Just days before parliamentary polls in Pakistan, leading Prime Ministerial contender and anti terrorism crusader Benazir Bhutto was shot dead during an election rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. “She has been martyred,” said party official Rehman Malik. The Associated Press, citing Malik, reported that Bhutto was shot in the neck and the chest before the gunman blew himself up. At least 20 bystanders were killed in the blast. Bhutto was rushed to a hospital But, at 6:16 p.m. Pakistan time, she was declared dead.
“”How can somebody who can shoot her get so close to her with all the so-called security?” said a distraught Husain Haqqani, a former top aide to Bhutto, shortly after news of her death flashed around the world. Haqqani, who served as a spokesman and top aide to Bhutto for more than a decade, blamed Pakistani security, either through neglect or complicity, in her assassination. “This is the security establishment, which has always wanted her out,” he said through tears.
Haqqani, now a professor at Boston University, isn’t sure what the latest bloodshed means for his country. “Will the Pakistani military realize that this is going to tear the fabric of the nation apart, and so really get serious about securing the country and about getting serious in dealing with the extremist jihadis?” he wondered. But he made clear he feels the best chance for such a policy has just evaporated. “She did show courage, and she was the only person who spoke out against terrorism,” he said. “She was let down by those in Washington who think that sucking up to bad governments around the world is their best policy option.”
Related: There goes that liberal New York Times again…
Update 2: Ongoing liveblogging of media coverage from Pakistan Policy Blog; Pakistani blogger Teeth Maestro, who “was never a fan of her style of politics corruption” but who is now “quite literally forgiving her for everything”, provides an impassioned example of how volatile emotions are in Pakistan following Bhutto’s assassination:
As the country plunges into chaos with news of riots already afoot throughout Pakistan. Yes we will recover, yes the world will move on, but we will surely remember her ultimate sacrifice for Pakistan.
My analysis of who is to blame may be quite simple as we have been repeating the same thing over and over again – The Americans MUST stop their adventures and infiltrations into other countries and their war on terror has destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq and now Pakistan stands on the edge ready to plummet into darkness. This war on terror is a war of the Americans and NOT our war.
We Pakistanis Plead with the movers and shakers in United States to Please For Gods Sake Leave US ALONE
Update 3: Momekh @ Metroblogging Lahore:
I personally have never supported Ms Benazir and her party (the PPP). But this, by all means, goes beyond the immediate politics of pretty much everything. It goes without saying that no one, and I mean no one — even for a moment — deserves to go this way, to die in such an unnatural manner and for such obnoxiously stupid reasons. Fate, as we already should know, is not without a sense of irony; Benazir has died (primarily) due to gunfire wounds while leaving a political gathering at Liaquat Gardens; Liaquat Gardens is not only named after, but is also the same place where the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, Khan Liaquat Ali Khan was murdered with a bullet.
On the evening of 27th December 2007, Ms Benazir Bhutto died due to injuries sustained in a suicide bomb attack on her life. I feel like repeating this to actually believe it. I feel that almost everything within the Pakistani political makeup will change. There is already incident reports of people ransacking offices of political officials, of protestors burning vehicles and the subsequent sense of fear that things will turn for the worse. I, unfortunately, also feel that the same unjust rule, the same all-consuming lust for power, the same indifference that seems to be root cause of everything evil and the same ‘wheeling and dealing’ associated with the politicians of today will continue unabated.
Update 4: CNN just reported that Pakistan’s military has gone on a state of “red alert”.
Update 5 – various: The CS Monitor reports that upcoming elections are in jeopardy and martial law may be imminent:
The killing of Bhutto leaves a question mark over whether elections can go forward. A political field without her will profoundly affect the larger political dynamic that Mr. Musharraf has been carefully crafting to remain in power. But more immediately, the death of one of Pakistan’s most prominent political leaders has shaken the country. “The country has been pushed into another dark period of uncertainty,” says Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
Riots erupted in Rawalpindi soon after the news of her death was confirmed. The city has been the site of several suicide bombings in past months, though most have targeted security forces. Private television channels also reported riots in major towns across the country, especially in Sindh, Bhutto’s home province.
The magnitude of Bhutto’s death obscured another act of political violence Thursday. Four supporters of Bhutto’s opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N), were shot dead at a political rally in Islamabad.
“I think the elections will be canceled,” says Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani security analyst and author of “Taliban.” “We can’t have elections when the country is in this state of violence. We may see the imposition … of extraordinary measures like martial law or a state of emergency.”
In an interview with the BBC, PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif also hinted that elections could be postponed: “None of us is inclined to think about the election.”
