinced that Musharraf is a helpful, rather than harmful, figure, and they are likely to stick with him pretty much until the bitter end. 

      On the second question, which had to do with the campaign trail, and the implications, I mean, some of the candidates have, in the past -- and one of the, I think the most significant one was when Barack Obama made his comments about the United States' willingness to go into Pakistan if necessary, if the Pakistanis wouldn't act, and clean out al-Qaeda. 

      And that made waves back in Pakistan, and certainly complicated diplomacy with that -- with the government of Pakistan.  It made Musharraf's life more difficult because it appeared that the United States, and somebody speaking as a potential president of the United States -- the way it was played back in Pakistan is that they were threatening to invade. 

      And I think my concern would be with the current political campaign season -- cycle in full swing, is that you could get some of the candidates saying things that, again, looked threatening or menacing -- looked like, you know, in response to Pakistani instability, that the United States was poised to take military actions there, which I think would only make everyone's life more difficult because, above all, the costs to the United States of taking military action in Pakistan is so high that if anybody is actually in -- sitting in the White House, they wouldn't seriously consider it, at least not at this stage, unless they believed that, you know, for instance, that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were about to fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, or so on, nobody would seriously contemplate that as a realistic option. 

      Q     Could I just say --

      MR. MARKEY:  So that would be my fear. 

      Q     Could I just have one other question.  In your little update to your foreign affairs piece, you spoke about the elements of the Pakistani army and intelligence services portraying a new strategic mind-set -- this idea that they were more willing to see al-Qaeda as a threat to them, and to take action, and so on.  I mean, certainly if you speak to the security people here -- military people here in London, obviously with an intimate knowledge of Afghanistan, and maybe they fall into that camp which you were mentioning before, of those perhaps on the Defense side, who are more aware of Pakistan's involvement there.  I mean, we hear so much about the senior Taliban leaders all being in Pakistan, of senior elements of Pakistan's security services still manipulating Islamist groups for their own political ends, and so on.  I mean, by any standards, I mean, it's not just that Musharraf has dragged his feet, he has hardly really done enough at all, has he? 

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, I think the problem is that -- from where I sit, that the Pakistani intelligence and military apparatus have, for their history, believed that they could turn these groups on and turn them off, use them effectively to their own ends.  And that's -- that's absolutely been a historical fact. 

      The problem is that they are no longer in a position to do so. And not all of them either recognize this, or believe, or -- and now their sympathies, over time, their sympathies have shifted such that, so the intelligence and military are actually, some of them, very sympathetic to these groups.  And so I think that's right, is very much -- should be very much of a concern on our part.

      But I think at the top levels, in terms of Musharraf, I'm less willing then, than I gather you are, to suggest that he has purposefully betrayed or played a double game over at least the past, say, three to four years, in the way that I think some people believe that he has.  I think that what's happened is that he has recognized the threat that is there from these militant groups, but has also recognized that his capacity to work against them, through his own army, through his own intelligence services, is weak because they're so compromised.  And he has relatively few tools at his disposal.

      So the way I interpret it is less a lack of good will on the part of Pakistan's top leadership -- although they don't see the world the same way we do, so that's worth keeping in mind -- but more a deep problem of a lack of capacity.  Lack of capacity, not only to hit out at these militant groups, but to control their own bureaucracies and to get them to work in lock-step to pursue a different path.

      But if you look at the enormity of the problem, Pakistan was very much going in the wrong direction, including Musharraf, on September 10th, 2001.  And their shift, their turn towards seeing al Qaeda as a group that they needed to attack and seeing the Taliban as part of a problem has been an incredibly difficult one to manage.  And I think they still haven't succeeded in managing it.

      OPERATOR:  And our next question comes from Adam Schreck at Associated Press.

      Q     Hello.  I wonder if you could speak a little bit about the economic impact of the attack, both in terms of direct investment from the U.S. into Pakistan, as well as trade between the two countries.  Thanks.

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah.  I would say the economic impact is potentially likely to be felt at the stock exchange in Karachi first, where this -- despite the fact that Pakistan has been a risky place to put your money for a while, this increases the risk. 

      And this is one of those events that was not necessarily foreseen, and so therefore not necessarily factored into people's assessment of what the risk of investing in the Pakistani market would be.  So I think you're going to see the market tumble.  But having said that, most of the people investing in Pakistan have recognized just what -- you know, that they're already dealing in a high-risk environment, and so the money may come back.

      The larger problem is that the Pakistani economy is not getting the kind of outside investment that it needs to keep at the clip that it's been at, which has been a pretty healthy one of around 7 percent, up until recently.  And then more than that, the level of inflation within the country has led many of Pakistani citizens to not feel the benefits of their growing economy and, in fact, to be placed in a worse -- economic bind than they were before.

      So the economic outlook is not great, but I don't -- this isn't necessarily the sort of thing that leads to a collapse.  We've had a number of -- in terms of the stock market or in terms of the economy more broadly -- had a number of shocks, a number of very negative political events that have taken place, and each time people anticipated a real deterioration in the markets, and each time you might have -- you know, you see a blip, you see downturn, but not a complete collapse.  And I anticipate this would be similar.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Maurizio Molinari at La Stampa.

      Q     Yes, thank you.  Two short questions.  The first one is about Sharif, if you can discuss his role, the political options that he has in his relations with the U.S., if he can take the place of Benazir Bhutto in the relations with the U.S. and Pakistan. 

      And secondly, about Musharraf.  Can we exclude at all that he plotted against Benazir?

      MR. MARKEY:  Okay, so -- what is Nawaz Sharif's role in this; how does he benefit or how will he play it?  I think that Nawaz Sharif actually has a tremendous opportunity that he has been granted at this time. 

      He was already a figure popular more for his opposition to Musharraf than for anything that he's accomplished in his past, and now he's a figure that has the potential to take that popularity.  And the removal of the only other really high-profile, national candidate, the removal of Benazir Bhutto from the stage, he could really benefit from that.

      Now, I don't think, however, if it's true that he's decided to boycott the elections, then I don't think that he has made himself any more attractive to Washington as a political partner than he was before.  Because Washington's goal, I think, will continue to be a managed, constitutional, political transition that brings in a new elected government in Islamabad, either on time or maybe slightly delayed.  But that will be Washington's political goal.

