Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated In Pakistan

Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, 54 was assassinated this morning. She was killed in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi at a large rally of her followers in the run up to the January elections. 14 other people were killed in the attack besides Bhutto, who appeared to have died from bullet wounds, but doctors announced that they weren't clear if she was shot or if her wounds were caused by bomb shrapnel.

Pakistani police told news sources that the bomber, who was riding a motorcycle, blew himself up near Bhutto's vehicle.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf held an emergency meeting just after the assassination, and Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan ambassador to the United States, told American media that Musharraf will likely announce a declaration of national mourning for Bhutto.

While a number of Bhutto's followers are accusing Musharraf of negligence or even complicity in Bhutto's death, I think it's highly unlikely.Musharraf gains nothing by Bhutto's assassination, which may very well increase Pakistan's instability, cause riots and decrease the legitimacy of the scheduled January parliamentary elections.

No, this was likely our friends the Islamists, who've hated Bhutto for years and tried to kill her the first day she returned to Pakistan from exile.

Interestingly enough, the first high profile visitor to the hospital after Bhutto was taken there was former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, her political rival in the anti-Musharraf opposition. He arrived there to pay his respects to Bhutto less than three hours after her death.

With no major figure in Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party capable of assuming her place, Sharif is a prime candidate to take over the anti-Musharraf movement in the elections - if they're still held on schedule in January.

I wouldn't be surprised if Sharif and Musharraf used this occasion to try and calm the waters by coming to a political detente between themselves, since Bhutto's murder now means that a coalition government is inevitable. An dwith Bhutto out of the picture, Sharif has significant leverage to make a deal with Musharraf as the remaining opposition figure.

The assassination of Bhutto is unlikely to affect relations with India, Afghanistan or the US to any great degree, and its primary effect will be to strengthen the Islamists within Pakistan,who feed on chaos.

Benazir Bhutto was a deeply flawed politician, but one can only admire her courage in returning to Pakistan to try and help her country in the face of death threats by the Islamists. The murder, if nothing else has increased instability in an already unstable country.

UPDATE: Apparently I may be correct in identifying Bhutto's killers. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, al Qaeda's commander in Afghanistan, has claimed responsibility for the assassination as an al-Qaeda operation. He claimed, "We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahedeen."

According to al-Yazid, the decision to assassinate Bhutto was made by al Qaeda's No. 2 leader, Ayman al Zawahri in back in October, when she announced her intention to return to Pakistan from Dubai.

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