Washington, Dec 28 : The killing of former premier Benazir Bhutto on Thursday is a major blow to the US goal of stabilising Pakistan, which is a frontline ally in the war against terror since the 9/11 attacks, former American policymakers and experts have said.
They said the sudden loss of a leading pro-American leader threatens Pakistan's transition to democracy and leaves both President Pervez Musharraf and the Bush Administration's strategies vulnerable.
"Our foreign policy has relied on her presence as a stabilising force. She had a big public following . . . Without her, we will have to regroup," Senator Arlen Specter said, who is in Pakistan and was scheduled to meet Bhutto.
The Washington Post quoted Senator Specter as saying that now things will become difficult for the American government.
The Bush Administration had worked to strike a deal between Bhutto and Musharraf, which would allow her to return to Pakistan and create a wider political front against growing extremist movements in tribal areas of Pakistan bordering.
With the assassination of Bhutto, an unpopular Musharraf has been virtually left with no major political allies who are willing to take positions that are widely unpopular in Pakistan, but critical to US interests, the Washington Post said.
Former US policymakers and analysts said that Bhutto's assassination also puts in doubt prospects a credible government in Pakistan through elections.
"More broadly, this is a major loss because the elections scheduled for January 8, 2008 had the potential to move the country forward," said Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations.
"Despite her past failures, Bhutto was still a legitimate leader, who could have worked with Musharraf and the army," he added.
The Post reported that the Bush Administration was clearly taken aback by Bhutto's death, despite earlier assassination attempts and ongoing threats against her.
President Bush condemned Bhutto's assassination as a "cowardly act by murderous extremists" trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy. Within hours of the attack, Bush called Musharraf to express U.S. support for the democratic transition and upcoming elections.
"We don't want to see any kind of backsliding in terms of people's civil liberties," a senior State Department official said, adding this was the message Bush planned to make to Musharraf.
Former US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Karl F. Inderfurth, said that the US had seen Bhutto as the bridge to the formation of a civilian democratic government and now that she's been removed, the Bush Administration would have to reassess how to deal with Pakistan's very uncertain future.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has appealed to Pakistanis to remain calm and to continue to try and build a "moderate" democracy.
Washington also signalled that the elections should go forward without delay, arguing that any postponement would only reward Bhutto's killers.
"I don't think it would do any justice to her memory to have an election postponed or cancelled simply as a result of this tragic incident," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
The US is particularly concerned about the potential for initial demonstrations to become open-ended protests against the Musharraf regime.
U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson is also reaching out to other opposition parties and civil society groups to urge calm, the paper reported. (ANI)
© 2007 ANI
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