      And Nawaz Sharif has -- if he in fact is boycotting, is signaling his desire not to play that game, but to play a game of protest politics and street politics, which is likely to be messier and more destabilizing and not make him any more a friend of Washington than he was in the past.  So I don't -- if it's true that he's moving in that direction, then I don't see that as being particularly beneficial.

      I do say, though, with Pakistani politics you never know.  The game can shift very quickly, and Nawaz Sharif could be back in Washington's good graces if he decides to take a slightly different approach.  And, you know --

      And as I said, he is one of the very few nationally recognized civilian politicians that are out there that Washington can work with and can expect to see any political legitimacy in Pakistan accrue to.  So he's worth -- he'll be someone you'll have to watch, for those reasons alone.

      MR. SAMORE:  I just wanted to confirm that the wires are all carrying the story he's --

      MR. MARKEY:  That he's boycotting.

      MR. SAMORE:  (Inaudible) -- he's announced, because of the assassination, that the PMLN will boycott the election.

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah.  Now, I think it's -- on that point, it's worth remembering that Nawaz Sharif was inclined towards boycotting before, and it was Benazir Bhutto who had essentially pulled him back from that. 

      And the way she did it was by saying that she wanted to participate, and as long as she was going to participate, then those within Nawaz Sharif's party also wanted to participate, because she could shift the balance towards the elections.  She had that kind of political influence.  And that they -- if she was going to contest, if her candidates were going to be out there, then Nawaz Sharif's candidates wanted to be out there to try to win their share of power as well.  Well, now that she's gone, he's very quickly moved. 

      Unfortunately, I think this also demonstrates, at a time of real tragedy within the country and a shocking, if not necessarily surprising event, how quickly Pakistani politicians move to exploit it politically, rather than, say, declaring a day of mourning, stepping back from it, looking for national unity, reaching out -- you know, extending an olive branch.  It very quickly goes into battle mode.

      And you saw this back in October, when Benazir Bhutto's caravan was attacked, how quickly that the level of rhetoric descended into vicious attacks from Benazir, from her people, and from Musharraf's people back and forth, how destructive that was.  But that was a really unfortunate event.  And I think if that is any indication, then we're likely to see that here as well.

      And that kind of gets to the second question, which was how seriously should we take this -- the potential that Musharraf or those around Musharraf perpetrated this act.  And as I said at the outset, a lot of Pakistanis are inclined to believe this and a lot of Benazir's supporters are probably very inclined to believe this, given the threats that they have felt and the fact that this is the second time that she's been hit in, basically, a few months.

      I still would stick to the point that there are militants and extremists and terrorists who have expressed their desire to kill Benazir from well before she returned to the country, and have essentially followed through on that threat.  And if Musharraf is culpable in any sense, it's because his security forces were not capable of protecting an incredibly juicy target, so to speak, from a militant point of view, from a terrorist point of view.  And if they could have done more to control the situation, they should have. 

      But I think it's worth remembering that Musharraf's own people were almost incapable of protecting him on at least two significant occasions when he was attacked by al Qaeda, and presumably that was not a conspiracy that he perpetrated against himself. 

      So my sense is that this is, again, not a conspiracy that he would have pushed, even though there are plenty of people around him who were angry with Benazir, who have no love for her, who are probably pleased that she's removed from the political scene, I still don't believe that they would have taken this particular step or done it in this particular way.  Especially now, because it appeared that the political game had moved on and that everyone was preparing for elections.  To take this step now actually works against, I think, Musharraf's interests and his party's interests, because they were very much hoping to see the elections go on on time and to move ahead and to take that next step in a sort of a post-election context, to rule the country.

      Q     I also think it's worth pointing out that suicide bombers are a particularly difficult security challenge.  And of course there is a history, a very sad history, in South Asia of political leaders being assassinated by suicide bombers in both India and Pakistan.

      And I think the fact that we've seen a series of successful and in some cases unsuccessful suicide attacks against political leaders suggests that this is not the last; we're likely I think in the future to see other attempts against other political figures in Pakistan.

      MR. MARKEY:  I think that's exactly right.  I mean last week the former interior minister, Sherpao, was attacked in his home mosque back in his home territory, in NWFP, by also I believe a suicide bomber.  And he was a friend and colleague of Musharraf, and I don't see any particular reason to believe that that attack was done by anybody meaning to do him harm other than militants and extremists and terrorists like the ones who I think probably just killed Benazir.

      OPERATOR:  Next question comes from Robert Caldwell of San Diego Union Tribune.

      Q     I would like to ask two questions, please.  The first question is, what were the prospects if any for a -- in effect a coalition government involving Musharraf as president and Benazir Bhutto as prime minister had this tragic event not occurred, and had the Pakistan People's Party won the election scheduled for January the 8th?

      MR. MARKEY:  I think the prospects were reasonable, although I think they were often overstated.  A lot of the reporting suggested that she would be -- she was the presumptive prime minister, and I think there were good reasons to think that while she might have -- her party might have emerged with the greatest share of the national vote, it would have probably still been a plurality, not a majority; and that it would have been very much a game of horse trading after the elections between those parties that emerged with between 20 and 30 percent of the national vote.

      That would include the PPP, her party, as well as Musharraf's party, the PMLQ, and probably Nawaz' party, the PMLN, and a few other regional parties and so on.  They would have been you know trading back and forth for various positions.

      Now Benazir may have been able to maneuver herself into the prime minister role.  But because she was such a divisive character, there's a good chance that instead of serving as prime minister herself, she would have essentially used her influence and her vote share to make sure that somebody got the prime minister position; that she found at least somebody she could work with, or somebody who was not particularly -- couldn't really challenge into the future.

      So you might have gotten a relatively weak prime minister, but somebody who everybody, all the various parties, thought that they could work with, kind of a consensus candidate.

      And so like I said I think often it was overstated, the extent to which she actually would have been prime minister.  But if you pull back from that, even if she hadn't been prime minister, she would have been a tremendously powerful character, supposing she had won -- her party had won, say, 30 (percent) to 40 percent of the vote.

