Peacekeeping by Pakistan After Decemer 27, 2007
It could hardly do otherwise, for the alternatives – ranging from “mere” incompetence to active collusion with extremists – were not just bad but disastrous.
To Bhutto’s supporters, who expected that the January 8th 2008 election would restore an anti-Musharraf majority civilian government after nine years of military rule, the worst was also the most likely. Widespread rioting broke out, eliciting responses by heavily armed police and, in some instances, the Pakistan army. Spokespersons for the Musharraf government, thrown on the defensive by accusations that government-provided security for Bhutto not only was lax but totally non-existent, gave conflicting accounts of the cause of death – only to be entirely discredited by video footage of the attack obtained from a number of private citizens who had come to see and hear the former prime minister.
Suspicions of government conspiracy were fueled by the fact that Rawalpundi is a garrison town. If the army could not provide physical security in Rawalpundi, is there anyplace in Pakistan that is safe? The conspiracy theories were then re-enforced when, an hour after the assassination, Pakistani authorities washed the murder scene with high-powered hoses, destroying any possibility of finding forensic evidence.
Yet, days later, Musharraf announced that Britain’s New Scotland Yard would provide technical assistance to Pakistani investigators as they try to piece together what happened and why the one hundred security personnel present at the campaign stop (as asserted by Musharraf in a meeting with Western correspondents) did not thwart the assassination.
Repercussions of the assassination will reverberate in Pakistani society long past the new date – February 18th, for the parliamentary election that was to be held January 8th. Almost completely unremarked by the mainstream media is the possible effect on the willingness of Islamabad to continue to supply large numbers of troops to United Nations peace operations. Indeed, with 10,623 troops, observers, and police detailed to UN peacekeeping operations, Pakistan is the largest source (just under 13 percent of the total deployed “blue helmets”) of manpower for these efforts.
(Interestingly, the next two largest contingents, as of November 30, 2007, are Bangladesh – formerly East Pakistan – with 9,831 and India – Pakistan’s nemesis since both countries achieved independence in 1947 – with 9,343.)
Islamabad’s troops serve in five of the current 17 missions and has participated in eleven missions that have been completed. Should they pull back, UN peacekeeping could be jeopardized, for the countries of Europe and the U.S. are not inclined to send their military forces on peace operations.