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The Real Pakistan?

Over at National Review, Andy McCarthy writes that Benazir Bhutto was "killed by the real Pakistan." As he puts it, "Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people. Their struggle, literally, is jihad. For them, freedom would mean institutionalizing the tyranny of Islamic fundamentalism." What's his evidence for this?

A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy--or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy--to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

If you want to know what to make of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s murder today in Pakistan, ponder that.

This seems unfair in a number of respects. For one, given the massive support his administration has lent to Musharraf, it's hard to blame Pakistanis for not considering George W. Bush to be "the face of a campaign to bring democracy" to their country. Second, that same poll McCarthy cites showed Bhutto with a whopping 63 percent approval rating. By contrast, as Max Boot points out, Pakistan's Islamists are currently polling an anemic 4 percent, and have never garnered more than 12 percent in any election. If these are jihadis, they're pretty confused ones.

No one would deny that, as McCarthy argues, Pakistan's political culture (including Bhutto) is deeply illiberal in ways that make it hard to muster much optimism about the country's future. And it's probably true that a more democratic Pakistan, though desirable for other reasons, won't immediately become a more steadfast ally in the fight against al-Qaeda. But to say that Bhutto was killed by the "real Pakistan" seems to me akin to saying in 1968 that Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by the "real America"--not completely absurd, but far from capturing the reality of the situation. It's an insult to the disenfranchised majority of Pakistanis who reject both Musharraf and al-Qaeda.

And incidentally, it's a bit ironic for McCarthy, a senior fellow at the Foudation for Defense of Democracies, to defend Musharraf, belittle those who have been "pining about [Pakistan's] suppression of democracy," and cite Bhutto's killing as evidence "that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly." There's a reasonable argument to be made for backing Musharraf on national-interest grounds--but it would be nice at least to avoid the Orwellian nonsense that doing so somehow furthers the cause of democracy.

--Josh Patashnik