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Bhutto's Death Forces U.S. to Rethink S. Asia Policy

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Bhutto's Death Forces U.S. to Rethink S. Asia Policy

Bhutto's Death Forces U.S. to Rethink S. Asia Policy

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has forced the Bush administration to reappraise its policies in South Asia. Some analysts say the administration's emphasis on Afghanistan has been misplaced. They argued that in the fight against global terror, Pakistan is much more important.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Anatol Lieven is a professor at King's College London and writes about U.S. global strategy and the battle against terrorism. He says that the Bhutto assassination could serve as a wake-up call to the Bush administration.

Professor ANATOL LIEVEN (King's College London): Benazir's assassination and undoubtedly the very troubled times in Pakistan, which will now follow, will focus the U.S. on the fact that in the war on terror there is far more at stake in Pakistan than there is in Afghanistan.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There are several reasons why, he says. Pakistan is six times the size of Afghanistan; has nuclear weapons, a powerful army and a huge population in Britain, which means that Islamist extremism in Pakistan reaches right into the heart of the West. This is enough to make it a priority.

Prof. LIEVEN: If Pakistan were to collapse, the threat of terrorism would become greater by an order of magnitude. Whereas, frankly, even if - God forbid - we are forced one day to withdraw from Afghanistan, the resulting troubles in Afghanistan can be contained.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Anthony Cordesman is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He said that in fairness to the Bush administration, it always saw the importance of Pakistan, but diplomatically and strategically it had to treat one war - the war against Islamic extremism - as two.

Mr. ANTHONY CORDESMAN (Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies): You can't separate the campaign in Afghanistan from the campaign in Pakistan. Essentially, the Taliban is largely a Pashtun movement that cuts across the border. But there are practical problems. In Pakistan, there is tremendous resistance to any visible U.S. presence or activity, both by the people and the military.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And that has limited the range of options for the Bush administration. This problem has been put in starker relief since the Bhutto assassination because the administration tied its strategy so closely to her.

Mr. CORDESMAN: The only good outcome of this tragedy - and there's no other way to describe it - would be if people did see how dangerous it is to continue along these lines of division and jockeying for power and failing to compromise.

TEMPLE-RASTON: So far that doesn't seem to be happening. Mourners at Bhutto's funeral yesterday chanted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf, whom they blame for not preventing their death. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf deposed in the 1999 coup, has said that his party would boycott next month's elections. And it is unclear who in Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party might rise to take her place. All that instability makes the next steps for the Bush administration murky at best.

Again, Anatol Lieven.

Prof. LIEVEN: It proved Benazir Bhutto was not a magic key. She was not then to be able to solve this problem with the U.S. Now, it should be obvious that there's no magic key at all. What we need is patience, but coupled with an awareness that it really is in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan, that the stakes are highest for the United States and the West.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Pakistan's interior minister said the government had intercepts indicating that one of Pakistan's most militant leaders, Baitullah Mehsud, was behind the assassination. Bhutto's party dismissed the claim.

Again, Anthony Cordesman.

Mr. CORDESMAN: The real issue is whether they can move forward from where they are now over time. Is that going to happen? Well, the odds are 50-50 at best.

TEMPLE-RASTON: President Bush has urged Pakistanis to honor Bhutto's memory by going ahead with the elections next month.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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