It was bloody end to the checkered political career of one of the most charismatic women world leaders of recent times. The death of the 54-year-old Benazir Bhutto, the once (actually twice) and (many believed) future Prime Minister of Pakistan, killed in a suicide attack as she was leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi, has plunged the country deeper into political turmoil and possibly, civil war. At the very least, the repercussions and aftershocks will be felt for months, maybe years, to come. Apart from Benazir, the last of her generation belonging to a storied political dynasty, the most obvious casualty would be democracy, the fate of the January 8, 2008 parliamentary elections now in doubt.
The Pakistani military, presently the most potent political force in Pakistan, in the sense that it can enforce its will on the rest of the populace under the direction of Gen. (Ret., formally) and President Pervez Musharraf, may once again put in place emergency rule should civil unrest escalate. Bhutto’s supporters rampaged through several cities in the wake of her murder, leaving at least 34 dead (and counting). According to the Associated Press, Bhutto’s supporters ransacked banks, waged shootouts with police and burned trains and stations in a spasm of violence less than two weeks before parliamentary elections. Soldiers patrolled the streets of the southern cities of Hyderabad and Karachi in an effort to quell violence, witnesses said. In many areas, protesters burned tires in commercial districts, most businesses were closed and public transportation had ground to a halt. Paramilitary rangers were given the authority to use live fire against rioters , according to Maj. Asad Ali, army spokesman, saying “We have orders to shoot on sight.”
Many of Bhutto’s furious supporters blamed President Musharraf’s government for the shooting and bombing attack on the former prime minister but the administration was quick to blame Al-Qaeda and the Taliban for her death, claiming it intercepted an Al-Qaeda leader’s message of congratulation for the assassination.
The murky Pakistani political waters notwithstanding, there appears to be only two prime suspects for the killing: Muslim extremists or Musharraf’s minions, or per conspiracy theorists, an unholy alliance of both camps. They had the motive, certainly the resources, and numerous opportunities, given Benazir’s fatalistic penchant for mingling with her throngs of supporters and her known approachability. The assassin had no trouble getting close enough to shoot her in the neck before blowing himself up. Read the rest of this entry »