Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bhutto Buried; Violence Stalks Pakistan

By Faisal Aziz

Friday 28 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest next to her father in the family mausoleum on Friday after the opposition leader's assassination plunged Pakistan into crisis and triggered violent protests across her native Sindh province.

Tens of thousands of mourners wept and beat their heads as Bhutto, killed by a suicide attacker at an election rally on Thursday, was carried from her ancestral home in Sindh, in the south of the country, to the domed mausoleum.

The death of the 54-year-old Bhutto stoked fears that a January 8 election meant to return Pakistan to civilian rule could be put off amid a backlash that threatened to engulf the embattled President Pervez Musharraf.

Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, wept as he accompanied the closed coffin, draped with the green, red and black tricolor of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, on the 7-km journey to the tomb in the dusty village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh.

He then prayed at the tomb with the couple's three children, son Bilawal, 19, and daughters Bakhtawar, 17 and Aseefa, 14.

Many mourners chanted slogans against Musharraf and the United States, which has long backed the former army general in the hope he can maintain stability in the nuclear-armed country racked by Islamist violent.

"Shame on the killer Musharraf, shame on the killer U.S.," mourners cried.

Others wept in despair. "Bhutto was my sister and Bhutto was like my mother," cried farmer Imam Baksh. "With her death, the world has ended for us."

Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 but left the army last month to become a civilian president, has appealed for calm and blamed Islamist militants for the killing.

But many accused him of failing to protect Bhutto, who died in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, home of the Pakistani army.

In Sindh, where Bhutto had huge popular support,

particularly among the rural poor, officials said 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in protests.

"We're anticipating the situation might get worse after the funeral," Sindh Interior Minister Akhtar Zaman told Reuters.

Smouldering Vehicles

World leaders urged Pakistan to stay the course towards democracy, as Bhutto's death rattled markets and triggered a flight to less risky assets such as bonds and gold.

"Unrest in Pakistan is eroding the market sentiment dramatically as Pakistan, unlike North Korea or Iran, is known to really have nuclear weapons," said Koichi Ogawa, chief portfolio manager at Daiwa SB Investments.

In Sindh, authorities issued an order to shoot violent protesters on sight. Hundreds of cars, trucks and buses smoldered in the interior of the province and crowds of men set up road blocks and chanted slogans against Musharraf.

Meanwhile, a blast at an election meeting in Pakistan's troubled northwest killed six people including a candidate for the party that supports Musharraf, police said.

There were also sporadic protests elsewhere in the country and one person was killed in the eastern city of Lahore.

Bhutto returned home from self-imposed exile in October, hoping to become prime minister for a third time.

But as she left the election rally she stood to wave to supporters from the sun-roof of her bullet-proof car. An attacker shot at her before blowing himself up, police and witnesses said.

She was killed by bullets to the head and neck. "The shooter was either very well trained or he was very close so he could hit her in the temple and neck," a security official said.

She was buried alongside her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged in 1979 after being deposed by a military coup. Her two brothers, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, who both died in unexplained circumstances, are also buried in the mausoleum she herself had ordered to be built.

Musharraf Under Attack

The United States, which relies on Pakistan as an ally against al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, had championed the Harvard- and Oxford-educated Bhutto.

Her death dashed U.S. hopes of a power-sharing agreement between her and Musharraf.

President George W. Bush condemned "this cowardly act by murderous extremists" and urged Pakistanis to honor Bhutto's memory by going ahead with the election.

"Elections stand as they were announced," Prime Minister Mohammadmian Soomro told reporters. But analysts said the assassination, which followed a wave of suicide attacks and the worsening of an Islamist insurgency, could make this impossible.

"If it's left to Pervez Musharraf then he will try to ram it through but on the ground it's going to be very difficult," said Talat Masood, a retired general and political analyst.

"Now voices are being raised that he is the problem and not the solution as the Americans think," he said. "He may be a casualty as a result of that."

Those comments were echoed by Rasul Bakhsh Rais, professor of politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

"Opposition forces are going to converge on a single point. That's the removal of Pervez Musharraf from the political scene and the power structure," he said.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was deposed by Musharraf in the 1999 coup, said his party would boycott the January election and blamed Musharraf for the instability.

Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November in what was seen as an attempt to stop the judiciary from vetoing his re-election as president. He lifted emergency rule this month.

In 1988, aged just 35, Bhutto became the Muslim world's first democratically elected woman prime minister. Deposed in 1990, she was re-elected in 1993, and ousted again in 1996 amid charges of corruption she said were politically motivated.

Bhutto escaped unhurt from a suicide attack in October that killed at least 139 people.

She had spoken of al Qaeda plots to kill her. But she also had enemies in other quarters including among the powerful intelligence services and some allies of Musharraf.


Additional reporting by Kamran Haider, Zeeshan Haider and Robert Birsel; writing by Myra MacDonald

Go to Original

Mobs Rampage Through Pakistani Cities
By Juan Cole
Informed Comment

Friday 28 December 2007

Mobs Rampage through Pakistani Cities; Cars, Banks, Gas Stations Torched. Sharif's Party will Boycott Elections.

