Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

Like her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a Pakistani prime minister who was executed by the military in 1979 after being ousted from power, Ms. Benazir Bhutto, the charismatic opposition leader died an unnatural death — shot to death by an assassin Thursday. Her death, which occurred only 12 days after President Pervez Musharraf lifted a six-week state of emergency is a tragedy for Pakistan. It put the country into further disarray and the effects extend beyond the country’s borders.

Ms. Bhutto became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world in 1988 and again took power in 1993. She came back to Pakistan in October after 8 1/2 years of self-imposed exile to lead Pakistan’s secular forces.

She was the country’s most pro-Western political figure, and a foe of Islamic extremist forces. The United States, which treats Pakistan as a frontline state in its fight against terrorism, apparently hoped for a power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto as a means of maintaining stability in the country.

With Ms. Bhutto’s death, the U.S. will be forced to rethink its approach. Meanwhile, her death will serve as a boon to extremist forces, including Taliban and al-Qaida forces in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. The situation could lead to more attacks on Afghanistan by Taliban forces.

The assassination of Ms. Bhutto has strengthened the impression that Mr. Musharraf lacks the capability to ensure security in his country and to prevent the destabilization of the first nuclear-armed Muslim country. The worst scenario would be Islam extremists getting hold of nuclear weapons.

Supporters of Ms. Bhutto accuse Mr. Musharraf of having failed to provide sufficient security for her. Mr. Nawaz Sharif, another two-time former prime minister and main opposition leader, announced that his party will boycott the Jan. 8 general elections. Even if Mr. Musharraf wins, his legitimacy will be weakened and protests against him are likely to grow fiercer. Mr. Musharraf faces his biggest crisis.