Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto's Coffin Flown to Her Hometown

Pakistan President Announces Three Days of National Mourning; Sharif Calls for Polls Boycott


The coffin of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was shot dead in Rawalpindi city near the country's capital city, reached her ancestral town Garhi Khuda Bukhsh in the wee hours of Friday and she will be laid to rest there by midday, media reports said.

On the other hand, violence gripped the country immediately after the news of her killing spread in every nook and corner of Pakistan like jungle fire. Reports said that at least 10 persons were killed in different cities of Bhutto's home province of Sindh while several banks, vehicles and other government installations were burnt in various towns of the country.

Bhutto, who was running campaign of her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) for Jan. 8 election, was shot dead when she left Liaquat Bagh -- a park named after the country's first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan who was shot dead while addressing a rally there on Oct. 16, 1951 -- after addressing the rally. Besides Bhutto, at least 30 of her supporters were also killed in the suicide bombing.

"Bhutto was embarking on her bullet-proof vehicle when the assailant fired two gun shots at her and simultaneously triggered a suicide blast," eyewitnesses and police said. "She received one bullet in her neck and the other in her temple which pierced her skull," they added.

"She had already died when brought at the Rawalpindi General Hospital," said a cardiologist, who operated upon her at the hospital. "She had a hole in the front side (almost) of her skull. The bullet left from the rear side with a big wound. Her brain was already torn apart," said the doctor, who wished not to be identified.

The cardiologist said she was operated upon, her chest was opened and heart was taken out so that it could be massaged in an effort to resume her heartbeat but to no avail.

"The assassination of Ms Bhutto is a target killing," said Senator Dr Babar Awan, a close aide of slain Pakistani leader. "She was worried about her security and had expressed her fear even during the rally," said Dr Awan, who had reached the venue of the rally along with Ms Bhutto.

"We were sitting together and she has been telling me as to what threats she faced. She also gave me some details but I cannot divulge those details for the time being. She also gave me something in writing. She was extremely worried," he added, while talking to the media.

Dr Awan said that when they left the venue of the rally, they had two vehicles and he along with Rehman Malik and Farhatullah Babar boarded the first vehicle while Ms Bhutto embarked the vehicle that was behind the first one. When she stood up to wave to her supporters, first she was target with sharp shooting and then a bomb went off.

"However, police immediately whisked away us," he said.

When the doctors pronounced Bhutto dead, the leaders and workers of her party refused to receive her body until arrival of her spouse, Asif Ali Zardari, from Dubai. However, Zardari reached Islamabad along with her three children -- Bilawal Zardari, Bakhtawar Zardari and Asifa Zardari -- through a special plane and received her coffin.

From the hospital, the coffin was shifted to nearby Islamabad Airport from where it was flown to Sukkur city in Sindh province onboard a C-130 aircraft that also carried Zardari, his children and some senior PPP leaders.

When the aircraft landed at the Sukkur airport, a military helicopter was already present at the airport to take the dead body of Bhutto to her hometown Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. According to reports, a grave had already been dug adjacent to the grave of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, the coffin was shifted from helipad to her ancestral residence so that close family member could catch the last glimpse of her face.

Reports said that her funeral was to be offered between 10 and 11 a.m. (PST) and burial was to take place by noon. Thousands of her admirers and party workers had reported started pouring in her hometown soon after learning about her death and millions of people were expected to gather for her last rites.

Violence Grips Pakistan

As soon the news about assassination of Ms Bhutto, who was elected in 1988 as first female prime minister of any Islamic state, broke, the people took to streets in all major cities and towns of the country and violent riots went out of control of the law-enforcement agencies. Rioters set on ablaze numerous government offices, banks and vehicles in various cities and towns.

In Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the workers of the PPP got emotional and chanted slogans against the government while marching on the city roads. They also blocked various roads. The police tried to control the violent protesters but in vain. Ms Bhutto had addressed a rally in Rawalpindi after 11 years and a huge crowd of her party workers and supporters had gathered to listen to her.

The bus terminals, fuel stations and hotels were closed by their owners fearing backlash of Ms Bhutto's assassination while those who were calm and cool confined themselves to their houses.

The PPP supporters set on fire the venue of a public meeting of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), which ruled the country for the last five years, in Sargodha city. Former Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi was reportedly scheduled to address a rally at the venue on Friday. Besides, three election offices of PML were also burnt in this central Punjab city.

