What a sad day for Pakistan and what an increasingly violent, unstable region the Middle East has become. Not that the danger wasn’t there before the assassination of Benazir Bhutto; it was obvious for some time that Pakistan’s hold on stability and peace  was tenuous, that its progress towards democratic institutions was problematic and that it was potentially the most dangerous place on earth.

Unfortunately for Pakistanis and many other ordinary indigenous groups in the surrounding areas, the situation there hasn’t been the focus of international attention and most especially hasn’t been attended to with any degree of sophistication or understanding of what was at stake by the United States. With our military bogged down in Iraq, Afghanistan has wavered between progress and regression with Al Qaeda and the Taliban intermittently establishing strongholds and being dispatched into the mountainous regions along Pakistan’s border.

And while the president and most Republican presidential candidates rant about Islamo-Fascists the broader Muslim population is often disregarded or muddled in with the rhetorical fancies that fly so easy off the tongue. Our invasion of Iraq created a workplace for Al Qaeda and helped its recruitment efforts elsewhere. Inventing terminology to appeal to American voters is empty self-serving nonsense that has little to do with solving the agitations that roil the Middle East, nor has it made the case for freedom and democracy there. Perhaps more importantly, despite claims from supporters of this administration, our presence in Iraq has not helped keep us safe at home – – that we haven’t experienced another 9/11-style attack doesn’t prove the negative.

In the wake of the assassination all the usual media personalities showed up to discuss the ramifications of what is happening in Pakistan. Everyone who was anyone seems to have interviewed Bhutto at some point – – interviews that have been aired repeatedly on cable news shows.  The comments of political candidates were also sought to make sure that not a moment passed without pondering who looked and sounded presidential and how the nature of the campaigns could be impacted by the day’s events.

Opinions ranged from Richardson’s call for Musharraf to resign with no clue as to what or who would come after, to McCain’s reiteration of how the disorder in Pakistan somehow validated his support for our current policies in the Middle East and specifically our efforts in Iraq, efforts that seem only to have exacerbated tensions and ignored other more dangerous and inflammatory centers of terrorist activity like Pakistan. There were personal remembrances from Senator Clinton and pointed remarks from Senator Biden regarding Musharraf’s failings as a leader.

Sadly, however, our government paid far too little attention to Pakistan over time and provided only limited oversight regarding how our financial aid was dispersed and what was actually being accomplished by Musharraf in terms of tracking down and reining in extremists in his midst. Whatever help he provided during our limited military offensive in Afghanistan., his lack of sustained opposition to the presence of Al Qaeda forces holed up along his border has allowed terrorist factions to engage in continued cycles of violence in Afghanistan and escape into their mountainous safe havens.

Having brokered a deal with terrorist leaders that if he left them alone, they’d leave him alone Musharraf has failed as the consort in the ‘war on terrorism’ President Bush kept insisting he was. And obviously, if reports are accurate, Al Qaeda was behind Bhutto’s assassination so they haven’t, in any case, stayed out of Pakistan itself. Without having enough power to overtake the countries they target, terrorist insurgents are nonetheless able to disrupt liberalizing movements like Bhutto’s.

Instead of endlessly saber-rattling about Iran as a potential nuclear threat and tilting at windmills in Iraq where political reconciliation remains a meaningless term, it might behoove us to spend more time focusing on the challenges Afghanistan and Pakistan pose. For whatever the internal consequences of Bhutto’s assassination, if any good is to be salvaged from this sad event, it may be that an outraged international community, the US included, will hold Al Qaeda’s leaders accountable and take action to run them to ground and destroy their known bases of operation.