My column, "With Bhutto gone, does Bush have a Plan B?" is online at Excerpt:

'Pakistan's future is now murky, and to the extent that this nation of 160 million buttresses the eastern flank of American security in the greater Middle East, its fate is profoundly intertwined with America's own. The money for the Sept. 11 attacks was wired to Florida from banks in Pakistan, and al-Qaida used the country for transit to Afghanistan. Instability in Pakistan may well spill over into Afghanistan, as well, endangering the some 26,000 U.S. troops and a similar number of NATO troops in that country. And it is not as if Afghanistan were stable to begin with. If Pakistani politics finds its footing, if a successor to Benazir Bhutto is elected in short order by the PPP and the party can remain united, and if elections are held soon, the crisis could pass. If there is substantial and ongoing turmoil, however, Muslim radicals will certainly take advantage of it.

In order to get through this crisis, Bush must insist that the Pakistani Supreme Court, summarily dismissed and placed under house arrest by Musharraf, be reinstated. The PPP must be allowed to elect a successor to Ms. Bhutto without the interference of the military. Early elections must be held, and the country must return to civilian rule. Pakistan's population is, contrary to the impression of many pundits in the United States, mostly moderate and uninterested in the Taliban form of Islam. But if the United States and "democracy" become associated in their minds with military dictatorship, arbitrary dismissal of judges, and political instability, they may turn to other kinds of politics, far less favorable to the United States. Musharraf may hope that the Pakistani military will stand with him even if the vast majority of people turn against him. It is a forlorn hope, and a dangerous one, as the shah of Iran discovered in 1978-79. '

I am appalled by the rightwing US pundits who are taking advantage of Bhutto's assassination to blame "the people of Pakistan" for "extremism." Benazir's party would have won at least a plurality in parliament. The PPP is a moderate, middle class party, and it has done well in unrigged elections during the past 20 years. She was killed by an extremist of some sort. The Muslim fundamentalist parties usually only get 3 percent of the vote in national elections, and they got 11.3 percent of the popular vote in 2002 only because Musharraf interfered with the PPP and Muslim League campaigns.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a lifelong rival of Benazir Bhutto, . He said his party would boycott the January 8 elections called by President Pervez Musharraf, to protest Bhutto's death, and he called on other parties to boycott, as well. Sharif intimated that the Pakistani military was behind Ms. Bhutto's assassination.

In what may be a preview of civil unrest, , leaving 4 persons dead. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) group resisted encroachment from the Pakistan Muslim League (Qa'id-i A'zam). The PML-N is loyal to Nawaz Sharif, while PML (Q) is very close to Pervez Musharraf. Four Nawaz supporters were killed in the clash.

David Rohde of the NYT, who has been doing excellent reporting from Pakistan, wonders if President Pervez Musharraf can survive the crisis provoked by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Rohde recently reported on a nation-wide poll in Pakistan that showed that 67% of Pakistanis wanted Musharraf to resign, and 70% did not believe his government deserved reelection.

Likely the PPP will now select another leader. It has declared a 40-day mourning period and my guess is that elections therefore cannot be held until early February. The best chance for everyone getting out of this mess with hide intact is for the the PPP and the Muslim League to contest February elections and for a strong parliament to emerge with genuine grassroots support. If that does not happen, I am afraid of what might. This is a nuclear power we are talking about, in the middle of a very dangerous neighborhood.

The seriousness of the situation in the streets of some of Pakistan's important towns and cities doesn't seem to me to be being reported in the US press and media. In contrast, Pakistani newspapers are giving chilling details of large urban centers turned into ghost towns on Friday morning, with no transport available, hundreds of thousands of persons stranded far from home, shops closed, and banks, gas stations, police stations and automobiles torched. Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur, Jacobabad and many others in Sindh Province fell victim to the violence (Bhutto was from Larkana in Sindh but had a residence in Karachi). The police seemed to be AWOL for the most part in these cities, allowing the rioting and looting to go on unhindered.

Here is a tally of violence in the major port city of Karachi (population 8 million) overnight, resulting from riots to protest the killing of Benazir Bhutto:

Number of vehicles burned: 150
Number of streets where tires were set afire: 26
Number of banks set on fire: 16
Number of gas stations torched: 13
Number of persons shot dead: 10
Number of persons injured: 68
Number of PIA flights coming in: 0
Number of shops and businesses closed: Most

The News adds:

'[Karachi:] one of the posh areas of the city Zamzama was ransacked by unidentified people who looted showrooms, shops and boutiques. Within minutes of the breaking of the news of the death of PPP chairperson, enraged crowds went on the rampage, indiscriminately burning cars, motorcycles, fire tenders and banks, plunging the whole city into a state of lawlessness and anarchy that was seldom seen before . . .