Like other cities and towns of the Punjab province, shops, cinema houses and fuel stations were closed in Lahore, the capital of the province, and two police vehicles were burnt while another was hijacked along with policemen. However, the policemen were later released but after being subjected to torture.

The office of a mobile telephone company, one fuel station and a house were also burnt in Lahore. The violent protesters block roads and burnt tyres while some also resorted to aerial firing.

In the industrial city of Gujranwala, the shops of traders who delayed closure of business were damaged. In dusty Multan city in southern Punjab, hundreds of people staged a protest demonstration and burnt tires. Reports said the workers of PPP in the Punjab were highly provoked and some of them even talked of taking revenge.

In Karachi, where Bhutto's palatial residence was known as Bilawal House, all the trade centres were closed. A sense shock and grief grip the whole city and traffic gone out of control. It seemed that people had lost their senses.

The aggrieved and provoked people were chanting slogans in favour of Ms Bhutto and pelting government offices and buildings with stones and setting vehicles on fire. In Lyari neighbourhood of Karachi, which is considered stronghold of Ms Bhutto-led PPP, women also took to streets. They were beating their chests and wailing.

In Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan, it seemed that any natural disaster had struck. At least two police stations were reportedly also attacked in the city.

Similar situation was reported from other cities and towns of the Sindh province. Reports also said that at least 10 persons were killed in violence in different parts of the province.

The violence was also reported from Peshawar and Quetta, capital cities of the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan province, respectively.

President Musharraf Announces Three Days of Mourning

Soon after the assassination of Ms Bhutto, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in a televised statement condemned the incident and renewed his pledge to root out the menace of terrorism from the country. He also announced three-day mourning in the country.

Sharif Announces Polls Boycott

Several political leaders of Pakistan expressed serious anguish over the killing of Ms Bhutto and described it as a national tragedy. Some of them even demanded President Musharraf to resign from his office forthwith.

"This is not just a mourning day. It is the darkest day of our history. I share the grief with the nation. This tragedy is even beyond imagination of anybody," said former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

"It is the time to heal the wounds of Sindh," he said while announcing to boycott the Jan. 8 election.

The leaders of all religious and political condemned the assassination of Ms Bhutto in the strongest terms and some of them even gave strike call for Friday and announced mourning.

World Condemns Bhutto Assassination

Several world leaders as well as the United Nations also expressed their shock and grief over the assassination of Ms Bhutto and strongly condemned the incident. Leaders of the countries including the United States, Britain, France, Russia, India, Bangladesh, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, China, Iran, South Africa and Czech Republic were among those who expressed their grief.

The United Nations, Arab League, European Commission and European Union also criticised the murder of Ms Bhutto. U.S. President George W. Bush urged Pakistan to stay on the democratic path.

"The U.S. strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy," Bush told reporters hours after Bhutto was killed. "Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice," he said near his ranch in Texas where he is spending the end-of-year holidays. "We stand with the people of Pakistan in that struggle against the forces of terror and extremism."

Benazir Bhutto: A Profile

The eldest of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's four children, Benazir was born in Karachi on June 21, 1953. Her mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto was of Kurdish-Iranian origin while her paternal grandfather was Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto, a Sindhi and a key figure in Pakistan's Independence Movement.

She attended Lady Jennings Nursery School and then the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Karachi. After two years of schooling at the Rawalpindi Presentation Convent, she was sent to the Jesus and Mary Convent at Murree. She passed her O-level examinations at the age of 15.

In April 1969, she was admitted to Harvard University's Radcliffe College. In June 1973, she graduated from Harvard with a degree in political science. During her time at college, she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She attended Oxford University in the autumn of 1973 and graduated with an MA degree in philosophy, politics, and economics. She was elected President of the prestigious Oxford Union.

After completing university education, she returned to Pakistan shortly before her father was overthrown by General Ziaul Haq on July 5, 1977. She campaigned for her imprisoned father in 1977-79 along with her mother Nusrat Bhutto, who became chairperson of the PPP. From 1977 to 1984 she suffered long periods in detention. She provided a detailed account of this traumatic period in her autobiography: 'Daughter of the East' (1988).

Having been allowed in 1984 to go back to the United Kingdom, she became leader in exile of the PPP but was unable to make her political presence felt in Pakistan until the death of General Ziaul Haq on August 17, 1988 despite receiving a tumultuous homecoming in April 1986.

