TOPICS > Politics

Pakistan in Uproar After Bhutto Assassination

BY Admin  December 27, 2007 at 6:45 PM EDT

Scene of Bhutto Assassination

As
news of the two-time prime minister’s death spread, angry supporters took to
the streets. At least nine people were killed across the country in rioting,
the Associated Press reported. In the southern port city of Karachi, angry Bhutto supporters shot at
police and burned a gas station.

Bhutto,
54, was killed moments after she addressed a crowd of thousands of supporters
in Rawalpindi, 8 miles south of Islamabad. She was fired upon at close range
as she waved to the crowd from the rooftop opening of a bulletproof vehicle,
witnesses told the Washington Post.

Seconds
later, the gunman detonated explosives he was carrying, killing himself and
nearly two dozen others, according to Bhutto’s security chief.

Other eyewitness accounts of Bhutto’s assassination and cause of death
varied, with some news organizations reporting that she had been struck by a
sniper’s bullet.

Sardar Qamar Hayyat, a leader from Bhutto’s party, said he was standing
about 10 yards away from her vehicle at the time of the attack, the AP
reported.

“She was inside the vehicle and was coming out from the gate after
addressing the rally when some of the youths started chanting slogans in her
favor. Then I saw a smiling Bhutto emerging from the vehicle’s roof and
responding to their slogans,” he said.

“Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle from the back
and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away,”
he added.

Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery. She died
about an hour after the attack.

According
to Islamic tradition, funerals are held as quickly as possible. Bhutto is
expected to be buried Friday in her ancestral home province
of Sindh near her father’s grave — a
site which she visited in October shortly after her return to Pakistan from
exile.

Hundreds
of distraught supporters bore her plain wooden coffin aloft from the hospital
to an ambulance that took it to Rawalpindi’s
military airport.

Her
body was flown Sindh shortly after her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and their
three children arrived in Islamabad from Dubai, Reuters reported.

Bhutto’s death comes 12 days before Pakistanis are set to vote in national
parliamentary elections, which have already been marked by enormous political
tumult.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack and urged calm, according to
the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan. He also convened an emergency
meeting with his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to
postpone the elections, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on
condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Analysts
said Bhutto’s death — which followed a wave of suicide attacks across the
country and the worsening of an Islamist insurgency on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan –
could make it difficult to move forward with the election.

“I
think there is a very real possibility that Musharraf will decide that the
situation has got out of control and that he needs to impose emergency rule
again,” Farzana Shaikh from the Chatham House analysis group in London told Reuters.

“This
is not the first crisis Pakistan
has faced since its inception in 1947, but I would be inclined to say that it
is the worst convergence of crises we have seen,” Shaikh said.

No one claimed responsibility for the killing but suspicion fell on Islamic
militants.

“I have zero confidence that the Pakistani government
will get to the bottom of this, unless the perpetrators take
responsibility,” said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow with the Council on
Foreign Relations, said Thursday during a conference call with reporters.

He also expressed doubts that Musharraf was involved in her
assassination.

“There are militants and extremist and terrorists who have expressed
their desire to kill Benazir well before she returned the country,” he
said. “If Musharraf was culpable, it’s because his government was unable
to protect an incredibly juicy target.”

As he declared three national days of mourning for Bhutto, Musharraf said
the biggest threat to his country is from terrorists, Reuters reported. “I
seek unity and support from the nation … we will not sit and rest until we
get rid of these terrorists, root them out.”

Officials in neighboring India instantly condemned the assassination but
stopped short of apportioning blame or commenting on its implications for
democracy in Pakistan,
its nuclear rival, the New York Times reported. The Indian foreign minister,
Pranab Mukherjee, called Bhutto a “brave and outstanding woman leader of
the subcontinent.” Her “contributions to democracy, to the
improvement of India-Pakistan relations, and to the restoration of normalcy
within Pakistan
will be an inspiration,” he told reporters.

Less than two weeks ago, Musharraf ended six weeks of emergency rule he
declared in November — a move he said was to combat terrorism but was widely
perceived as an effort to stave off legal challenges to his authority.

Bhutto survived an Oct. 18 assassination attempt that left about 140 other
people dead. The attack occurred shortly after she returned to Pakistan after
eight years in exile.

Following the attack, she was briefly placed under house arrest. Bhutto said
she saw both militant Islamists aligned with al-Qaida and members of the
Pakistani government as possible threats to her security.

“Yes, I suspect elements within the Musharraf administration to have
conspired to eliminate me through terrorist attack, and I suspect elements
within the administration who continue to try to eliminate me,” Bhutto
said in a November interview with the NewsHour’s Margaret Warner.

Warner asked Bhutto whether people in Musharraf’s administration were
complicit in the October suicide bombing.

“I suspect that elements within the administration are sympathetic to
the militants and they want to eliminate my leadership to prevent democracy
from returning to Pakistan and to prevent any political party having a leader
with a mass support or nationally that can enable us to build a popular base to
confront the terrorists,” Bhutto said.

World leaders, including President Bush, condemned Bhutto’s assassination.

The United States had
been instrumental in Bhutto’s return to Pakistan, working to convince
Musharraf to give up his role as military leader and accept elections and a
power-sharing arrangement with Bhutto, a former prime minister.

Rep.
Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat from Rhode Island,
was in Pakistan
and on his way to have dinner with Bhutto Thursday night when he learned of her
killing.

“You
could really feel the tragedy of this loss because Bhutto really represented
hope here for so many people,” he said, adding that turmoil was engulfing
much of the country.

“Her
death really dashed the hope of many here in Pakistan and that’s why there’s so
much disillusionment and anger being vented through these protests that are
lighting up the sky tonight as people set fires all over the countryside,”
Kennedy told the AP in a telephone interview.

Bhutto was seen as a moderate, secularist who would support the U.S. struggle against al-Qaida and Taliban
extremists believed to have taken refuge along Pakistan’s
lawless frontier with Afghanistan.

The United States has for
months been encouraging Musharraf to reach an accommodation with the
opposition, particularly Bhutto, who was seen as having a wide base of support
in Pakistan.

Bhutto’s long-time political rival and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
went straight to Bhutto’s bedside, the Guardian newspaper of London reported. Bhutto and Sharif had been
attempting to form a united political front.

In a statement, Sharif referred to her as a “sister” and said he
“shared the grief of the entire nation”. He also called on Musharraf
to resign. Some analysts have said Sharif may be one of the few public figures
who could attempt to fill the political void Bhutto’s death will leave.

Hours before the murder of Bhutto, four people were killed at a rally for
Sharif when his supporters clashed with backers of Musharraf near Rawalpindi.

A daughter of a Pakistani political royalty, she had been elected prime
minister twice, in 1988 and 1993, and was the first woman elected to lead a
post-colonial Muslim state.

“I have led an unusual life. I have buried a
father killed at age 50 and two brothers killed in the prime of their
lives,” Bhutto wrote in a recent Op-Ed for The Washington Post. “I
raised my children as a single mother when my husband was arrested and held for
eight years without a conviction — a hostage to my political career.”