Born amid the mass killings of partition in 1947, Pakistan has never escaped from the cycle of violence, volatility and bloodshed. Benazir Bhutto, 54, is the latest casualty of that murderous cycle.

Pakistan is a volatile, unstable and dangerous place that could spiral into civil war. Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf has failed to deliver Pakistan from the scourge of terrorism, in part because success against the jihadists would end his utility to the West. A Dec. 24 New York Times article confirmed that much of the money given to him to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda has been diverted to buy weapons systems for use against India. The starting point for Pakistan's recovery has to be an early exit for Musharraf.

The Pakistani army and Washington need to have a quiet but firm word with him and nudge him into luxurious exile - perhaps somewhere in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia.

The planned Pakistani elections next month were a sham from the start and should be postponed until they can be rescheduled under genuinely free and fair conditions. The rule of law is a precondition for democracy.

Yet only the army can provide the crucial stability and underwrite law and order for a transitional period. It is the symbol and protector of national unity and indispensable for the foreseeable future. At the same time, there is no future for Pakistan unless the army stays out of the political arena. Pakistan has a large educated, capable and worldly elite that must form the core of the country's revival and regeneration.

The 9/11 murderers came out of the mountainous caves of Afghanistan where the Taliban regime, a monstrous creation of the U.S.- and Saudi-backed mujahedeen, had been gaining strength and reach. Pakistan, in seeking a military advantage against arch-enemy India, had nurtured them as a potent weapon, and it is the Taliban, and al Qaeda, whom the government accuses of assassinating Bhutto. Musharraf's credibility is totally shot domestically and is one important explanation for the whirlpool of conspiracy theories about the extent to which the government, military and intelligence forces might themselves be complicit in the politically charged assassination.

For years, India had warned that the epicenter of international terrorism had shifted from the Middle East to Southwest Asia. Like the warnings that Pakistan was at the center of nuclear proliferation, these concerns were dismissed as the self-interested rants of the regional hegemon.

India can contribute a lot to rescuing Pakistan from the precipice of a failed state if allowed to - materially and institutionally, as well as by force of example. It may not be able to, owing to domestic political opponents who would exploit any sign of "aiding the enemy" or deeply ingrained Pakistani distrust.

All South Asian countries must move away from viewing, nurturing, financing and arming "the other's" secessionists and dissidents as allies. In the present state of enmity and distrust, it might be too much to expect active cooperation among the security, law enforcement and border control agencies. But at some stage, even the most reality-challenged and obstinate leaders must recognize that supping with the devils of terrorism has consumed far too many of them already.

Other countries can assist in working toward regional peace both bilaterally and multilaterally through such institutions as the Commonwealth of Nations and the United Nations. If nothing else, progress in Afghanistan is held hostage to events in Pakistan, and Afghanistan remains critical to the security of the international community.

India offers the best and nearest example of Islam being compatible with democracy; Malaysia and Indonesia nearby are good models of "moderate" Islam coexisting with democratic practices; and Turkey is the best example of secularism in a Muslim majority country.

For too long, Pakistan has fought the realities of its geography and looked in the rearview mirror for a glimpse of the future. Benazir Bhutto's assassination provides another tragic reminder to South Asians that, although they cannot change their geography, they can escape from the trap of stoking cross-border extremist violence to shape a common destiny and alter the course of world history.

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