Reflections on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination

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Photo By the Department of Defense Public Domain

On October 18, 2007 hundreds of thousands gathered in the streets of Karachi, the stronghold of Pakistan’s People’s Party, to greet Benazir Bhutto as she returned home following 8 years of self-imposed exile. The celebration was soon brought to an abrupt end by a bomb attack targeting Bhutto’s convoy. Although Bhutto was unharmed the blast, that occurred around midnight, resulted in the death of 139 bystanders and injured nearly 400 more. Bhutto refused to be deterred by this initial attempt on her life.

Benazir Bhutto had served twice as the Pakistani prime minister between 1988 and 1996. She had returned home in an attempt to win a third term. She aligned herself with long time political adversary, Nawaz Sharif, after vowing not to make any deals with President Musharraf. Sharif was also a former prime minister,

The worst fears of many of her supporters became a reality on December 27, 2007. Benazir Bhutto was killed in a shooting/suicide bombing attack while leaving a political rally in the city of Rawalpindi. The attacker fired gunshots at Bhutto’s vehicle as she left the rally, she ducked for cover, and he then detonated a bomb.

At least 16-20 bystanders were killed in the blast, reports indicated that body parts were scattered across Liaqat Bagh Park where Bhutto had just spoken. Police quickly cordoned off the area as rescue workers rushed to the aid of the injured. Bhutto was later pronounced dead at Rawalpindi General Hospital.

As news of Bhutto’s death reached her supporters who had gathered at the hospital they began smashing glass doors and throwing rocks at cars. In Rawalpindi, her supporters burned election posters and attacked police who were forced to flee the area. In Peshawar, outraged supporters raised anti-Musharraf banners while in Karachi thousands gathered in the streets.

Outside of the hospital, Nawaz Sharif told supporters “I assure you that I will fight your war from now on…. Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to take the revenge for her death.” He went on to say he shared the grief of the entire nation.

“We are shocked. We are stunned. Every single one of us is mourning the loss of our leader,” said Javaid Manzoor, president of the PPP party.

The attack sparked international outrage as well. U.S. President George Bush said, “The US strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. We stand with the people of Pakistan in that struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with a democratic process.”

The UN Secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said, “I strongly condemn this heinous crime and call for the perpetrators to be brought to justice as soon as possible.”

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who had met with Bhutto earlier on Thursday, said, “She sacrificed her life for the sake of Pakistan and for the sake of this region.”

Further condemnation came from a host of other countries including China. The Vatican has also condemned the attack.

Pervez Musharraf reportedly called an emergency meeting after the bombing and later asked all Pakistanis to remain calm “so that the evil designs of terrorists can be defeated,” according to state TV.

Bhutto and other Musharraf opponents had recently accused him of planning to “rig” the elections as radicals had said they would disrupt the voting.

Bilawal Bhutto, son of Benazir Bhutto, later told reporters “We have lost our best hope but not our only hope,” The death of Benazir Bhutto most certainly deepened the political divide in Pakistan.

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