Thursday :: Dec 27, 2007

Horrible News: Benazir Bhutto Assassinated! (UPDATED)

by Turkana

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide bombing that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally, a party aide and a military official said.

"At 6:16 p.m. she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital where she was taken after the attack.

A senior military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, confirmed that Bhutto had died.

The Guardian:

The blast comes two months after suicide bombers struck a parade celebrating Bhutto's return from exile, killing more than 140 people in the southern city of Karachi.

Hours earlier today, four people were killed and three more wounded in a clash between pro-government supporters and backers of the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif just outside Islamabad.

The violence comes as the campaign for parliamentary elections gathers momentum after eight years of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf was ended by his resignation from the army.

Opposition leaders are already claiming the election will be rigged against them, which authorities deny.

In November, shortly after being arrested, she wrote in the Washington Post:

We are witnessing a farce in Pakistan: While an election schedule has been announced, the problem lies in what has not been announced. No indication has been given as to whether Musharraf will keep his previous commitment to retire as army chief on Thursday.

No date has been given for the lifting of emergency rule; the reconstitution of the election commission; the implementation of fair election practices; the removal of biased officials; or the suspension of the mayors, who control the guns and the funds -- that is, police and government resources -- to adversely influence elections.

Moreover, judges, lawyers, human rights activists and students across the country are in prison or under house arrest. The independent media have been shut down, television stations stopped from broadcasting news. Several foreign journalists have been expelled. Thousands of political activists, a majority from my Pakistan People's Party, have been arrested.

Police have erected barricades and deployed armored personnel carriers and trucks filled with sand to cut off access to my house and to prevent people from going from one city to another.

Of course, Musharraf did step down, as military chief, after first crushing judicial opposition to his rule, holding judges under house arrest, banning his chief political opponent from the January election, and suppressing press coverage of the campaign. He did end martial law, but without lifting press restrictions.

All of this amidst reports that the U.S. is helping Pakistan guard its nuclear weapons, while secretly drawing up plans to seize them, rather than allow them to fall into the hands of Islamists. Which may help explain why Bush hasn't been more aggressive in challenging Musharraf's suppression of democracy. As Najum Mushtaq , of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, just wrote in Foreign Policy in Focus:

Most observers, including Human Rights Watch, believe that fair elections are not possible under Musharraf and without an independent judiciary. But, however curtailed and constricted political freedoms may be, the electorate is poised to show once again on January 8, 2008 that religious extremism is the inorganic product of many periods of undemocratic military rule and does not reflect the will of the majority of Pakistani Muslims.

The United States has been directly involved in this process of Islamization and militarization of Pakistan. From General Ayub Khan to General Zia and Musharraf, every military ruler has received almost unqualified backing of Washington. Pathological fears of communists and now terrorists have been proffered as an excuse to prop up dictatorial regimes. Whereas Washington helped the jihadis during the Cold War, in the era of anti-terrorism the Bush administration has turned its attention to making Pakistani Islam moderate. Which, again, comes at the expense of secular sections of Pakistani society. Democracy, as usual, has been expendable. It’s time to realize how perniciously counterproductive these religion-focused policies have proved to be -- both for Pakistan as well as the United States and the rest of the world. It’s time to keep religion out of it.

It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, is implicated in the assassination, and what effect it has on the upcoming non-election, American support for Musharraf, and the Pakistani people.

Turkana :: 5:53 AM :: Comments (14) :: Digg It!