Opposition leader's assassination 'moves us closer' to potential nuclear apocalypse, expert says
Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday December 27, 2007

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Predicts Pakistan will not dissolve, but US lacks options dealing with nuke-armed country

The death of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has left the US lacking in options for dealing with the tumultuous, nuclear-armed, militant-rich nation and has raised the possibility that the country's weapons will fall into the wrong hands, leading to a possible apocalypse, a foreign policy expert tells RAW STORY.

"When people aren't looking, you have a question of command and control of their nuclear warheads," Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at The New America Foundation, said in an interview Thursday.

Clemons said Bhutto's assassination could cause the "Doomsday Clock" to tick forward. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists maintains the clock, which depicts how close the world is to midnight, representing a nuclear catastrophe. At the beginning of this year, the clock was set at 11:55 p.m.

"I think we've moved closer to midnight ... to a potential apocalyptic situation," Clemons said. "It doesn't mean we're going to get there, but we have moved closer."

Based on conversations he's had with associates of Bhutto, Clemons predicted the country "would not disintegrate." However, he told RAW STORY that Bhutto's death likely would prevent next month's scheduled election and could lead to more security crackdowns against Pakistani citizens.

As for the US approach toward Pakistan, options are now "very, very narrow," he said.

"It blows up America's effort to manage the Pakistan mess. ... Now we don't have an alternative to Musharraf," Clemons noted. "The timing of this is amazingly bad; she probably would've been elected Prime Minister next week."

Other observers were more pessimistic about Pakistan's future now that Bhutto is dead.

"The impact will be that Pakistan is in more turmoil -- it will be the start of civil war in Pakistan," said Riaz Malik of the opposition party Pakistan Movement for Justice, according to The Guardian. "There is a very real danger of civil war in Pakistan."

Questions have swirled around potential flaws in Bhutto's security detail. The former prime minister, who had recently returned to Pakistan after years in self-imposed exile, was shot at close range by a gunman, then hit with shrapnel from a suicide bomb, according to news reports. It was the second attempt on her life since her return.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, implied in a statement Thursday that more could have been done to protect Bhutto.

“This fall, I twice urged President Musharraf to provide better security for Ms. Bhutto and other political leaders – I wrote him before her return and after the first assassination attempt in October," Biden said. "The failure to protect Ms. Bhutto raises a lot of hard questions for the government and security services that must be answered."

Clemons said that, both Bhutto and Musharraf were seen by the average Pakistani as US "puppets," but that now the US has no option except Musharraf in trying to quell an increasingly unstable country.

Musharraf himself is believed to be under threat of assassination attempts by foreign extremists because of his perceived closeness to the US. At the same time, he has come under fire from American politicians for not doing enough to root out elements of al Qaeda believed to be hiding in Pakistan.

Whatever happens, a resolution of the turmoil seems farther away that it was Wednesday night, while threats are still prevalent within Pakistan.

"It's going to take time," Clemons said. "And we still have a nuclear Pakistan with Osama bin Laden and [Ayman al-]Zawahiri residing in their country."