Benazir Bhutto, 54, the first woman to have been elected Prime Minister of an Islamic state, and who just last October emerged from her self-imposed exile of eight years to return to Pakistan, has been assassinated. A suicide bomber hit crowds gathered to hear her speak at a Pakistan People’s Party rally in Rawalpindi. She is said to have survived the bombing in which at least 20 died but she was shot in the neck as she fled the scene.
Bhutto spent five years in prison and had been dogged by accusations of corruption and money laundering which she said were politically motivated. She returned to Pakistan in October when she was given amnesty by Pakistan President Musharraf. She was a popular leader who many viewed as key to a democratic Pakistan and to resisting the increasing power of fundamentalist groups and leaders there.
When 136 people were killed in last October’s suicide bomb attack upon her return to Pakistan, Bhutto said she would limit mass election rallies and would campaign by telephone.
“We do not want to endanger our leadership unnecessarily, and we certainly don’t want to risk potential mass murder of my supporters,” she 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.”
Bhutto has given her life for her country now, having known the risks she was taking and taking them anyway for the sake of a more democratic Pakistan. She had been warned repeatedly that Islamic militants wanted her dead. Elections are just days away. Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt the vote, and opponents of Musharraf’s regime, including Bhutto, have accused him of intending to rig the vote. Bhutto had been a fierce critic of Musharraf’s autocratic regime and his recent imposition of martial law and some believe Musharraf may be behind her assassination. Bhutto asserted in the interview linked above that she believed Musharraf would find a way to extend the suspension of the constitution for up to two years.
Whatever anyone says or may believe about Bhutto, she was a courageous woman who would not be stopped. So men — the same men who insist they are committed to the protection and care of women — took her out. It is only women who know their place, after all, who are viewed as deserving of protection, or for that matter, of deserving to live at all.
UPDATE: Here is an online condolence book for Benazir Bhutto:
There is good coverage in Teeth Maestro’s blog of news as it unfolds. The press is blaming the Pakistan People’s Party for rioting, etc., but Teeth Maestro was an eye witness and observed MQM party members (the MQM party controls Karachi) wielding rifles and torching vehicles.
Teeth Maestro also blogs that Condoleeza Rice has called Musharref to urge that elections be held on January 8th as planned, something Teeth Maestro and others say would be a disaster, given Bhutto’s murder and the certainty that Musharref, who may be responsible for her murder, will be re-elected, enraging Pakistanis who hold him responsible for Bhutto’s death.
Evidently Bhutto’s 19-year-old son has taken leadership of the PPP, which Teeth Maestro says the Bush regime will view favorably but which will cause a rift within the party.