Corridors of Power: Bhutto, Slovenia, and Sarko on Religion

Corridors of Power: Bhutto, Slovenia, and Sarko on Religion

GOODBYE, PINKIE -- At least one Washington friend of Benazir Bhutto -- and she had many -- says he had urged her to tone down her rhetoric against Islamic fundamentalists because she did not have adequate protection against their retaliation. The former Pakistani prime minister, known to her family as "Pinkie," was already in enough danger from extremists without publicly provoking them, the friend told her. He told Corridors Thursday that he had been in communication with her very recently. "I advised her the time to open an offensive against the fundamentalists was after she had both the authority and the security of being prime minister," he added. But in Pakistan, her campaign advisers urged her to be more combative as a show of strength.

Bhutto's murder is a setback for the Bush administration's hopes for a democratic solution to the growing chaos in this nuclear nation in the sub-continent. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Harvard and Oxford educated politician returned to Islamabad with Washington's blessing after a decade in exile. The U.S.-brokered political fix was that she would run for prime minister and Pervez Musharraf would remain as president while relinquishing his position as head of Pakistan's powerful military.

Whether a less robust approach by Bhutto would have made a difference is now anybody's guess. To observers, the killing is more evidence that the situation in Pakistan has spun out of control -- and certainly out of the Bush administration's control. One telltale sign of mounting panic was Wednesday's summit between Musharraf and his neighbor and arch enemy Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The meeting was an effort to cooperate in combating the militants, Taliban fighters, and al-Qaida terrorists running rampant in both countries from bases in Pakistan's rugged tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. With Bhutto's death, it all looks increasingly like too little too late.

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