      And I think that would have made her sort of the power behind the scenes, sort of a Sonya Ghandi type figure, to take another South Asian metaphor, and to -- somebody who Musharraf would have had to work with in order to achieve any goals with the Parliament; somebody who would have had to factor into the discussions between the actual prime minister and the army chief and the president and so on.  So she was going to be a very powerful figure, whether or not she actually held the seat of the prime minister.

      Q     But the sense of my question was whether -- or one sense of my question -- was whether the putative alliance or understanding between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto was still a live possibility.

      MR. MARKEY:  Right. I think what had happened was that rather than having to have a very much negotiated, and behind the scenes gaming out of a kind of a settlement between the two, they had, for better or for worse, moved past that to a point where she was essentially going to rely upon her showing at the elections to give her the power, the seats in the parliament to play politics with Musharraf.

      So it would have less been a game of behind the scenes manipulation and more a game of politicking than anything else.

      Q     And -- thank you.  And my second question was, we're already seeing news reports this morning from figures allegedly linked to al Qaeda claiming responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  What's your best sense at this point of who most likely did that?  And would your assessment include al Qaeda?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, I think we don't know, and I haven't seen these claims of responsibility yet, so we'll have to wait and see.

      But in terms of -- yes, of course it would include al Qaeda, absolutely.  They have seen her as a threat.  She stands -- has stood against pretty much everything that they would stand for, and her assuming the role as either prime minister or simply a power broker within the Pakistani political spectrum was something that al Qaeda would be very much opposed to.  So they're at the top of the list. 

      But there are a number of other groups.  I mentioned this one, Bitula Massoud (sp), operating from the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan, someone who has claimed publicly that he has hundreds if not thousands of suicide bombers who are willing to fight back against the Pakistani state, and who has declared that he would like to hurt members of Musharraf's government and others.  And even very recently, apparently, there are some news reports that there had been warnings about threats to Islamabad, today, and yesterday, coming from him; and that he had named a number of people that he wanted to attack, importantly that they were all Shi'as -- Shi'ites; he's a militant Sunni extremist.  And of course Benazir would fit on that list as well.  So he's somebody that I would put near the top of the list and who is regularly described as an al Qaeda affiliate because he's very sympathetic to al Qaeda and has probably helped them and worked side by side with them in the past.

      Q     Thank you.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Josh Grogan at Congressional Quarterly.

      Q     Hi, thanks.  I wanted to ask you about U.S. aid to Pakistan, a total of something like $10 billion since 2001.   I'm wondering -- there's been a lot of  Congressional concerns recently that the aid has been misused by President Musharraf, but moreover that the Bush administration has failed to demand proper accounting of the aid.

      I'm wondering if this incident furthers the drive by mostly Democrats in Congress who want to link that aid towards progress towards constitutional government, or members who want to get the administration to more fully report on where that aid is going?

      MR. MARKEY:  I think the desire to see full accounting for U.S. assistance to Pakistan will persist.  I don't think this is necessarily going to play into it.  If anything, I would imagine that a number of people who had been really pressuring the administration to be harsher towards Musharraf, to be more demanding of him, may step back after this tragedy and recognize the level of fragility and instability within Pakistan.  If anything, this probably makes them inclined to tread more lightly on these issues, rather than to push harder; and in particular to recognize the extent to which democracy in Pakistan is -- can't be based on a single individual, whether it's Benazir, Nawaz, or anyone else.  Because that is obviously a weak reed to base anything on and how far Pakistan has to go in order to actually get anything that looks remotely like a real democracy, deeper sort of ripple functioning of its civilian institutions, and how far it has to go even to be able to have free campaigning out in public because of security concerns, which to my eye are very real, and which they recognize to be real.

      So getting back to the Congress, I think -- my expectation is that yes, the pressure will still be on the administration to have a full accounting about where their money is going; but that maybe some of the pressure with respect to democracy or pushing for democracy, people may take a second look and recognize just what a volatile sort of situation they're dealing with.

      Q     Thanks.  And a quick follow up.  A lot of members also today are calling for some sort of U.S. involvement into the investigation to make sure that it's conducted in an open transparent manner.  Is there a role for the U.S. government in the investigation into this incident?  And what can different branches of the government do to get involved?

      MR. MARKEY:  Right.  It's interesting, after the Karachi attack in October, Benazir herself asked the government to allow international -- including FBI -- investigators to come into Pakistan to conduct the investigation to see who had perpetrated the attack.  And that didn't happen.  The government of Pakistan said that they were perfectly capable of investigating this on their own.

      I think that this is an open question as to whether the Bush administration will push for this -- for, say, an FBI investigation.  I would imagine that some people on the Hill will do that.  I don't think that the Bush administration is likely to push it very hard unless they got some signal from Musharraf that this would be welcomed.

      And if you play it back into the Pakistani political context, I think that's quite unlikely because the Pakistanis obviously see themselves as a sovereign nation which is perfectly capable of investigating crimes like this one.  They often tend to discount the international legitimacy or public opinion bump that they might get by allowing others into their country to do these investigations because it might look better on the world stage; because domestically it doesn't look good at all, it looks like they are essentially kowtowing to outsiders and farming out responsibilities of the state to the United States or to someone else.

      So I don't think -- unless something shifts, I really don't see either the Musharraf government, and then by implication the Bush administration, wanting to see outside FBI investigations or otherwise come into the country.

      OPERATOR:  Your next question comes from Josh Meyers (ph), LA Times.

      Q     Hi, Dan. 

      MR. MARKEY:  Hi, Josh.

      Q     Some of my questions have been partially answered.  But I wanted to see if you could go into a little more detail some of the other potential suspects in this, including Lasgiri Tibor (ph) or Jaschi Mohammed (ph) or Lasgiri Jongbir (ph), some of the radical fundamentalist groups and their ties to elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence.  It seems like that would cloud the whole picture in terms of an investigation.

      And also do you think that that would impact Pakistan's ability to really get to the bottom of this even if it wasn't ordered by anybody at the top of the military or intelligence; potential ties to people at the sort of front lines, do you think that will complicate this?

      MR. MARKEY:  Let me first say with respect to this question and the previous one that I have zero confidence that the Pakistani government will get to the bottom of this, if they want to, or if they don't want to, no matter who was actually responsible for it, even if they invited in the FBI, I have zero confidence that they would achieve a great deal of clarity on who actually perpetrated this, unless the perpetrators take responsibility for it and come out and in some very obvious way tell everybody who did it.  I mean I think that's how the investigation will achieve success is that.

