Benazir Bhutto buried; violence erupts in assassination aftermath

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a suicide attack yesterday, has been buried in her ancestral home in the village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. Meanwhile, violence has erupted across the nation in protest to the 54-year-old opposition leader's death.

The Pakistani government has claimed to have evidence to suggest that al Qaeda were responsible for attacking her at the end of her address to an election rally. One spokesperson for the Interior Ministry said "We have intelligence intercepts indicating that al Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud is behind her assassination." Mehsud, believed to be in Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan, is one of Pakistan's most wanted criminals.

Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a head of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, told the Asia Times by telephone that the group had indeed been responsible, saying "This is our first major victory against those who have been siding with infidels in a fight against Al Qaeda and declared a war against mujahideen," and that anti-Shi'ite militant group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi carried out the attack on al Qaeda's behalf.

United States federal bodies are attempting to verify that al Qaeda were responsible. One official told the Associated Press that a bulletin circulated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security to law enforcement groups mentioned several Islamist websites posting claims of responsibility. Director of National Intelligence spokesman Ross Feinstein commented that they were "in no position right now to confirm who may have been responsible."

Unrest in Sindh, Bhutto's home province, was to the extent that the military has been called in to the area. According to officials, unrest since her death has resulted in 32 deaths, including those of four police officers. 23 of the deaths were in Sindh. It is feared that recent events could cause Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to postpone an election intended to place Pakistan back under civilian rule, which is currently planned for January 8.

Soldiers were told to shoot to kill violent protesters on sight, as scores of people set up roadblocks and torched hundreds of cars, trucks and buses. Other areas also saw violence; an election meeting in the Northwest suffered a bomb attack that killed a candidate for Musharrif's party and seven others, whilst one was killed in the city of Lahore.

Thousands lined the way as Bhutto's coffin, draped in the tricolor of the Pakistan People's Party, was transported the 7km to the family mausoleum, accompanied by Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari. She was laid to rest alongside the body of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, himself a former Prime Minister hung after a military coup. Zardini prayed at the site alongside their three children, son Bilawal, 19, and daughters Bakhtawar, 17 and Aseefa, 14. Bhutto's two brothers, whose deaths remain officially unexplained, are also buried at the site, which she had herself arranged the construction of.

Reuters reported that many at the scene chanted slogans in opposition to Musharraf and to the United States, who for many years have supported Musharraf. "Shame on the killer Musharraf, shame on the killer U.S.," the news agency quoted the mourners as saying. Meanwhile, one farmer told them "Bhutto was my sister and Bhutto was like my mother... With her death, the world has ended for us."

Musharraf, a former army general, seized power in an armed 1999 coup. For many years he has had US support in the hope that he can keep control in the unstable country, which is afflicted with Islamic extremist violence.

Economics in the country have also been much affected, Koichi Ogawa, chief portfolio manager at Daiwa SB Investments, commented that "Unrest in Pakistan is eroding the market sentiment dramatically as Pakistan, unlike North Korea or Iran, is known to really have nuclear weapons." Although the affect was generally to decrease values, lower risk investments, such as gold, went up in demand.

India has reacted to the violence by ordering immediate suspension of all cross-border bus and rail services with Pakistan amid fears that violence will spread. Extremists are known to attack trains, including one attack in February where 68 people died on an Indian train heading for Pakistan. Indian border forces have been put on alert, although no specific threats have yet been identified. Relations between the two countries are peaceful but tense, and Indian border forces regularly go on alert at times of crisis in Pakistan.