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Vivian Salama

USA/Middle East

Vivian Salama is an award winning reporter, producer and blogger. Currently based in Lahore, Pakistan, she has reported for various publications from across the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the United States and North and South Korea. She has also appeared as a commentator on the BBC, France24, South African Broadcasting Corp., TVNZ, NPR and as a reporter for Voice of America radio. Her byline has appeared in numerous publications including Newsweek, USA Today, the International Herald Tribune, the National, Jerusalem Post, and the Daily Star. Salama has an MA in Islamic Politics from Columbia University and she previously worked as a lecturer of international journalism at Rutgers University. Close.

Vivian Salama

USA/Middle East

Vivian Salama is an award-winning reporter, producer and blogger. Currently based in Lahore, Pakistan, she has reported for various publications from across the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the United States and North and South Korea. more »

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Caution: Civil Unrest Ahead

When Benazir Bhutto spoke to the Council of Foreign Relations last August before returning from exile to Pakistan, she said, "The West's close association with a military dictatorship, in my humble view, is alienating Pakistan's people and is playing into the hands of those hardliners who blame the West for the ills of the region."

Those hard-liners, to whom she referred while safely in New York, are likely the same people who took her life in Pakistan on Thursday evening. The news of Bhutto's assassination is a grim reminder that religious extremists are attempting to reverse the moderating influences of globalization.

Meanwhile, Pakistani politicians have moved quickly to exploit her death as grounds for political gain rather than for productive partnership and dialogue. Nawaz Sharif vowed to boycott the January elections upon news of Bhutto's death – after all, he had only agreed to participate in the election on the coattails of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). However, without Bhutto, it is unlikely that the PPP will participate in the January election either, seeing as there is no obvious successor to its assassinated leader.

President Pervez Musharraf only recently lifted the controversial Emergency Law, implemented shortly after Bhutto's return. If he decides that this situation legitimates the reimplementation of martial law, it will not quell the imminent backlash his government will see on the Pakistani street. Bhutto was an immensely popular leader – her death will not blow over quickly.

Conspiracy theories will likely emerge, particularly from Bhutto's supporters, many of whom felt that Musharraf never sincerely wanted to engage in any semblance of power sharing with Bhutto. Just as there was no serious investigation following the October attacks against Bhutto hours after her arrival to Pakistan, it is unlikely there will be a serious investigation into the attack that killed her.

If anything, this latest tragedy will reinforce the idea that Pakistan is a dangerous place. Lawmakers in Washington have expressed skepticism about the use of U.S. military aid to Pakistan – a key ally in the war on terrorism - particularly after Musharraf imposed emergency rule. Lawmakers moved to put limits on the USD$300 million the US sends to Pakistan each year. A bill passed by Congress last week now reserves USD$250 million of those funds for counter-terrorism operations. Above all else, the world is now holding its breath as its watches Pakistan – a nuclear power – on the verge of collapse.

One thing is certain: Bhutto's assassination will trigger civil unrest for months to come. It is important not to let this tragedy divert attention from the issue at hand: there is a growing radical movement in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Suicide bombings now average one in every five days in Pakistan. While there are numerous political parties pitted against one another, it is unlikely they would have used suicide tactics to settle the score. More needs to be done by the Pakistani government to quash the spread of fanaticism before it engulfs the whole of the region.

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