      All of the questions that you've raised are completely legitimate ones, in that there are sectarian militant organizations like Lashgiri Johgbir (ph) and others that have very obvious reasons that they would have wanted to perpetrate this act against Benazir.  There are Sunni groups that would want to hit at a leader from Sindh (ph).  Other groups that essentially have long enjoyed the protection of the Pakistani state, Lashgiri Tibor (ph) being one of them, that are very clearly engaged in activities still in Afghanistan, still in Pakistan, have a hand in attacks against other members of the Pakistani state apparatus, and also probably enjoy connections to -- at least at middle or lower levels -- to Pakistani intelligence and military officers, which would allow them entrance into an event like this, or allow them to get close enough to know what the plans would be, and then to perpetrate the attack.

      The thing is that there are just too many different groups that both have the desire to do this and also one way or another have the capacity to do it, to make any sense of it, until one of them convincingly comes out and suggests that they did it.  And that's the only way that I think that this will actually be unraveled.

      But all of the problems you suggest are very real in terms of these groups being -- having their tentacles already extended into the organs of the Pakistani state, which is what makes it so troubling.

      Q     Thanks.

      OPERATOR:  Your next question comes from Scott Malcolmson at the New York Times.

      Q     Hi, I was just wondering if you could comment a bit on what this might imply for the Islamists who are in political parties, especially the JUI, which have been meaning to contest the election; and the Jamiyat a-Islami (ph) which had decided not to?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, how will this play?  I mean one of the things, now for JUI -- now to be careful here what we are talking about are Islamist parties that are not themselves military groups, though some of them to a greater or lesser extent have relationships with military troops; and that's true for both JUI and JI.

      And so for JUI I would call them basically a party of -- with the strongest base in the NWFP, and based in the madrassa system, a lot of their party candidates are in fact, you know, in some ways teachers or mullahs who have been a part of that madrassa system.

      And I think that the way that they could conceivably capitalize upon this if the PPP as a party, Benazir's party, is deeply weakened.  So it's an electoral calculation as to whether various candidates who are depending upon the strength of the PPP as an organization and the money from the PPP to help propel them onto success, whether those candidates will now be so severely weakened that the JUI can jump in and seize those spots.

      But I don't think -- and the JI, as you said, has already declared its desire not to run.  It's already boycotted the elections.  So if the elections actually happen, which is very much up in the air, then the JI won't capitalize in the way I've described.

      The rest of it -- I mean these are groups that are very clearly opposed to the PPP on platform, historically have opposed, although at various points they have worked together.  So there's not a lot of overlap in terms of constituencies that would sort of bleed into the JUI or JI, or sort of fall away from the PPP and join one of these parties.  It's more a matter of whether the PPP as an organization is just so weakened that it cannot contest effectively in a nationwide election, whenever it's scheduled.

      OPERATOR:  Next question comes from -- (inaudible) -- from Afghan News.

      Q     Yeah, hi, I just wondered what impact it will have on Afghanistan, and also on India -- this turbulence in Pakistan.

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah.  Well, this depends on how far it goes.  At this stage it remains very much a domestic Pakistani problem, although I think that all of the distractions, all of the political distractions that have taken place within Pakistan, including the chief justice protests, including the declaration of emergency rule, and now this, all of these have distracted the top leadership of the Pakistani state from what are very real challenges in terms of diplomacy and working together with the region; working -- Musharraf working with President Karzai; Musharraf working to try to -- on the other side of his border to try to bring about better relationships with India.

      I think all of these things have received a lot less attention because of the political turmoil within Pakistan and because of all the distractions.  And this is no different.  And this one also, unfortunately, has the potential to further destabilize and weaken the Pakistani state.  And for both Afghanistan and India, I would say that their biggest threat right now is a weak Pakistan, not a strong Pakistan, because that's the way the trend lines are pointing; a Pakistan that is not capable of controlling the flow of militants across its border either into Kashmir or into Afghanistan is one that is very much going to hurt both New Delhi and Kabul in the future.

      MR. SAMORE:  Just to add, I think the big question here is the extent to which there will be heavy street violence, and the ability of the government to control that.  And of course that's something nobody can answer, but I think we'll begin to see the response on the street as early as tomorrow.

      MR. MARKEY:  That's absolutely right.

      I mean, tomorrow morning, Pakistan time, we'll have a better sense as to whether the cotters (sp) of the PPP, its foot soldiers are being egged on by their leadership, are being brought out into the streets by what leadership remains, who, in fact, is pushing the PPP party agenda, and whether they're pushing loudly for a return to the streets, or whether they're saying we need to stay the course, or whether they're not saying anything, and essentially not giving any directions from the top.

      These are all the things that need to be watched very carefully, and I think right now the phone lines, the cell phone lines between the top PPP leaders are going to be burning up all through the night in terms of trying to determine who is likely to be the spokesperson, who is likely to get out in front.  As I said, there's no obvious person to assume that role, and so that -- that needs to be determined by that internal party jockeying.

      And unfortunately, there's a good chance that there will be a great deal of disagreement within the party, and that they may not arrive at a conclusion, which will lead to confusion within their own party ranks, and maybe compound the problem of street violence because no one will be in charge, no one will be orchestrating it, and therefore nobody can turn it on or off to suit their political goals.

      MR. SAMORE:  And as far as I can tell there's been no official statement from the PPP beyond announcing Bhutto's death.  And I think that's an indication, as Dan says, that there's probably disarray, and even disagreement, you know, within the upper reaches of the party about how to handle this situation.  It will be, I think, most important for people to look  for some kind of statement from a PPP spokesman tomorrow morning, whether they try to encourage calm or whether they argue that the government was responsible and that people need to take their protests to the streets.  That'll be a key development for tomorrow morning.

      Q     Thank you.

      OPERATOR:  All right, our next question comes from Dan Turner at LA Times.

      Q     Hi.  You -- you have talked a little bit about the way you thought the U.S. administration would react.  But can you address at all how you think it should react?  Is -- is all of the support that we're -- you know, is Musharraf really worthy of all the support that we're giving him?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, I think at this stage, the answer is a qualified yes, and by that I mean, yes, the United States should be reaching out to President Musharraf as the president of Pakistan and as a person who is capable of making major decisions about how the state of Pakistan will respond to this.