The uncontrolled protestors put the Gulistan-e-Jauhar Police Station on fire. Four Chinese engineers got stranded in Gulshan-e-Iqbal area and sought refuge at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Police Station. They were later safely evacuated from there.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of employees of various companies, corporate houses and shops were stranded when public transport disappeared from the city’s main arteries. These people were seen walking on roads for hours to reach their homes. On the other hand, thousands of employees were forced to stay back at their offices or took refuge with their friends and relatives. . . '

Throughout the towns and cities of Sindh Province, violence paralyzed urban life and most often transport workers went home, stranding people in mosques and offices. The News reports:

' The office of District Nazim was attacked and some branches of commercial banks and multinational restaurants and hotels were also burnt during the ongoing violence.

The road and train link of Hyderabad with other parts of the province and country was also badly affected after a train was set ablaze. However, no injury was reported.

A large number of people had been stranded in mosques and offices because of non-availability of transport.

Some offices of the electric supply company were also torched and police stations were also attacked while minor scuffles between police and the protesters were also reported.

Our Sukkur correspondent adds: Violence erupted throughout interior Sindh, including Sukkur, Larkana, Rohri, Salehpat, Pano Akil, Ghotki, Daharki, Ubauro, Shikarpur, Khairpur, Jacobabad, Kandhkot, Thull, Tangwani and other cities and towns, on Thursday night following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In Sukkur, enraged mob set ablaze the Taluka council office, State Life Building, fruit and vegetable market, besides burning tyres on various streets.

In Rohri, the protesting youth attacked the residence of District Nazim Sukkur Syed Nasir Hussain Shah and damaged the house.

In Larkana, four banks, including a private and nationalised bank, were set ablaze and the bank employees were locked inside the bank, but no casualty was reported. The unruly mob also caused damage to government offices and vehicles, while all the main bazaars remained closed.

In Pano Akil, the railway station and the Nadra office were set ablaze, while the unruly people were burning tyres at various places.

In Khairpur, two persons lost their lives in an exchange of fire between police and agitators.

Similar protests were being carried out in other cities and towns of interior Sindh including, Ghotki, Daharki, Ubauro, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Kandhkot, Thull, etc, where enraged people attacked many government offices and caused damage. The protesters also blocked railway tracks at different places.

Despite large-scale incidents of violence, no police personnel was seen in the cities, while most of the cities and towns plunged into darkness due to unannounced load shedding by Hesco.

Our Thatta correspondent adds: The entire Thatta district was completely closed as soon as the news about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto spread over here.

All shops, business centres, pan cabins and petrol pumps were closed. All the election camps were also closed and streetlights switched off. Scores of people came out on roads and mourned the incident aggressively. They continued to weep and beat their heads and chests. '

In Punjab province, Rawalpindi suffered the most violence from all accounts: "Murree road, the main artery in Rawalpindi suffered the major wrath of the angry mob and PPP activists who burnt tyres, damaged public and private properties, and burnt vehicles."

Folks, I've seen civil wars and riots first hand, and revolutions from not too far away, and this situation looks pretty bad to me.


Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute

Go to Original

Bhutto Said Musharraf Failed to Protect Her: E-Mail
Agence France-Presse

Friday 28 December 2007

Washington - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto blamed President Pervez Musharraf for failing to protect her in the volatile months preceding her assassination, an email released by US media on Thursday showed.
If harmed in Pakistan, "I would hold Musharraf responsible," Bhutto wrote in the October email, revealed on air by CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer, who received it from Bhutto's friend and US spokesman Mark Siegel.

"I have been made to feel insecure by his minions," Bhutto wrote of Musharraf, detailing security measures which she said were not granted her after her return to the volatile country.

"There is no way what is happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides could happen without him."

Siegel told the channel that Bhutto had asked authorities to provide protection including a four-car police escort and jamming devices against bombs, but had not received them. The news channel revealed the email hours after Bhutto, 54, was killed in a suicide attack on Thursday at an election rally in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi that sparked worldwide condemnation.

Bhutto sent the email to Siegel on October 26, a week after a suicide bombing targeted her shortly after her return to Pakistan from exile. Siegel said Pakistan failed to investigate that attack.

Bhutto asked for the email to be forwarded to the media if she was killed. Musharraf placed Pakistan under Emergency rule from November 3 to December 15, citing security fears, cracking down on opponents ahead of elections scheduled for January 8.
Bhutto had returned amid negotiations with Musharraf on a power-sharing deal.

"As we prepared for the campaign ... Bhutto was very concerned she was not getting the security that she had asked for," said Siegel, who had collaborated with Bhutto on a book on Islam and the West.

"She basically asked for all that was required for someone of the standing of a former prime minister.

All of that was denied to her," he added. "She got some police protection, but it was sporadic and erratic."

Pakistan's ambassador to United States, Mahmud Ali Durrani, rebuffed the charges. "The government of Pakistan provided all the security that was necessary," he told CNN. "There was a bubble around her of security."

"It's just a blame game, and the problem is the real terrorists that have been after her."


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