The assassination of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto brings closer the nightmare of al-Qaida and its affiliates being armed with nuclear weapons, counterterrorism experts tell Newsmax.
“The real danger for us now in the U.S. is that if this continues the way it’s going, the Taliban and al-Qaida could eventually have control of a nuclear arsenal,” says S. Eugene Poteat, a former CIA official. “And you know, we might not even know it. Because the way infiltration works by these people, you never know who they are.
"Al-Qaida or its affiliates could be in the military, they could be in control of a nuclear arsenal, and if they get it, we know one thing for sure is that it will be used one way or the other. They may not use it right away, but that’s the danger,” says Poteat, who is president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. “They’ve let it be known publicly what their plans are: their intentions are to kill us.”
“The political dynamic was already unstable in Pakistan and is now even more so,” Lloyd D. Salvetti, a former CIA official who was a staff member of the 9/11 commission, says. “It raises the larger issue of Pakistan, not only in terms of governing, but in terms of its ability as an ally of the U.S. in the war on terror and its position with nuclear arms.”
But Frederick A. Stremmel, a former FBI counterterrorism analyst, says Bhutto’s assassination could cut both ways.
On the one hand, Bhutto’s supporters may weave conspiracy theories pointing to Musharraf as being behind her assassination, he says.
“If one of them gets a voice on this, Musharref may have to go back to martial law and suspending the constitution,” Stremmel says. “This will make things more difficult for Musharraf, especially in the slum areas where she had her support,” Stremmel says.
On the other hand, the development could also “turn against the Sunni extremists — al-Qaida or its affiliates —who probably are responsible for her death,” Stremmel says. “People could get more angry at the extremists. There is a backlash going on against extremists. This may accelerate that backlash.”
Agreeing with that assessment, another well-connected terrorism expert says, “Since Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan, I’ve felt that her days were numbered and that she didn’t much care because she viewed herself as a martyr. That’s why her arrival in Pakistan was staged so elaborately and was intended to be sabotaged by her opponents — to give her headlines.”
The question, he says, is whether her supporters will “go on a wild rampage against the government or innocent bystanders, or will they seek revenge against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other Muslim extremists who wished her dead?”
Brad Blakeman, a former Bush White House aide who heads the conservative Freedom’s Watch, says the assassination is a reminder of the threat of terrorism. While terrorism has been receding as an issue in the presidential campaign, the Bhutto assassination could bring it back to the forefront, Blakeman says.
“It shows that we live in a world where terrorism is alive and well and that we have to stand up against it,” Blakeman says. “As President Bush has said many times, we have to protect ourselves not only at home but abroad.”
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