And now?

Sombre New York Times assessment of the implications of Benazir Bhutto’s murder.

The assassination highlighted, in spectacular fashion, the failure of two of President Bush’s main objectives in the region: his quest to bring democracy to the Muslim world, and his drive to force out the Islamist militants who have hung on tenaciously in Pakistan, the nuclear-armed state considered ground zero in President Bush’s fight against terrorism, despite the administration’s long-running effort to root out Al Qaeda from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The assassination has brutally highlighted the inability of the United States, despite its wealth and power, to manipulate the internal political affairs of a small but complex society.

“We are a player in the Pakistani political system,” said Wendy Chamberlin, a former United States ambassador to Pakistan, adding that as such, the United States was partly to blame for Mr. Musharraf’s dip in popularity. But, she added: “This is Pakistan. And Pakistan is a very dangerous and violent place.”

There’s a lovely quote later in the piece, referring to the US policy of trying to force an alliance between Musharraf and Bhutto as a way of pushing the former onto a ‘democratic’ path. Trying to get them to work together was, one Bush official acknowledged, “like putting two pythons in the same cage”.

So, now we’re one python down, and one to go. I can’t see Musharraf containing the crisis. Which means another military coup. What’s astonishing about the Bush administration is that it never seems to have a Plan B.