Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pakistan Update: Benazir Bhutto Assassinated; Obituary; Behind the Jan. 8 Elections

Benazir Bhutto killed in attack

Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a presumed suicide attack.

News of her death was confirmed by a military spokesman and members of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

Ms Bhutto had just addressed an election rally in Rawalpindi when gunfire and an explosion occurred.

At least 15 other people are reported killed in the attack and several more were injured. Ms Bhutto had twice been the country's prime minister.

She had been campaigning ahead of elections due in January.

Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister and a political rival, told the BBC her death was a tragedy for "the entire nation".

"I can't tell you what the feelings of the people of Pakistan are today," he told BBC News 24 after returning from the hospital where she was brought.

The BBC's Barbara Plett says the killing is likely to provoke an agonised response from her followers, especially from her loyal following in Sindh Province.

Ms Bhutto was key to her party, she was the focus of her party and she was a major political player amongst all those fighting for seats in the forthcoming elections, our correspondent adds.

The PPP has the largest support of any party in the country.

Analysts note that Rawalpindi, a garrison city, is seen as one of the country's most secure cities, making the attack even more embarrassing for the military authorities.

Scene of grief

The explosion occurred close to an entrance gate of the park in Rawalpindi where Ms Bhutto had been speaking.

Wasif Ali Khan, a member of the PPP who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital, said she died at 1816 (1316 GMT).

Supporters at the hospital began chanting "Dog, Musharraf, dog", referring to President Pervez Musharraf, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

Some broke the glass door at the main entrance to the emergency unit as others wept.

A man with a PPP flag tied around his head could be seen beating his chest, the agency adds.

An interior ministry spokesman, Javed Cheema, was quoted as saying by AFP that she may have been killed by pellets packed into the suicide bomber's vest.

However, AP quoted a PPP security adviser as saying she was shot in the neck and chest as she got into her vehicle, before the gunman blew himself up.

Mr Sharif said there had been a "serious lapse in security" by the government.

Earlier on Thursday, at least four people were killed ahead of an election rally he himself had been preparing to attend close to Rawalpindi.

Return from exile

The killing was condemned by the US and Russia.

Educated at Harvard and Oxford
Father led Pakistan before being executed in 1979
Spent five years in prison
Served as PM from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996
Sacked twice by president on corruption charges
Formed alliance with rival ex-PM Nawaz Sharif in 2006
Ended self-imposed exile by returning to Pakistan in October
"The attack shows that there are still those in Pakistan trying to undermine reconciliation and democratic development in Pakistan," a US state department official said.

Russia's foreign ministry condemned the attack, offered condolences to Ms Bhutto's family and said it hoped the Pakistani leadership would "manage to take necessary steps to ensure stability in the country".

France spoke of an "odious" act and said it was deeply concerned.

Ms Bhutto returned from self-imposed exile in October after years out of Pakistan where she had faced corruption charges.

Her return was the result of a power-sharing agreement with President Musharraf in which he granted an amnesty that covered the court cases she was facing.

Since her return relations with Mr Musharraf had broken down.

On the day of her return she led a motor cavalcade through the city of Karachi. It was hit by a double suicide attack that left some 130 dead.

Are you in Rawalpindi? Do you witness the blast? Send us your comments using the form below

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/12/27 14:57:51 GMT

Bhutto Assassinated by Suicide Attacker

Pakistan Rocked by Latest Killing

Dec. 27, 2007

Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed today by an assassin who shot her and then blew himself up as she was leaving a campaign rally, ABC News has confirmed.

Bhutto was among at least 20 killed in the blast. A security adviser to Bhutto's party said she was shot in the neck and chest as she got into her vehicle to leave the rally in Rawalpindi, near the capital city of Islamabad.

The gunman then blew himself up.

"At 6:16 p.m. she expired," Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital, told The Associated Press.

At the hospital, her supporters began chanting "dog, Musharraf, dog," a reference to Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf.

The attack took place as Bhutto was leaving a political rally where she addressed thousands before the country's Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.

Bhutto twice served as prime minister of the Islamic nation between 1988 and 1996.

Oct. 18, she returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile. During her triumphant arrival in Karachi, Pakistan, a suicide attacker blew himself up, killing more than 140 people. Bhutto escaped injury in that attack.

