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Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated in Pakistan


Former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, the first woman prime minister of an Islamic nation, was assassinated in an attack at an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi. She was 54.

``She's dead,'' a Bhutto aide, Imran Hayat, said today as he sobbed in a telephone interview from Rawalpindi General Hospital. Rioting began as her supporters gathered outside the hospital.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Bhutto died in the blast or was shot by the bomber before he blew himself up, Bhutto spokesman Farhatullah Babar told state-run television. Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Cheema said earlier in a phone interview that she was killed in the bombing. At least 15 other people were also killed and more than 60 were injured, police said.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the killing and appealed for calm in a statement broadcast on state television, after rioting broke out in cities across Pakistan. In Rawalpindi, where the army has its headquarters, shops were torched and Bhutto's backers clashed with police. Unrest broke out in her hometown, Larkana, while in Lahore there were reports of gunfire from some parts of the city, Pakistan's AAJ television reported.

``It was Benazir Bhutto that posed the main threat to pro- Musharraf parties,'' Farzana Shaikh, Pakistan analyst at the London-based Chatham House foreign policy institute, said in a phone interview from Montpellier, France. ``Long-term it raises very, very serious questions about the stability of Pakistan.''

October Attack

The opposition leader survived an assassination attempt on the night of her return to Pakistan in October after eight years in self-imposed exile. At least 136 people died when suicide bombers attacked her welcome procession on Oct. 19 in Karachi, where thousands of supporters had gathered to receive her.

Harvard and Oxford-educated Bhutto was born in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, and was the eldest of two sisters and two brothers. She is survived by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, son Bilawal and two daughters, Bakhtawar and Aseefa.

Bhutto attributed her interest in politics to her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the prime minister overthrown by General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in a 1977 military coup.

``She was, like her father, a deeply flawed leader,'' Shaikh said. ``But, she was one of the few popular leaders of Pakistan. She did street politics like no other. She was able to give people a certain sense of belonging.''

Zia ul-Haq went on to become president in 1978. The elder Bhutto, founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party, was hanged in 1979 after his conviction on charges of authorizing the murder of an opponent. Both Bhutto's brothers were also murdered.

`It Chose Me'

``I didn't choose this life, it chose me,'' Bhutto wrote in the preface to the second edition of her autobiography, Daughter of the East, in April 2007. ``Born in Pakistan, my life mirrors its turbulence, its tragedies and its triumphs. Pakistan is no ordinary country. And mine has been no ordinary life.''

Bhutto was imprisoned for five years, mostly in solitary confinement, just before her father's execution. She later lived in London, returning to Pakistan in 1986. She was married to a man from a land-owning family of agriculturists in 1987.

``An arranged marriage was the price in personal choice I had to pay for the political path my life had taken,'' she wrote in her autobiography. ``My own parents had married for love and I had grown up believing the day would come when I would fall in love and marry a man of my own choosing.''

Zia ul-Haq's dictatorship ended when he was killed in a plane crash in 1988. Her government was dismissed in 1990. She won a second term in 1993 and was dismissed once again on charges of corruption in 1996.

Managed Party

She lived in Dubai and London since 1999 after being charged in Pakistan with taking kickbacks on state contracts. She wasn't convicted on the charges. While outside Pakistan, she spent time lecturing at universities and think-tanks around the world. She also remotely managed her party.

Zardari, Bhutto's husband and a member of the senate, also spent over eight years in jail on 18 corruption cases. He was released in 2004 without any convictions.

Bhutto flew back to Pakistan after President Pervez Musharraf, 64, gave her amnesty on the corruption charges and agreed to give up control of the military by Nov. 15. In return, Bhutto didn't object to him being re-elected president by parliament and he won another five-year term.

Vowed to Campaign

The former premier had said she would limit mass election rallies and campaign by telephone to avoid a repeat of the Oct. 19 terrorist attacks.

``We do not want to endanger our leadership unnecessarily, and we certainly don't want to risk potential mass murder of my supporters,'' Bhutto wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 23. ``If we don't campaign, the terrorists have won and democracy is set back further. If we do campaign, we risk violence. It is an extraordinary dilemma.''

The U.S. backed a partnership between Bhutto and Musharraf. President George W. Bush banked on the relationship to return stability to a nuclear-armed country that, according to U.S. intelligence reports and officials, is failing to combat a growing Islamist threat.

``Bhutto symbolizes everything that's anathema to the extremists,'' Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said in a telephone interview. ``They want a Taliban-like theocratic state in Pakistan and she stands for democracy, modernity and change.''

Bhutto's moderate view of Islam and close contacts with the Bush administration made her a potential target for extremists in the world's largest Muslim nation after Indonesia. Islamic militants had threatened to assassinate Bhutto on her return from exile.

`A Symbol'

``I know that I am a symbol of what the so-called Jihadists, Taliban and al-Qaeda, most fear,'' she wrote. ``I am a female political leader fighting to bring modernity, communication, education and technology to Pakistan.''

The twin bombings on her return to Pakistan in October also injured more than 500 people in the deadliest attacks since Musharraf took power in a coup in 1999.

Musharraf had been informed that three people may be behind the attempts to kill her, Bhutto told reporters on Oct. 22, without identifying them.

``We will not be intimidated,'' she told reporters at her Karachi residence, Bilawal House. ``Despite the heavy loss we incurred, we will continue.''

`Al-Qaeda'

Bhutto received a letter from ``friends of al-Qaeda'' on Oct. 23, threatening more suicide attacks, possibly using women bombers, her lawyer Farooq Naik said. Bhutto also said her houses in Karachi and Larkana in the southern province of Sindh were under threat.

Musharraf imposed emergency rule in Pakistan on Nov. 3 as the Supreme Court neared a decision on the legality of his re- election as head of state while also serving as army chief.

Bhutto called Musharraf's decision to suspend the constitution and impose emergency a mini martial law and said it jeopardized her power-sharing talks with the army ruler.

To contact the reporters on this story: Naween A. Mangi in Karachi at nmangi1@bloomberg.net ; Khaleeq Ahmed in Islamabad at paknews@bloomberg.net ; Khalid Qayum in Islamabad at kqayum@bloomberg.net .

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