      And so therefore, I think, you know, it would be -- it would be folly for the United States for the Bush administration to take this opportunity to pull away from Musharraf or to introduce an added complexity into the situation because there's nothing to be gained from it in the short term.

      The problem has been over the longer term, over the period since 9/11, if there's a criticism to be leveled against the administration, it's that it didn't take steps earlier to cultivate better ties with a wider range of leaders within Pakistan.  And that's not my own criticism, but that's one that's widely believed, and I think it has some merit because Musharraf, as everybody knows, is now deeply unpopular in Pakistan.  And despite the fact that he's the man on the spot, he doesn't enjoy the popular legitimacy that will make him I think a particularly effective leader over the longer term.

      So that's where the United States need to gradually pivot, and that's why these elections were going to be so important because they were going to allow Washington the opportunity to forge a relationship with civilians -- whichever civilian political leaders emerged out of the elections in the role of prime minister, in the role of the leading party.  That was going to give Washington a very smooth opportunity for transition to a sort of fresh set of faces potentially including Benazir, and that's why this is a huge setback.

      Now what else the United States should be doing right now is the United States should be reaching out to anybody and everyone within -- I think within the Pakistan People's Party, to first of all express condolences, but beyond that, to make it very clear that this is a moment where the members of the party can be responsible for moving ahead either through a managed constitutional set of elections, either as scheduled or slightly delayed, or can take to the streets and that the United States should express its strong belief that taking to the streets not only doesn't serve the Pakistani People's Party, it doesn't serve Pakistan, it doesn't serve the United States; and that at the same time, the U.S. would very much like to work with anyone within the party as they begin to sort out their leadership problems, and re-emerge as an effective party to take forward the messages that Benazir was trying to take forward in the past. 

      That should be where the United States stands.

      MR. SAMORE:  Dan, what do you think about sending a senior envoy to Islamabad, certainly to attend the funeral, but also to try to encourage that message of calm?

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah, I think it would -- it would be very useful to send somebody probably at the level of, I don't know, Negroponte, or even Secretary Rice.  I believe Rice has already called over to a number of the members of the PPP, and Bush has already called Musharraf, just to sort of express U.S. concern and condolences.

      I think you're likely to see that.  I think that could be very helpful in the near term to demonstrate the United States very publicly is upset by what's happened and stands with, you know, the people of Pakistan and the Pakistan People's Party.  But I think it could also help the party, the Pakistan People's Party, see that they have the potential to forge a good relationship with the United States, and that they should look to that as an alternative to taking to the streets and making this an even more messy situation.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Larry Gray at World Socialist website.

      Q     Yes, hello.  What's been described as an extremely obviously volatile and explosive situation in which sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence are in fact closely allied with what are described as terrorists and militants and extremist groups.  My question is, is it necessary, in order to understand this, to take a somewhat broader historical view, and particularly consider U.S. policy at least going back to the regime of Zia, whom the United States supported, and who carried out the Islamicization of Iraqi politics, and played a very central role in the U.S.-backed mujahadeen intervention in Afghanistan, in which, of course as we know, Osama bin Laden and the other forces who became al Qaeda were backed and financed by the CIA, and were working as sort of proxies of the Zia regime.

      Isn't it necessary to examine a lot more critically United States policy itself?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, I think that that examination is something that a lot of people have been doing, and recognize that if there was a mistake that was made over that period, it was not understanding the full extent to which, as you mentioned, the Zia Islamicization campaign and the support of some of the most radical Islamists within the mujahadeen operating in Afghanistan from Pakistan -- with support from Pakistan -- would eventually boomerang and hurt both Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States and the world.

      Unfortunately, that's where we are.  And I think that right now if you look at -- if you examine U.S. policy, you'll see that the, you know, the support to President Musharraf has both a positive and a benefit -- and a downside to it.  And the beneficial side to it is that Musharraf has, in fact, taken some significant steps to work against these militant groups, and I would suggest has been more inclined to do so over the course of the past few years; in other words, he's gotten better, not worse, at least in terms of his desire to do this, and his capacity is what's holding him back. 

      And on the downside, by working with Musharraf as a military leader, rather than a civilian, the United States has allowed itself to be criticized by the people of Pakistan for supporting an increasingly unpopular leader in their country.  And that, I think, has hurt the United States' ability to reach out to the Pakistani people and to show that we can be a credible partner that serves their interests and works with them in cooperation, rather than just simply pushes them to do things that they don't like to do.

      And again, I would just simply come back to these upcoming elections, where an opportunity for the United States to pivot and to gradually begin to support and work alongside of Pakistani civilian politicians more effectively.

      And it's my hope that over the coming months -- weeks to months -- that we don't move further away from that.  In other words, if the United States can make one statement to Musharraf, it's we understand if you might need to postpone elections for some period of time, given the tragedy and the turmoil that it throws the process into, but that eventually this -- there needs to be a return back to elections, rather than a sustained period of, again, martial rule or military rule without any kind of democratic accountability -- (inaudible) -- to be a part of it.

      MR. SAMORE:  I think it's very interesting that the White House statement issued by President Bush does not specifically call for the elections to go ahead on January 8th.  So I'm sure the White House and the U.S. government in general is holding its breath to see what happens in the next couple of days. 

      But, you know, clearly the prospects for going ahead with the elections right away, I think, are -- much diminished.  And Dan's point, I think, is that we have to figure out a way to get back to that process.  But it's not likely to take place in the near future.

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Susan Schrobsdorff at Newsweek Magazine.

      Q     (Off mike.)

      OPERATOR:  Ms. Schrobsdorff?  (No audible response.)  Okay, we'll take the next question.

      The next question comes from Hatanaka Keitu (ph) At Nikkei.

      Q     Hi.  Thank you very much for this. 

      I was curious.  There was talk back in October or November that the U.S. was a bit concerned to the security of nuclear weapons and materials in Pakistan.  I'm wondering what is your take on this?  Do you think we should worry about this question, given that there is a good chance of street violence tomorrow morning, as you mentioned?

