After not paying any attention to the news for days, my vacation is over. I returned home this afternoon, to find that Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated near the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
Witnesses said Ms. Bhutto, who was appearing at a political campaign rally, was fired upon at close range by a gunman, and then struck by shrapnel from a blast that the government said was caused by a suicide bomber.
Senator John Kerry, issued the following statement on the murder of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto today. Kerry is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East and South and Central Asian Affairs, which includes Pakistan. He recently introduced a Sense of the Senate Resolution with Joe Biden, expressing concern for Ms. Bhutto’s safety.
“This is both a horrific and heartbreaking tragedy, and a lightning bolt wakeup call for anyone who had taken their eye off of the turmoil in Pakistan. Teresa and I send our deepest condolences to Ms. Bhutto’s family. Benazir Bhutto returned home after years in exile knowing fully that she was taking a great personal risk to fight for change and democracy. When I met with her this fall just days before her return to Pakistan, she raised the issue of her own personal security. Subsequent to the bombing and assassination attempt that greeted her return home, I spoke to Secretary Rice about ways the United States might work with President Musharraf to ensure her safety.
“Her loss underscores the fragility of the situation in Pakistan and the perils of a volatile mix of unrest, tension, radicalism, and nuclear weapons. Her killing embodies everyone’s worst possible fears and reinforces how tenuous the circumstances in Pakistan really are. The loss of Ms. Bhutto demands of the United States and our allies an urgent focus on developing a Pakistan strategy that will crush extremists and provide freedom, peace, and security for the country that mourns her loss today.”
The N.Y. Times reports that “Ms. Bhutto, who had twice been the country’s prime minister and was a leading contender to be the next prime minister after elections set for Jan. 8, was declared dead by doctors at a hospital in Rawalpindi at 6:16 p.m. local time.”
At least a dozen more people were killed in the attack, and some reports said there were at least 20 dead. Hours later, her body was carried out of the hospital in a wooden casket, held high by hundreds of her followers clad in black.
The exact circumstances surrounding the assassination were still unclear. Senior officials in Ms. Bhutto’s party said she was leaving after addressing the rally and stood up through the sunroof of her car to wave at the crowd when she was hit in the head by a sniper in a nearby building. Witnesses said that they heard two or three shots in total, and that the car moved on for another 50 yards before a suicide attacker blew himself up.
Other witnesses described a single assassin 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. Dr. Abbas Hayat, a professor of pathology at Rawalpindi General Hospital where Ms. Bhutto was taken, said that doctors tried to revive her for 35 minutes but that she had shrapnel wounds and head injuries and was in heart failure. He said he could not confirm whether she had bullet injuries.
In the wake of Bhutto’s murder, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared three days of mourning and according to a report on state-run Pakistani media Musharraf said, “This is a great tragedy which I cannot describe in words.” Musharraf also “blamed terrorists for the attack, saying “Pakistan and the nation faces the greatest threat from these terrorists.””
Condemnation of the assassination flowed in from around the world. President Bush called it a “cowardly attack by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy.” The White House said Mr. Bush called Mr. Musharraf early Thursday afternoon.
Ms. Bhutto’s death is the latest upset in Pakistan’s treacherous political situation, and leaves her party leaderless in the short term and likely to be unable to effectively compete in hotly contested parliamentary elections that are two weeks away, according to Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading Pakistani political and military analyst.
The assassination also adds to the enormous pressure on the Bush administration over Pakistan, which has sunk billions in aid into the country without accomplishing its main goals of finding the Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden or ending the activities of Islamic militants and the Taliban in border areas with Afghanistan.
Memeorandum has all the buzz in the blogosphere.