If Bhutto's murder were to create a spiral of violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan that Musharraf couldn't control, it would be the most successful post-Sept. 11 terrorist act since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Iraq, which stoked a civil war that nearly brought us to our knees there. Chaos is militancy's friend, and it is much easier to bring about than lawfully constituted order.
For the terrorists, murder rather than persuasion is the very stuff of politics. It's no accident that the thunderclap that heralded the horrors of Sept. 11 was the assassination in Afghanistan of the anti-Taliban guerrilla fighter Ahmad Massoud. Where it has no majority support and no democratic inspirational leaders of its own, al-Qaida can always kill and hope to gain in the resulting whirlwind.
As Iraq during the past year shows, chaos needn't prevail. But we have more leverage over Iraq than Pakistan, where we have no troops and not necessarily even a dependable ally in power, and Afghanistan, where we are operating in a cumbersome arrangement with NATO forces that have been struggling to take the fight to the Taliban. As our Iraq policy spiraled downward in 2006, it benefited from the sort of thorough rethinking that we now need to bring to bear to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Because what we always feared has happened -- an assassin has killed a strategically significant target. Bhutto's martyrdom will understandably obscure her misrule the first two times she was prime minister. But on her return, she was a frank voice against Islamism, and no one can deny her this: She was very brave.