In July 1987, she married Asif Zardari, a member of a landowning family from Sindh.

Her party won 1988 elections although it did not obtain an absolute majority and much her energy was dissipated by her conflict with Punjab Chief Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was also leader of the national opposition Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (Islamic Democratic Alliance). Following the collapse of the PPP-Muttahida Qaumi Movement alliance in October 1989, there was mounting ethnic violence in her home province. The May 1990 Pucca Qila incident in Hyderabad intensified the violence throughout Sindh. President Ghulam Ishaq Khan cited the deteriorating law and order situation when he dismissed the Bhutto government on August 6, 1990. Benazir Bhutto was charged with corruption and misuse of power, while her husband was arrested on a kidnap charge.

When Nawaz Sharif became prime minister of the country after the October 1990 elections, there was continuous conflict between him and Benazir Bhutto during the next two years. In January 1993, however, a more conciliatory atmosphere emerged which saw Benazir Bhutto elected as chair of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Zardari was released on bail shortly afterwards.

Benazir Bhutto returned to power following the October 1993 polls after the president dismissed Nawaz Sharif, his reinstatement by the Supreme Court in May and the deal brokered by the army in which both the president and premier resigned. Benazir's relations with her mother were strained over her becoming sole PPP chair and by claim of her brother Murtaza Bhutto to his father's political legacy when he returned from exile in November 1993.

The greatest threats to her government however emanated from the 1994-95 unchecked violence in Karachi and the deteriorating economic situation in 1996. She was dismissed from office by President Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari in November 1996 and her husband was arrested in connection with the death of her brother along with his six supporters in an encounter with police on Sept. 19, 1996 as well as of accepting kickbacks. Again accused of nepotism and corruption, Benazir Bhutto was placed under house arrest, though never officially charged with anything.

It was during Benazir Bhutto's rule that the Taliban gained prominence in Afghanistan due to her support. Benazir and the Taliban were openly opposed to each other when it came to social issues, however, she saw the Taliban as a group that could stabilise Afghanistan and then allow economic access to trade with Central Asian Republics. Her government provided military and financial support for the Taliban, even as far as sending a very small number of the army into Afghanistan. The Taliban took power in Kabul in September 1996.

Less than a year later, she again attempted to regain power but in February 1997 elections, Nawaz Sharif celebrated a landslide victory over the PPP as his Pakistan Muslim League (PML) won a resounding 134 of 217 seats in the National Assembly while the PPP was reduced to a mere 19 seats and virtually erased from the Punjab Assembly.

In 1999, Benazir and Zardari were convicted of corruption. Benazir appealed the verdict while living in exile in England and the United Arab Emirates. In 2001, the Supreme Court set aside the corruption charges against the couple and ordered their retrial but a Swiss court convicted them of money laundering in 2003. Benazir was barred from running in the 2002 parliamentary elections. Zardari was released from prison in 2004 and Benazir and her three children (Bilawal Zardari, Bakhtawar Zardari and Asifa Zardari) reunited with Zardari in December 2004 after more than five years.

Since then, Benazir and her family lived in Dubai, where she cared for her children and her mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. From Dubai she travelled around the world giving lectures and keeping in touch with the PPP supporters.

On the request of the Pakistan government, Interpol issued a request for her arrest and that of her husband in 2006. She is a dual national with Pakistani and British citizenship.

In 2002, General Pervez Musharraf introduced a new amendment to the Constitution, banning prime ministers from serving more than two terms. This disqualifies Benazir from ever holding the office again. However, the PPP got the highest number of votes and 62 seats in the National Assembly in the October 2002 general elections.

Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from the UAE on Oct. 18, 2007 and millions of people from across the country gathered in Karachi to welcome her. She was leading her homecoming process along with other party leaders onboard a bullet-proof lorry when a bomb blast occurred her vehicle, killing nearly 150 people. She is leading her party in Jan. 8, 2007 elections and has filed her nomination papers to contest election to the National Assembly on two seats. However, she has also filed her nomination for election on a reserved seat for women.

Benazir Bhutto is the author of two books, 'Foreign Policy in Perspective' (1978) and her autobiography, 'Daughter of the East' (1989). Several collections of her speeches and works have been compiled, including 'The Way Out' (1988). Three books about Benazir have been published in India: 'Benazir's Pakistan' (1989); 'The Trial of Benazir' (1989); and 'Benazir Bhutto: Opportunities and Challenges' (1989).