Here is President Bush’s Statement on the Bhutto Assassination
HORRIFYING millions of frightened Pakistanis, Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the country’s biggest political party, was assassinated on Thursday December 27th. Her attacker fired gunshots into her car as she was leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi, then exploded a suicide bomb. At least 15 of Miss Bhutto’s followers were also killed.
Miss Bhutto had been campaigning in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan’s military elite, for an election set for January 8th. It may now be postponed. Pervez Musharraf, the country’s recently demobbed president, has convened crisis talks to discuss this latest, and potentially most grievous, example of instability in Pakistan. Supporters of Miss Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)—which had expected to win the election—were meanwhile reported to be gathering in angry protests across the country.
Even before Miss Bhutto’s murder, the election campaign had been bedevilled by political conflict and terrorism. The role of each of its main actors—including Miss Bhutto and Mr Musharraf—has been contested in the courts and on the streets, against a backdrop of worsening insurgency and Islamist terrorism.
Miss Bhutto had returned to Pakistan in October to lead her party, after an eight-year self-imposed exile. The event was marked by a suicide bomb attack on her homecoming parade in Karachi, which killed over 140 people. Islamists terrorists, fighting an insurgency in north-western Pakistan, had previously threatened to kill Miss Bhutto. They are probably behind her murder.
A discredited former prime minister, accused of massive corruption, Miss Bhutto had won grudging praise from many Pakistanis for her courage in defying the terrorists’ threat. For her devoted supporters—including a large majority in southern Pakistan—this confirmed Miss Bhutto as the country’s rightful ruler. She was the last surviving offspring of a revered former prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He was hanged by a previous army ruler.
In her final political address—a few minutes before her death—Miss Bhutto alluded to the risk she was running. She said: “I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis.”
In fact, Miss Bhutto’s party was not expected to win an outright majority in the election. But, under her leadership, it was likely to emerge as the biggest party in the poll. If so, Miss Bhutto would have expected to play a leading role in a coalition government, perhaps as prime minister for an unprecedented third term.
Despite the previous violence, and expectations that Mr Musharraf would rig the election, the poll had generated fragile hopes in Pakistan. After all, largely in response to popular demand—and certainly against his wish—the election campaign has seen Mr Musharraf rebrand himself as a civilian ruler. Many Pakistanis hoped that even a flawed election next month would be better than the sham democracy he had overseen for eight years as president in a general’s uniform.
These hopes have now been dashed. Despite her failings, Miss Bhutto was the unrivalled leader of Pakistan’s biggest and most secular party—an astonishingly resilient survivor of on-off military rule. It was thus that America and other western powers urged Mr Musharraf first to encourage Miss Bhutto back from exile, then to share power with her. And indeed that had looked likely, until her violent homecoming. Miss Bhutto blamed senior army officers with Jihadist sympathies for that attack.
Alas, her supporters are now likely to blame her killing on the same shadowy army elite. And with stronger possible justification: Miss Bhutto’s killer is alleged to have approached to within 20 yards of her car, carrying a gun, dressed in a police uniform. At the least, such a lapse in the security afforded to Mr Musharraf and his supporters would be unimaginable.
At a time of shock and mourning—in a country well-accustomed to both—new uncertainties weight heavily in Pakistan. One concerns the future of the PPP, which may not survive without a Bhutto at the helm. Without the PPP, or something much like it, Pakistan may have no easily imaginable secular and democratic future.
As news of Miss Bhutto’s slaying spread, Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister, who leads the second opposition party, called for solidarity: “My heart is bleeding and I’m as grieved as you are.”