That she was assassinated should not be entirely unexpected. When Mrs. Bhutto was allowed back into Pakistan from exile in October, she was greeted with a suicide bomber, an attack that killed over 140 people, but missing Bhutto. The subsequent two months were filled with periods of house arrests, following President Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule, and appeals for votes, finally getting a chance to campaign in earnest the last few weeks.
Naturally, this killing begs the question of who really killed Benazir Bhutto? Al-Qaeda is claiming responsibility, but there are many within Bhutto's camp who hold President Musharraf culpable in some way. He certainly had much to gain by her death, eliminating one of the few national figures who could legitimately defeat him and his allies in an election. Still, Taliban-allied Islamists have long tried to kill her, dating back to her days as Prime Minister, where she survived numerous assassination attempts--this in spite of the fact the Taliban came into power during Prime Minister Bhutto's reign, even supporting the Taliban's ascension in Afghanistan. Her many attempts to win Islamists over in the '90s never worked. She was always seen as a meddling heretic, in a world filled with religious men who deem women breeding cattle. They repaid her initial attempts to gain their support by trying to kill her.
It says much about the weakness of President Musharraf that he would have to roll back his emergency rule, quit his position as the commanding general of the Pakistani military, and be forced to negotiate with people like Bhutto and ex-PM Nawaz Sharif (a man General Musharraf once had arrested for hijacking and terrorism after ordering the general's military plane to be refused entry into Karachi). Many commentators are already writing that this assassination will damage the PPP in the upcoming elections, but this is unlikely to happen. If anything, the media coverage and her martyrdom will only make the People's Party even more popular and the likely winners in the upcoming elections. What will be more interesting is to see what happens afterward.
It is no secret in Pakistan that its government is and has almost always been the military. It is one of the few effective, and probably the only real national, institutions in Pakistan. Trying to install a liberal democracy in increasingly chaotic, stateless societies usually ends in failure (examples, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Somalia in the '90s and 2000s). To really "democratize," on the West's terms, means subordinating the military to civilian control. This is not always so easy in developing countries with internally contested systems. Indonesia since 1997 (formerly a military junta for over three decades under General Suharto) has served as a regional exemplar of the limitations of democratization in such conditions, although the R.J. Rummels and Jared Diamonds of the world (or as my mentor once called them, "stormtroopers for democracy") would have you believe we are all on a Kantian quest.
As someone who has lived and traveled throughout Asia, I can attest that Rummel-Diamond-Fukuyama, et al., are not widely read or respected. In a region where democracy is seen as a luxury, authoritarianism has been and continues to be the order of the day. Actually, authoritarianism is, irrespective of the claims of democratic fundamentalists, a preferred order in this part of the world, for the governments and international investors. This is not to advance the notion that democracy is bad. It is recognizing what Asia and countries like Pakistan are like, and possibly, hopefully, avoid the same political cookie-cutter pitfalls that people like Rummel and Diamond constantly fall into, like on Iraq (which Rummel, that great supporter of democracy and freedom, responded to the failures of his Middle East crusade by advocating censorship of the media). Our demands for Pakistan to defangle its military is occurring in the backdrop of a country whose increasingly militant Islamist movement (the openly pro-Taliban Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, especially) is striving for power and control (albeit its appeal is relegated to the western provinces). Many of these militant sects within the movement are unapologetically supportive of al-Qaeda, and they make clear their support for the installation of Sharia law on Pakistan (which has a mix of Western and elements of Sharia law), as well as other such liberal causes like exterminating gay people, non-believers, and rape victims who cannot produce four eyewitnesses to their assault.
Without wanting to rain on anyone's march of freedom parade, insisting on democratic constitutionalism in a system like this is going to in all likelihood produce what Pakistan has been for the past six decades: A dysfunctional democracy without a real national appeal, beyond Islamabad and Karachi. It will also help precipitate internal strife by the losers who will not accept the results. Lastly, it will hasten a military takeover and repressive response to neutralize the political losers and the dysfunctional winners. This does not exclude the possibility that Pakistan can finally break the cycle of liberalization, social combustion, and countermanding political repression. However, if one looks at the history of democracies, even the top-down democracies that are so prevalent in Asia (where social movements did not play as much of a role in the democratization process until the late 1980s), there are not too many led by a person who, along with their spouse, steals over a billion dollars from state and private coffers.
So, what does this mean for Pakistan? Well, like the Dutch Pim Fortuyn List following the assassination of controversial party leader Pim Fortuyn in 2002, it is highly probable that the Pakistan People's Party will actually experience a bump in the polls and increase its vote (and the PPP is already the largest political party in Pakistan). As harsh as this may sound, the PPP might be better off without the leadership of someone as tainted with scandal as Bhutto, while using her memory to maintain its electoral windfall. Nevertheless, the Pakistani military is not going to go away. President Musharraf's retirement from the military does nothing to decrease his authority and power over the armed forces, since he hand-picked his successor. Not the least important, Hizb-i-Islami and the more violent terrorist cells that it ideologically foments, and likely responsible for Bhutto's assassination, are never going to concede any election. In a country where the only national institution is the military, it appears remote that a democratically-elected government is going to deal with this threat, or mollify those internal actors, while simultaneously creating a democratic state worth its name. The game sounds eerily familiar and so will the results.
Differing from what the hooka holders, I mean, the freedom lovers, might tell you, positive answers and results are not always foreseeable or even doable. Sometimes, things really do get worse before they get better. For the sake of the people of Pakistan, here is to hoping that I am wrong.