      MR. MARKEY:  I wouldn't say that the political developments over the last 24 house change my concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program.  The concerns that we -- that the United States and others correctly have about Pakistan's program is that, unfortunately, they are in a very dangerous neighborhood with lots of people who intend or would like to get control of their weapons, including al Qaeda.  And that their capacity for protecting themselves against that sort of attack is limited by their ability to protect them physically -- to patrol, to keep individuals who are terrorists out of the ranks of the army, out of the nuclear security establishment, and so on.  So there is a very real threat that Pakistan faces because they have a nuclear arsenal, and because they are operating in a very dangerous environment.

      But that hasn't changed over the last 24 hours, and the type of street violence that we are likely to see is not directed in any way towards the nuclear establishment.  It's directed into the streets against the organs of the state, such as the police and others who essentially are very political in nature. 

      And the real threat, and I think Gary was alluding to this, is that if the street violence escalates past a point where the normal organs of the state -- that is, the police and the paramilitary forces -- past the point where those organs are capable of reining it in, keeping it at some degree under control, then the army will be placed in a very difficult spot.  Because they will be asked by the Pakistani leadership, presumably, to step in and essentially stand against the people in the streets. 

      And that's where the army could, as an institution, break apart because they would be unwilling to stand against people they see to be their own family and their own citizens, quite obviously.  And that would -- conceivably you could see a breakdown within the structure of the army whereby some elements of army were willing to take these steps and others weren't, and then the institution is really in danger. 

      And that's at the only stage where you could see the nuclear weapons establishment coming under threat, because it would be unclear as to where the nuclear establishment stood within that larger army infrastructure, that institution.

      But we're not there yet and, hopefully, we won't get there, but -- so it's not the street violence itself; it's the implications or the potential implications of the violence down the line.

      Q     Thank you very much.

      OPERATOR:  The next question comes from Will Englund at Baltimore Sun.

      Q     Hi.  Assuming that the protests, the street violence, can be contained, I'd like to go back to something you were talking about earlier.  You were saying that Musharraf and the people around him have the will to do something about the militants, but often lack the capacity, or in some ways lack the capacity to do what they would like to do.

      I guess my question is does the assassination change that in any way.  What are the implications for the government policy toward militant -- toward the Taliban and in the tribal areas?

      MR. MARKEY:  I don't think that it really does.  I mean, look, we're looking at a basic lack of --

      The Pakistani army, first of all, is an army that was created to fight a conventional war against India, and probably wouldn't have been especially good at that, either.  But that's what it was intended to do as an institution.  And it is not intended to be a counterinsurgency force or a counterterrorism force, and has gradually, in terms of its operations, been called upon to shift gears and become something of that.

      But in terms of changing the doctrine and operational capacity of any large organization to do something that it didn't originally see as its mission, it's a very long and difficult process.  And I would say the Pakistanis have not been making very fast progress at it, in part because there is still some question, in certain levels of the army, as to whether they should shift gears entirely and see the internal threat of militancy as the primary security threat that they face, or whether they should retain a very strong capacity, or what they believe to be a stronger capacity, to fight off the Indian threat, which has always been their historical enemy.

      So this isn't going to shift that; at least, certainly it's not going to shift it overnight.  They've been willing to throw troops at the problem of militancy in the tribal areas, but those troops are not particularly effective.  They -- again, they lack the training to do counterinsurgency.

      And, you know, hitting at targets who are capable of fighting back with suicide vests and individual bombers, this is a very, very hard problem and one that the U.S. military hasn't been able to completely deal with in a place like Iraq.  It's hard to imagine that the Pakistani army is going to be able to do significantly better.  And so far, they've done a lot worse.

      So I think, unfortunately, this is going to be a long-term security problem and one that, hopefully, that over time, if there's anywhere that they could improve in terms of the Pakistani army and in terms of its relationship with the United States, it would be making sure that they are receiving the kind of training and supplies that are directly relevant to meeting this kind of threat, as compared to meeting the India threat. 

      And that's where a lot of critics suggest that rather than getting a bunch of F-16s, the Pakistani army would be better served by getting training and building up commando -- counterterrorist commando cells and other groups that require a high degree of training and also certain kinds of specialized tools, including night vision and helicopters and sort of high-tech intelligence-type tools, surveillance, that sort of thing. 

      That's where they could improve themselves, and that's where, if you do see a shift, they would put greater emphasis.  But that, again, is not going to happen quickly.

      Q     Okay.  Thanks.

      OPERATOR:  The next question comes from John Edison (sp) from the Globe and Mail.

      Q     Thank you.  I was wondering if, in the broader context of American foreign policy, you could speculate on how this is going to affect the legacy of George Bush's foreign policy. 

      Critics have said that one of the great mistakes that he made was going into Iraq, thus beggaring the forces that were available for Afghanistan and allow NATO forces, more or less unsuccessfully, attempt to contain the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  Things have continued to get worse in Pakistan, and this is sort of the proof of the misdirection of the Bush foreign policy.  Or do you in fact believe that this would have happened regardless, including the decline and decay of the situation in western Pakistan?

      MR. MARKEY:  I think that the Bush administration is very much open to precisely the sorts of charges that you've suggested, which is that by opening up Iraq, shifting attention and resources away from Afghanistan, the United States never fully dealt with either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

      I would say that that's a reasonable concern and a reasonable charge to make against the Bush legacy, in that Pakistan has long been recognized, from early in the administration and certainly after 9/11, as being one of those ticking time bombs of -- against world security and, especially, U.S. security.  And that by not placing more emphasis on it and, in particular, not spending more top-level time among senior officials within the Bush administration, and Bush himself, at resolving both the political and the security concerns that are all wrapped up within the Pakistani puzzle, that by not spending as much time or energy on that, they really are now paying the price.

      Having said all of that, Pakistan is an incredibly complicated and difficult challenge, and it would have been so even if the Bush administration had decided to place a tremendously greater level of resources and attention on the problem.  There are no easy solutions in Pakistan, and even with the best of intentions, a lot of the problems that they face in terms of instability in the tribal areas have been problems for generations.  And unfortunately, the desire on the U.S. part to see quick solutions in these places, I think, is misplaced.  It's going to take a very long time.

      And I think some within the Bush administration felt that the best we could do was keep a lid on things in Pakistan and keep it broadly moving in a direction that could conceivably bear fruit over the longer term. 

