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Central & South Asia
Analysis: What next for Pakistan?
Al Jazeera looks at the political impact of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2008 07:55 GMT

Hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered on Friday for the funeral [EPA]

The killing of Benazir Bhutto on Thursday has thrown Pakistan's already-fragile political system into further disarray.

Elections are due to take place on January 8, but analysts say the chances of them being held are minimal.

While the Pakistani caretaker government has not said the poll will be postponed, many have argued it is not in the interest of the government, nor the opposition, to hold an election in the coming weeks.

Hamid Mir, a political commentator from Islamabad, told Al Jazeera it was in the "larger interest of peace and stability in Pakistan that they [the government] will review their process and delay the election".

Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party have declared a 40 day period of mourning following Bhutto's death, and are unlikely to campaign during that time, Mir said.

Nawaz Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), have said they will boycott of the election.

Mir said that if the PPP declares, as the PML-N have done, that it is to boycott the election, Pakistanis would become disillusioned and as a result be put off the election.

PPP leadership

Bhutto was life chairperson of the PPP and the challenge for the party is to find a leader that can command the respect and admiration that she did.

Makhdoom Amin Fahim, vice chairman of the PPP, has become the defacto leader of the party following Thursday's events.

Ameen Jan, a Pakistan analyst, told Al Jazeera that the real question is whether the party will be able to remain coherent internally, or whether internal divisions may emerge, particularly precipitated by the question of succession.

Zardari,  Bhutto's husband, is seen
as a potential PPP leader [EPA] 
Mir said that despite the considerable power vaccum left by Bhutto's death, this would not be the end of the PPP, nor the Bhutto dynasty.

"When her father, Zulfikar Bhutto, was hanged in April 1979, even then many people were of the view that this was the end of the PPP; the end of the Bhutto dynasty. But it was not," he said.

"The husband of Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, spent more than 11 years of the last 20 years in jail.

"And Benazir herself said that he was the Nelson Mandela of Pakistan, and many leaders of the PPP have full faith and confidence in Asif Ali Zardari, so I think that he is the greatest potential candidate to take over the party," he said.

But while many analysts see Zardari as a potential leader of the PPP, others have dismissed his credibility among the Pakistani people.

"I don't see him as a figure that will bring unity within the People's Party," Jan said.

Having already boycotted the vote, Jan said that it was now up to Nawaz Sharif to "put himself in the same light [as Bhutto] as another prominent leader in Pakistan, who faces the same dangers and risks as she did".

"And to present his own struggle as being equivalent to the struggle as Benazir had in Pakistan, which is a true return to democratic rule ... and to be seen as a saviour.

Presidential power

Violence spread acrossPakistan as news
spread that Bhutto had been killed [AFP]
For Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, Bhutto's assassination has created severe problems, Jan said.

"He had engineered his own election as president, and then engineered an election process that was supposed to take place on January 8 and secured the participation of the PPP and PML-N.

"Had those elections been able to proceed with the participation of both of those parties with their leaders intact, that would have, despite protests and disagreements amongst the parties, effectively have legitimised his hold on power for the next five years.

Musharraf, Jan said, is now likely to focus on reducing the level of violence that is currently taking place and attempt to hold early elections.

The Pakistani president is likely to want have a relatively quick transition of power from an interim government to a long-term five year elected government, Jan said, ideally one in which his party has a strong representation.

Rising violence

But for others, the issue at the core of many of Pakistan's problems, and the cause of Bhutto's killing, is a rising level of religious extremism in Pakistan.

Following Bhutto's assassination, Musharraf said he would "not sit and rest until we get rid of these terrorists. This is the biggest hurdle to Pakistan's prosperity and progress."

"Western plans in the fight against global terror are in utter catastrophe."

Al Jazeera's Rageh Omaar

Earlier this year Bhutto and Musharraf had been planning to work together with the army to tackle the threat from al-Qaeda and tribal fighters that Pakistan now faces.

Al Jazeera's Rageh Omaar said that "the militants in Pakistan are not only in the ascendency, they are showing that there is no place out of reach".

And Bhutto's assassination has further underlined Musharraf's inability to curb extremism.

"Western plans in the fight against global terror are in utter catastrophe," Rageh Omaar said.

"Not only have the militants been able to show their strategic reach, being able to kill an incredibly important national figure. It also means that the Americans and the British don't have a 'Plan B'.

"This was their [US and UK] dream team of Musharraf and Bhutto in some kind of cohabitation, [but] they have put all their eggs in one basket," he said.

"The wheels are coming off the "war on terror"

Source:
Al Jazeera
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