Friday, 19 October 2007

19 October 2007

It gives me no pleasure at all today to say “I told you so.” But those of you with good memories will recall that back in May I sounded a warning. This is what I wrote then (Newsletter No. 94, 25 May): “I suggest that you keep an eye on Pakistan. Watch what London and Washington say as they try to prop up General Musharraf while inching him towards political plurality.”

A lot has happened since then, culminating in last night’s appalling attack on Benazir Bhutto’s convoy in Karachi. What made it doubly appalling was that it came as no surprise.

In May, I described Pakistan as “a seething hotbed of unrest”. If it was true then, it is truer today. President Musharraf, under pressure as never before during his eight years in office, has done a deal with Ms Bhutto, but there are plenty of people in both their camps who are deeply suspicious of a rapprochement which bears all the signs of having been if not engineered in Washington, then certainly encouraged.

Among her own supporters, the immediate reaction after last night’s attack was to blame elements in the Musharraf administration. Her return from exile, they say, was a direct threat to the power of the military and political leaders around Musharraf. So if the bomb attacks were indeed an attempt to kill her, there would have been at least a terrible political logic. With Benazir off the scene, and her long-time rival Nawaz Sharif safely bundled off to Saudi Arabia, Team Musharraf would have been able to hang on for at least a bit longer.

What now? More trouble, more tension, perhaps more violence. Karachi is a city always on the edge, and it’s the heart of Bhutto country. And don’t forget Pakistan’s neighbours: on one side Afghanistan, with the Taliban fighting hard to regain their ascendancy – and with plenty of sympathisers and supporters in Pakistan – and on the other side, India, still suspicious of its Muslim neighbour, and always worried about Islamist-inspired militancy in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

A final word about the BBC job cuts announcement yesterday. You will, I hope, be pleased to learn that your favourite Radio 4 evening news programme has emerged relatively unscathed. Our team remains intact, and our budget is being sliced only by the efficiency savings process to which we have become painfully accustomed. So we shall carry on, doing what we trust you want us to do: reporting and analysing both the UK and the rest of the world in as engaging a way as we can.

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