      And that's what I think they thought they had accomplished when we were moving towards elections, and particularly before martial law back in early November, I think there were a lot of people in the administration who felt that Pakistan was basically moving in a way they were comfortable with and that if they had elections, and if the civilians participated in the elections and you saw new -- a new government, that you could actually get a pretty workable, positive, constructive outcome and one that would serve the Bush legacy well.

      And now that has unraveled still further, and I think we're likely to see even more trouble over the next weeks and months.  And I'm not sure that they can't pick up the pieces to some degree, but I think that it does get back at these original points that you made about the extent to which they've been distracted and haven't necessarily put as much emphasis on the problem as they could have.

      Q     As a very quick supplementary, do you think that the assassination of Ms. Bhutto will lead to an acceleration of redeployment of both diplomatic and military forces into Afghanistan and diplomatically into Pakistan, or is it more likely that they'll -- the administration will just throw up its hands and try to stay the course until the end of next year?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, in terms of -- obviously, it brings the issue to headline news everywhere.  And to the extent that top decision-makers in Washington are compelled by that attention, to themselves pay more attention to it and then to propose better solutions and more resources, and particularly to bring greater diplomatic involvement, that that is likely. 

      So that's a long way of saying yeah, I think they're going to throw a lot more diplomacy at the problem.  There is going to be even more attention than there has been, although I've been frustrated to see how you get a crisis-after-crisis, sort of rolling crises in Pakistan and yet you still don't have an individual in the U.S. government at the senior-most levels who you can identify -- other than maybe Negroponte, but even Negroponte has been sort of charged with many other responsibilities and hasn't emerged as the go-to figure on Pakistan.  And I think the administration would benefit from someone like that who could keep a much closer watch on the problem.  That's on the diplomatic side.

      In terms of resourcing, no, I don't think it's going to significantly shift resourcing to Afghanistan or to Pakistan in the near future.  I think that Afghanistan is on it's own timeline, to some degree, and Pakistan is going to depend on how we emerge from this.  If we do get elections in the next six months, if we do have a new government in place, then I think there may be a real opportunity for upping U.S. assistance to Pakistan.  But if we don't, then that will be the determining factor, not what happened today.

      Q     Thank you.

      OPERATOR:  Next question comes from Hugh Hewitt at the Hugh Hewitt Show.

      Q     Thank you for this.  It's very informative.

      Can you give us a map of the militancy -- the number and sophistication and sort of the coordination that they have, given the number of spectacularly successful attacks?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, in terms of the militancy, what you have are layers of militant groups.  At -- if you want to say, at the core you would have a terrorist operation like al Qaeda, which very clearly is global and intent in purpose and probably very limited in terms of numbers, at least in Pakistan or in Afghanistan.  They don't rely on huge numbers of people.

      Then, branching out from that, you would have some of the Lashkar-e-Taiba-type organizations.  These are ones that are militant groups that have either been directed towards Afghanistan or Kashmir in the past, probably have membership in the thousands, if not slightly higher.  And also, in the case of Lashkar-e-Taiba, maintain non-militant arms that are taking other steps in Pakistani society -- humanitarian operations after the earthquake.  They retain a kind of a political agenda that is militant in terms of its ultimate goals, but not in terms of tactics. 

      So you also have that broader -- if you're talking about concentric circles, you have even the -- you have the militant groups in the thousands and then even more who are kind of sympathizers and followers who are willing to contribute resources and even to volunteer and serve as part of these groups.

      Then you have, even beyond that, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, at this point even millions of people who would broadly fall into the category of Islamist in outlook, and militant in sort of their willingness to use violence to further their goals, even if they themselves are not gun-toters.  And they are, unfortunately at this stage, throughout the country.  They operate through -- some of them -- through mosques and madrassas, some of them through less formal channels. 

      They pop up in a variety of places, and they have historically had deep connections to the Pakistani intelligence and military.  So in that sense, they have infested the Pakistani state as well, and brought many of them into their organizations, or at least have worked side by side with them. 

      (Cross talk.)

      Q     Do they aspire to a Taliban-like governance, or do they want a Saudi Arabian sort of coexistence with the secular state?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, it depends on who the "they" is, but many of them would, at this stage -- especially the militants in the FATA, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas -- people like (Fatullah ?) Massoud would very much fall into the category of wanting a Taliban-like state. 

      In fact, that's precisely the concern as it's voiced in Pakistan by Musharraf and others as the, as they call it, the Talibanization of Pakistan -- the creeping Talibanization,  this concern that what used to be confined to the tribal areas -- it's a very traditional, very isolated part of the world -- are gradually infesting the rest of Pakistan, including Pakistan's cities, including the heartland of Pakistan, the Punjab, which has traditionally had a much more -- I don't know -- I should say, maybe less militant view of Islam.  That these groups, through the madrassas, through the schools and through the mosques, have gradually turned many Pakistanis into much more extreme sympathizers, and, in fact, would see that as their goal.

      But I think that if you look at the -- you know, there are 160-plus million Pakistanis and the vast, vast majority of them have zero desire to see their country become anything like a Taliban-run state, have much more of a desire to be a part of the rest of the world, much more of a desire to see a democratic or more democratic political apparatus, much more of a desire to simply go about their business and live normal, you know, cosmopolitan lives.  And so the problem is that it doesn't take a large percentage of that society to really hijack it and to create enormous problems for the rest of the country.  And that's what we've got.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Andrea Mitchell with NBC.

      Are you there, Ms. Mitchell?

      Okay.  Next question comes from Helene Mees (sp) with NRC.

      Q     Thank you.

      Before you said that al Qaeda has all kind of objections against -- objected everything Benazir stood for.  Does this include her gender?

      MR. MARKEY:  Absolutely.  Benazir Bhutto was the first woman leader of a Muslim country -- major Muslim country -- and she has always been a lightening rod for a variety of Islamist groups because of that fact, because of her gender.  And so this has not changed.  Many in those types of groups believe that it is completely inconceivable that a woman could run the country, and in fact, that's what she stood for -- so yes.

      Q     Okay.  Thank you.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Mohammed Khan (sp) at National Bank of Pakistan.

      Q     Thank you so much, very informative.