Bhutto has been the target of nine previous assassination attempts.

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Obituary: Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto followed her father into politics, and both of them died because of it - he was executed in 1979, she fell victim to an apparent suicide bomb attack.

Her two brothers also suffered violent deaths.

Like the Nehru-Gandhi family in India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan are one of the world's most famous political dynasties. Benazir's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was prime minister of Pakistan in the early 1970s.

His government was one of the few in the 30 years following independence that was not run by the army.

Born in 1953 in the province of Sindh and educated at Harvard and Oxford, Ms Bhutto gained credibility from her father's high profile, even though she was a reluctant convert to politics.

She was twice prime minister of Pakistan, from 1988 to 1990, and from 1993 to 1996.


On both occasions she was dismissed from office by the president for alleged corruption.

The dismissals typified her volatile political career, which was characterised by numerous peaks and troughs. At the height of her popularity - shortly after her first election - she was one of the most high-profile women leaders in the world.

Young and glamorous, she successfully portrayed herself as a refreshing contrast to the overwhelmingly male-dominated political establishment.

But after her second fall from power, her name came to be seen by some as synonymous with corruption and bad governance.

The determination and stubbornness for which Ms Bhutto was renowned was first seen after her father was imprisoned and charged with murder by Gen Zia ul-Haq in 1977, following a military coup. Two years later he was executed.

Ms Bhutto was imprisoned just before her father's death and spent most of her five-year jail term in solitary confinement. She described the conditions as extremely hard.

During stints out of prison for medical treatment, Ms Bhutto set up a Pakistan People's Party office in London, and began a campaign against General Zia.

She returned to Pakistan in 1986, attracting huge crowds to political rallies.

After Gen Zia died in an explosion on board his aircraft in 1988, she became one of the first democratically elected female prime ministers in an Islamic country.

Corruption charges

During both her stints in power, the role of Ms Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, proved highly controversial.

He played a prominent role in both her administrations, and has been accused by various Pakistani governments of stealing millions of dollars from state coffers - charges he denies, as did Ms Bhutto herself.

Many commentators argued that the downfall of Ms Bhutto's government was accelerated by the alleged greed of her husband.

None of about 18 corruption and criminal cases against Mr Zardari has been proved in court after 10 years. But he served at least eight years in jail.

He was freed on bail in 2004, amid accusations that the charges against him were weak and going nowhere.

Ms Bhutto also steadfastly denied all the corruption charges against her, which she said were politically motivated.

She faced corruption charges in at least five cases, all without a conviction, until amnestied in October 2007.

She was convicted in 1999 for failing to appear in court, but the Supreme Court later overturned that judgement.

Soon after the conviction, audiotapes of conversations between the judge and some top aides of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were discovered that showed that the judge had been under pressure to convict.

Ms Bhutto left Pakistan in 1999 to live abroad, but questions about her and her husband's wealth continued to dog her.

She appealed against a conviction in the Swiss courts for money-laundering.

During her years outside Pakistan, Ms Bhutto lived with her three children in Dubai, where she was joined by her husband after he was freed in 2004.

She was a regular visitor to Western capitals, delivering lectures at universities and think-tanks and meeting government officials.

Army mistrust

Ms Bhutto returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007 after President Musharraf signed into law an ordinance granting her and others an amnesty from corruption charges.

Observers said the military regime saw her as a natural ally in its efforts to isolate religious forces and their surrogate militants.

She declined a government offer to let her party head the national government after the 2002 elections, in which the party received the largest number of votes.

In the months before her death, she had emerged again as a strong contender for power.

Some in Pakistan believe her secret talks with the military regime amounted to betrayal of democratic forces as these talks shored up President Musharraf's grip on the country.

Others said such talks indicated that the military might at long last be getting over its decades-old mistrust of Ms Bhutto and her party, and interpreted it as a good omen for democracy.

Western powers saw in her a popular leader with liberal leanings who could bring much needed legitimacy to Mr Musharraf's role in the "war against terror".

Unhappy family

Benazir Bhutto was the last remaining bearer of her late father's political legacy.

Her brother, Murtaza - who was once expected to play the role of party leader - fled to the then-communist Afghanistan after his father's fall.

