Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally
By SALMAN MASOOD and GRAHAM BOWLEY
Published: December 28, 2007
RAWALPINDI, Islamabad — An attack on a political rally killed the Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto near the capital, Islamabad, Thursday. Witnesses said Ms. Bhutto was fired upon by a gunman at close range before the blast, and an official from her party said Ms. Bhutto was further injured by the explosion, which was apparently caused by a suicide attacker.
Ms. Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan, was declared dead by doctors at a hospital in Rawalpindi at 6:16 p.m. after the doctors had tried to resuscitate her for thirty-five minutes. She had suffered severe shrapnel injuries, the doctors said. At least a dozen more people were killed in the attack at the rally, which was being held ahead of elections scheduled for January, at a popular park in Rawalpindi, the garrison city adjacent to the capital.
“At 6:16 p.m. she expired,” said Dr. Abbas Hayat, professor of pathology at Rawalpindi General Hospital where Ms. Bhutto was taken after the attack.
In October, Ms. Bhutto survived a deadly suicide attack in the southern city of Karachi on the day she returned from years of self-imposed exile abroad to contest the parliamentary elections. Ms. Bhutto blamed extremist Islamic groups who she said wanted to take over the country for that attack, which narrowly missed her but killed 134 people.
Ms. Bhutto’s death is the latest blow to Pakistan’s treacherous political situation. It comes just days after President Pervez Musharraf lifted a state of emergency in the country, which he had used to suspend the Constitution and arrest thousands of political opponents, and which he said he had imposed in part because of terrorist threats by extremists in Pakistan.
Ms. Bhutto had returned to Pakistan with American support and following power-sharing negotiations between Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf, but once she was in Pakistan those negotiations appeared to break down.
Ms. Bhutto’s death Thursday immediately raised questions about whether the parliamentary elections scheduled for January will now go ahead or be postponed.
Hundreds of supporters had gathered at the political rally, which was being held at Liaqut Bagh, a park that is a common venue for political rallies and speeches, in Rawalpindi.
Amid the confusion after the explosion, the site was littered with pools of blood. Shoes and caps of party workers were lying on the asphalt, and shards of glass were strewn about the ground. Pakistani television cameras captured images of ambulances pushing through crowds of dazed and injured people at the scene of the assassination.
CNN reported that witnesses at the scene described the assassin as opening fire on Ms. Bhutto and her entourage, hitting her at least once in the neck and once in the chest, before blowing himself up.
Farah Ispahani, a party official from Ms. Bhutto’s party, said: “It is too soon to confirm the number of dead from the party’s side. Private television channels are reporting twenty dead.” Television channels were also quoting police sources as saying that at least 14 people were dead.
At the hospital where Ms. Bhutto was taken, a large number of police began to cordon off the area as angry party workers smashed windows. Many protesters shouted “Musharraf Dog”. One man was crying hysterically, saying, “O my sister has been killed.” Amid the crowd, dozens of people beat their chests, and chanted slogans against Mr. Musharraf.
Nahid Khan, a close aide to Ms. Bhutto, was crying with swollen eyes in a room next to the operating theater, and the corridors of the hospital swarmed with mourners.
Ms. Bhutto had been warned by the government before her return to Pakistan that she faced threats to her security.
Ms. Bhutto, 54, returned to Pakistan this year to present herself as the answer to the nation’s troubles: a tribune of democracy in a state that has been under military rule for eight years, and the leader of the country’s largest opposition political party, founded by her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, one of Pakistan’s most flamboyant and democratically inclined prime ministers.
But her record in power, and the dance of veils she has deftly performed since her return -- one moment standing up to Mr. Musharraf, then next seeming to accommodate him, and never quite revealing her actual intentions -- has stirred as much distrust as hope among Pakistanis.
A graduate of Harvard and Oxford, she brought the backing of Washington and London, where she impresses with her political lineage, her considerable charm and her persona as a female Muslim leader.
But with these accomplishments, Ms. Bhutto also brought controversy, and a legacy among Pakistanis as a polarizing figure who during her two turbulent tenures as prime minister, first from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996, often acted imperiously and impulsively.
She faced deep questions about her personal probity in public office, which led to corruption cases against her in Switzerland, Spain and Britain, as well as in Pakistan.
Ms. Bhutto saw herself as the inheritor of her father’s mantle, often spoke of how he encouraged her to study the lives of legendary female leaders ranging from Indira Gandhi to Joan of Arc.
Following the idea of big ambition, Ms. Bhutto called herself chairperson for life of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, a seemingly odd title in an organization based on democratic ideals and one she has acknowledged quarreling over with her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, in the early 1990s.
Saturday night at the diplomatic reception, Ms. Bhutto showed how she could aggrandize. Three million people came out to greet her in Karachi on her return last month, she said, calling it Pakistan’s ”most historic” rally. In fact, crowd estimates were closer to 200,000, many of them provincial party members who had received small amounts of money to make the trip.
Such flourishes led questioning in Pakistan about the strength of her democratic ideals in practice, and a certain distrust, particularly amid signs of back-room deal-making with General Musharraf, the military ruler she opposed.
“She believes she is the chosen one, that she is the daughter of Bhutto and everything else is secondary,” said Feisal Naqvi, a corporate lawyer in Lahore who knew Ms. Bhutto.
When Ms. Bhutto was re-elected to a second term as Prime Minister, her style of government combined both the traditional and the modern, said Zafar Rathore, a senior civil servant at the time.
But her view of the role of government differed little from the classic notion in Pakistan that the state was the preserve of the ruler who dished out favors to constituents and colleagues, he recalled.
As secretary of interior, responsible for the Pakistani police force, Mr. Rathore, who is now retired, said he tried to get an appointment with Ms. Bhutto to explain the need for accountability in the force. He was always rebuffed, he said.
Finally, when he was seated next to her in a small meeting, he said to her, “I’ve been waiting to see you,” he recounted. “Instantaneously, she said: ‘I am very busy, what do you want. I’ll order it right now.’ ”
She could not understand that a civil servant might want to talk about policies, he said. Instead, he said, ”she understood that when all civil servants have access to the sovereign, they want to ask for something.”
But until her death, Ms. Bhutto ruled the party with an iron hand, jealously guarding her position, even while leading the party in absentia for nearly a decade.
Members of her party saluted her return to Pakistan, saying she was the best choice against General Musharraf. Chief among her attributes, they said, was sheer determination.
Ms. Bhutto’s marriage to Asif Ali Zardari was arranged by her mother, a fact that Ms. Bhutto has often said was easily explained, even for a modern, highly educated Pakistani woman.
To be acceptable to the Pakistani public as a politician she could not be a single woman, and what was the difference, she would ask, between such a marriage and computer dating?
Mr. Zardari is known for his love of polo and other perquisites of the good life like fine clothes, expensive restaurants, homes in Dubai and London, and an apartment in New York.
He was minister of investment in Ms. Bhutto’s second government. And it was from that perch that he made many of the deals that haunted Ms. Bhutto, and himself, in the courts.
There were accusations that the couple had illegally taken $1.5 billion from the state. It is a figure that Ms. Bhutto has vigorously contested.
Indeed, one of Ms. Bhutto’s main objectives in seeking to return to power was to restore the reputation of her husband, who was jailed for eight years in Pakistan, said Abdullah Riar, a former senator in the Pakistani Parliament and a former colleague of Ms. Bhutto’s.
“She told me, ‘Time will prove he is the Nelson Mandela of Pakistan,’ ” Mr. Riar said.