      My just question is:  How do you propose Pakistani Americans living in the United States -- people like me who represent Pakistan and also understand the national interest of the United States and the global picture -- how do you propose Pakistani Americans should react and what they need to do under certain circumstances?

      MR. MARKEY:  Well, I'd be hard pressed to have an action plan for Pakistani Americans.  I think that's something that Pakistani Americans are really responsible for doing. 

      But one of the -- this is not related to Benazir herself or to the latest crisis or tragedy.  I think it's very hard from outside of a country to effect change in these kinds of instances, because so much is happening on the ground.  But in a longer term sense, I think Pakistani Americans -- and many of them have done a lot of this -- are in a position to help their country through investment in its education, in its economy, in its schools, in its health care.  In all kinds of -- you saw an outpouring of international, and especially Pakistani expatriate warmth and support after the earthquake in 2005. 

      And I think that that's the sort of thing -- taking an active interest and promoting a vision for Pakistan that is global in orientation and in some way, more outward looking and cosmopolitan than what we've seen in Pakistan.  That's where the people of -- you know, Pakistani expatriates can really play a role.  And I think that many of them are, you know, well positioned to do that.  And so this is very much a sort of an outside of politics type of proposition.  It's more of a humanitarian and also building capacity -- a human capacity within Pakistan that unfortunately for too many of -- you know, half of Pakistan's population, I think, is under the age of 19.  And for all of those people to see that they have opportunities and options other than picking up a gun or taking to the streets is the sort of thing that they would really benefit from outside support.

      So that's not a lot to offer, but that's the point I'd --

      Q     Well, my recommendation in many cases -- which I've addressed this to my fellow Americans -- there are many Pakistanis who are doing a great deal of work.  But at the same token, we also seek out and look out for opportunities to work with our fellow Americans. 

      If anybody will ask me what Mohammed Khan (sp) would do, I mean, my recommendation is I really don't care too much of ammunition.  I don't care for F-16.  I want you to open up an opportunity for physical (relations ?) in Pakistan.  Give us a license to operate here.  Give us an opportunity to open schools in Pakistan.  Give us an opportunity to take technology back to Pakistan where children will learn and make a career out of it.  When half of the percent of the government declared -- the census says that half of the population is under 19, we have a problem in our hand.  And if we don't put computer and literacy programs in front of these guys, we will face a big problem.

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah.

      Q     So that's my recommendation.  And anybody suggest anything, I'm open for that.

      OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Gana Padi Madur (sp) from Telegraph.

      Q     Thank you.

      For Dan Markey:  Could you please elaborate on the implications of this assassination on India?  Should the India government be -- should it be looking out for something -- and on Afghanistan as well?

      MR. MARKEY:  Yeah.  I think I addressed Afghanistan a bit earlier.  But on the India side I would say India has -- over the past year especially -- been very concerned about instability within Pakistan.  Recent trips that I've made to India I've gotten more questions about Pakistan -- relating to Pakistan as a weak country and as a country that was fragile and potentially could be destabilized leading to problems for India -- than I've ever seen before.  Typically, in the past the questions have been more about a strong Pakistan, a Pakistan that was a threat, a military threat to India and that's really changed.

      I think what the Indian government has been doing over the past year has been keeping remarkably restrained in its commentary about Pakistani politics, and remarkably quiet in terms of its response to a number of terrorist events that have taken place within India, which I think historically the Indian government and others within India would have first attributed to Pakistan and secondly criticized the Pakistani government for.  And I think the shift has been -- although they say some of those similar things -- the shift has been to recognize that Pakistan is and the government of Pakistan is itself threatened by these groups and in some sense is in the same boat as India is.

      Now, what this latest event means for India is if you do see a profound -- a greater instability within Pakistan and you do get this kind of worst-case scenario, which I think is unlikely, but unfortunately is still on the table as a possibility -- if you did see street protests escalating, if you did see the institution of the army and its capacity to maintain unity being called into question, then India would very much be threatened in terms of simply flows of population out of Pakistan -- people looking to avoid the violence that was taking place within their own country.  India's obviously very close by and many people would see it as a place -- a natural place to move to or to flee to if the violence became unbearable for some of these communities. 

      So that's something that India has to keep in mind and I think it's something that many Indians are thinking about and have thought about.  And of course, if the government of Pakistan were to move in a direction, because the current government under Musharraf, which has been remarkably -- has built up a remarkably positive relationship with India -- if that government is removed and you see a replacement, one that is more likely to pound the drums of national chauvinism and to do saber rattling against India to unite the people of Pakistan -- as we've seen in the past -- then India will return to its old problems.  But India has dealt with that before and has as sense as to deal with it in the future.  So I think that's less of a critical issue at this stage than a destabilized and weak Pakistan -- also less likely at this stage.

      Q     Thank you.

      Just a supplementary:  You mentioned a flow of people.  Do you see that as a possibility?

      MR. MARKEY:  Not immediately, but what I'm saying is if you did see an escalation in terms of violence on the street, if the PPP is sort of the leading cause of that, but yet others pile on -- including the PML-N and all the other political parties -- and if the government of Pakistan is not capable of controlling that -- and you see a prolonged period of instability, and the level of violence even in the Punjab could rise to the point that people will believe that it's better for them to -- they'll vote with their feet and they'll move to India.

      But I think this is something that -- you know, we've got a ways to go for this.  So you will see many, many other indications before something like this actually materializes.

      Q     Thank you, sir.

      OPERATOR:  Okay.  And there are no more questions at this time.

      MR. SAMORE:  Great.  Well, I want to thank everybody very much for joining us.  And this is obviously a moving story.  And as things develop in the next couple of days, we may want to do a follow-up call.  So we'll be watching closely for what happens tomorrow morning in Pakistan.

      Dan, thanks very much for taking the time to do this.

      MR. MARKEY:  Thank you, Gary.  It was great.

      MR. SAMORE:  Bye everybody.









Most Recent

Top Stories on CFR

Election 2024

The European Union (EU) began implementing the Digital Services Act (DSA) this year, just in time to combat online disinformation and other electoral interference in the dozens of elections taking pl…


In his inaugural address, Taiwan’s new president Lai Ching-te signaled broad continuity on cross-strait issues. China, however, is likely to respond with increased pressure. 


During Kenya’s state visit, the United States should work toward building a more resilient model of U.S.-Africa partnerships.