From there, and various Middle Eastern capitals, he mounted a campaign against Pakistan's military government with a militant group called al-Zulfikar.

He won elections from exile in 1993 and became a provincial legislator, returning home soon afterwards, only to be shot dead under mysterious circumstances in 1996.

Benazir's other brother, Shahnawaz - also politically active but in less violent ways than Murtaza - was found dead in his French Riviera apartment in 1985.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/12/27 14:04:38 GMT

Former premier Benazir Bhutto assassinated in Pakistan

AFP - 53 minutes ago

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AFP) - - Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack on Thursday, just two months after the former premier returned from exile for a political comeback.

Bhutto, a two-time former prime minister, had just addressed a campaign rally for next month's parliamentary elections when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the venue, killing her and at least 10 other people.

There were unconfirmed reports that the attacker had also opened fire on her with a weapon before the explosion.

"It may have been pellets packed into the suicide bomber's vest that hit her," interior ministry spokesman Javed Cheema told AFP.

It was the second suicide attack at a Bhutto event since she had returned from exile in October, aiming to contest the elections, and comes amid an unprecedented wave of violence in the country.

The deadliest terror attack in Pakistan's history targetted her homecoming rally just hours after her return, leaving 139 people dead.

After that attack, authorities repeatedly warned her they had information that Islamic militants were trying to kill her.

Government officials said President Pervez Musharraf had been privately told of her death.

The killing will deepen the political crisis in Pakistan, where Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt the vote and Musharraf's opponents -- including Bhutto -- accused him of planning to rig the result.

There have been more than 40 suicide attacks in Pakistan this year that have left at least 770 people dead.

Bhutto, educated at Oxford and Harvard, became the first female prime minister of a Muslim country when she took the helm in Pakistan in 1988. Her father, also a Pakistani prime minister, was hanged by the military in 1979 after being ousted from power.

Recalling how she stood at his grave, Bhutto once wrote: "At that moment I pledged to myself that I would not rest until democracy had returned to Pakistan."

She had repeatedly accused President Musharraf of being dictator and had been campaigning with fierce criticisms of what she said was his autocratic rule, vowing her Pakistan People's Party would deliver democracy.

Her killing was immediately condemned by the United States, which counts Pakistan as a pivotal ally in the US-led "war on terror".

Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey could not confirm that Bhutto had been killed in the bombing.

But he said: "We obviously condemn the attack that shows that there are people out there who are trying to disrupt the building of democracy in Pakistan."

A shaken Nawaz Sharif, Bhutto's main rival in the January 8 election, said he shared the grief of the entire nation and promised to take up her fight.

"I assure you that I will fight your war from now on," he told Bhutto's supporters, who were crying and wailing outside the hospital in the city of Rawalpindi.

Al-Qaeda plays dealbreaker in Pakistan

By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Asia Times

KARACHI - The extraordinary "escape" from police custody of Rashid Rauf, a British subject of Pakistani origin, points to a deal between the authorities in Islamabad and militants in an effort to ensure smooth national elections on January 8, but al-Qaeda remains a threat to this seemingly inventive initiative.

Police reported on Monday that Rauf, 26, had disappeared a day earlier while returning from court to Adiala jail, a high-security prison in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. He is said to have asked his two police guards for time to say afternoon prayers at a mosque. He went in handcuffed, and never came out.

Rauf was raised in Britain and returned to Pakistan in 2002, where he married and settled. He was arrested by Pakistani authorities in August 2006 in connection with a plot to use liquid explosives to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. This led to scores of arrests in Britain - the suspects are still to be charged - and prompted a major security alert at airports worldwide. Stiff restrictions on passengers' carry-on items also resulted.

But Rauf was cleared in Pakistan of terrorism charges last December and only faced charges relating to possessing chemicals that could be used in making explosives and with carrying forged travel documents.

These charges were dropped, but Rauf remained in custody over an extradition request from Britain in connection with the killing of his maternal uncle, Mohammed Saeed, who was stabbed to death in Birmingham in April 2002.

Pakistani Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz is reported to have told British Ambassador Robert Brinkely that Rauf's recapture is a "priority". It could be, though, that his release was more of a priority.