Bhutto declared herself lifetime chairman of the party she inherited from her father. Observers are unsure who might take over the reins of the party now.
“It may take months for the party to decide their new leader,” says Hassan Aksari Rizvi, an independent political scientist in Lahore. “I don’t see how they can contest an election scheduled in a few days without a coherent leadership.”
More from AP:
“Shortly after Bhutto’s death, Musharraf convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the election, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.”
Violence erupted as news spread:
As news of her death spread, supporters at the hospital in Rawalpindi smashed glass doors and stoned cars. Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of complicity in her killing.
Angry supporters also took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well other areas, chanting slogans against Musharraf. In Rawalpindi, the site of the attack, Bhutto’s supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled from the scene.”
There is also still some dispute over the exact circumstances of Bhutto’s death:
The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed a rally of thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. There were conflicting accounts over the sequence of events.
Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s security adviser, said she was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up.
But Javed Iqbal Cheema, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told state-run Pakistan Television that Bhutto died when a suicide bomber struck her vehicle. At least 20 others were killed in the blast, an Associated Press reporter at the scene saw.
Bruce Riedel, a former defense and intelligence official who helped make South Asia policy in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, says he believes Benazir Bhutto’s assassination “was almost certainly the work of al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s Pakistani allies.” He says, “Their objective is to destabilize the Pakistani state, to break up the secular political parties, to break up the army so that Pakistan becomes a politically failing state in which the Islamists in time can come to power much as they have in other failing states.” He says the United States should press the government of President Pervez Musharraf to go ahead with the parliamentary elections—perhaps after a brief pause. “The only way that Pakistan is going to be able to fight terrorism effectively is to have a legitimate democratically elected secular government that can rally the Pakistani people to engage al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist movements,” he says.
Riedel casually dismisses the notion that Bhutto’s killing could have been carried out by Pakistani military intelligence:
I am sure that conspiracy theories about that will abound in Pakistan. She was widely disliked in the intelligence apparatus, but it was more likely the work of al-Qaeda and its cohorts. Now it is certainly possible that they had penetrated and had sympathizers within the Pakistani security apparatus and had advance knowledge of her movements. It is clear from the al-Qaeda attacks in the past, including on President Musharraf, that al-Qaeda has sympathizers at the highest levels of security, and intelligence which provided information on his movements in the past which facilitated the efforts to kill him.
Cernig points out that trying to differentiate between AQ, “rogue elements” within Pakistan’s security apparatus and Musharraf is largely redundant:
It may well be that some Islamist extremist group will eventually get the blame for assassinating Bhutto, but no Islamist group in Pakistan is free of the Pakistani intelligence agency’s influence. All, from AQ and the Taliban on down, have been used as proxies by the ISI. According to some reports, British intelligence even gave the US Mullah Omar’s telephone number – at his ISI safe house in Quetta, Pakistan. The current head of the Pakistani military, a long-time Musharraf loyalist, was promoted to that post from his previous position as head of the ISI. Politically, the main islamist party backs Musharraf in the Pakistani parliament. The notion that Musharraf is battling or fears his own supporters or proxies is simply spin promulgated by Musharraf and his ISI themselves.
With that said, Cernig quotes Jason Burke of the Guardian, who notes:
There are many within the Pakistani establishment who would have wanted her dead. Is President Musharaf among them? I think not. He is a soldier, a nationalist, a pragmatic and far from a convinced democrat, but I do not think he is a closet Islamist. He does not benefit from her murder as it undermines his sole justification for being in power: that he is the only person around capable of maintaining order – with the army as well. Yet there are others within the military, and especially the sprawling intelligence services, who do not necessarily follow his orders.
Among the many reactions from US presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, two in particular stand out.
First, Democratic candidate Bill Richardson thinks the US should hold Musharraf accountable for Bhutto’s death [edit: and get all interventionist on his ass]:
“The United States government cannot stand by and allow Pakistan’s return to democracy to be derailed or delayed by violence. … President George W. Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government.”
And then there’s Mitt Romney, seemingly determined to trump “double Gitmo” with an even more ridiculous over-the-top foreign policy statement (IMO he doesn’t succeed):
“This points out again the extraordinary reality of global violent radical Jihadism … This type of loss of life points out again the need for our nation and other civilized nations of the West and of the Muslim world to come together to support moderate Islamic leaders, moderate Islamic people to help them in their effort to reject the violence and the extreme.”
Big ups teh white man’s burden, bi-partisan stylez!
Romney really doesn’t have a clue. Perhaps he really is the most Reaganesque of all the GOP contenders.