Islamabad, with Washington's support, is determined to stage credible elections next month to usher in a pro-West liberal democratic administration. President Pervez Musharraf has shed his military uniform after eight years of presidency, which has gone some way to improving the country's military dictatorship image, and the main political parties have gone back on their threats to boycott the polls.

This leaves the Pakistani Taliban militants, whose base is in the tribal areas of the country on the border with Afghanistan and who are calling for a boycott of the elections. This area, which includes North and South Waziristan and is for all intents and purposes beyond the writ of the federal government, has been proclaimed by the militants to be Islamic emirates.

The top leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, has vowed to struggle for the enforcement of Islamic law, to wage a "defensive" jihad against Pakistan, and to support the war against occupying troops in Afghanistan.

And importantly, he called for a boycott of the elections, a move that could seriously disrupt voting and undermine the credibility of the polls. Fearful of this, the authorities have tried to build bridges with the Taliban - once again - and recently bowed to their demands that scores of militants be released and that the security forces curtail their operations against militants in the tribal areas.

As a result, Baitullah reversed his demand for an election boycott. Contacts familiar with security issues who spoke to Asia Times Online are convinced that Rauf's "escape" can be seen in the context of this reversal.

The contacts point out that while Rauf might have been cleared in Pakistan of terrorist charges, he is potentially a high-value prisoner and should have been guarded by a much bigger security detail, including personnel from at least three intelligence agencies, beside the police.

It was Baitullah who announced in October that he would have former premier Benazir Bhutto killed on her return from exile. Baitullah subsequently backtracked and issued a denial of his statement after negotiating with the authorities. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda launched its own attack on Bhutto's convoy after her arrival in Karachi, with suicide bombers killing 136 people and injuring at least 450. Bhutto was unhurt.

In the same same vein, the real instigator behind the establishment of Islamic emirates in the border areas is al-Qaeda, and it will not sit idly by as the Pakistani Taliban strike deals with the establishment.

Al-Qaeda has learned from Iraq, where Baghdad made deals with Sunni militants at al-Qaeda's expense, that any peace initiatives are not in its best interests.

It is no coincidence, then, that since Baitullah's agreement not to call for an election boycott, there have been three major suicide attacks on the armed forces. In the latest incident, on Monday at least nine soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack in the garrison city of Kohat in North-West Frontier Province. The attack is also the third since Musharraf lifted the state of emergency at the weekend, saying that "militant violence has been stopped".

The result is that the armed forces will be forced to remain proactive over the coming weeks. This is doubly troubling for them. Firstly, their efforts will be hampered as North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces across the border traditionally scale down their activities at this time. This will allow militants to easily seek haven in Afghanistan.

Secondly, as per the understanding with Baitullah, the military is meant to be backing off. The last thing Islamabad wants in the runup to the elections is highly unpopular operations in the tribal areas.

But from al-Qaeda's perspective, continued military operations are essential to keep this "war on terror" theater open and undermine any Iraq-like concessions to local militants so as to isolate al-Qaeda.

In al-Qaeda's favor, Pakistan has tried this solution many times, but it has always come to nothing. Unlike in Iraq, al-Qaeda's roots run deep in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hundreds of Pakistani jihadis were trained in al-Qaeda's camps in Afghanistan before September 11, 2001, and al-Qaeda members have a decades-old understanding with veteran Afghan Taliban commanders.

Al-Qaeda relocated to the Waziristans after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and immediately focused on the ideological grooming of local youths, besides introducing training programs. In the past few years, scattered Pakistani jihadis have been reorganized in al-Qaeda's camps in the Waziristans. This has led to the emergence of the neo-Taliban, a far different group from the traditional Taliban who took over Afghanistan in 1996. The neo-Taliban are strongly behind al-Qaeda and will not allow its isolation.

Al-Qaeda will continue to nurture the neo-Taliban, and the establishment of the Islamic emirates, announced by Baitullah but prompted by al-Qaeda, is an effective buffer against any Washington-backed bids to initiate peace dialogue with Taliban commanders.

Thus, the release of militants and the contrived release of Rauf hardly matter in the bigger picture of al-Qaeda's do-or-die battle in Pakistan's tribal areas and beyond.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at

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