The Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a gun and bomb attack. The assassination happened after a rally in the city of Rawalpindi. The 54-year-old is reported to have been shot in the head. She died in hospital as attempts were made to carry out emergency surgery.
Police say a suicide bomber fired shots at Bhutto and then blew himself up. 16 other people were killed in the blast. A spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf said he had to confirm the news before commenting.
A suicide bomber killed nearly 150 people in an attack on Bhutto on October 19 as she paraded through the southern city of Karachi on her return from eight years in self-imposed exile.
Islamist militants were blamed for that attack. Bhutto made an emotional return to Pakistan in October after eight years in exile. She was hoping to stand in elections in January for a third stint as Prime Minister.
Speaking to reporters, she said: “The people that you see outside are the real image of Pakistan. These are the decent, hard-working middle classes and working classes of Pakistan, who want to be empowered so they can build a moderate, modern nation where everybody has equality. This is the real Pakistan and if we get democracy, this is the face of Pakistan the world will see. Not the face of extremists who have thrived under dictatorships.”
Her return had been secretly negotiated with the regime of Pervez Musharraf. Some analysts say Bhutto would have given Musharraf the international credibility he needs to isolate religious extremists and fight Islamic terrorism.
But rather than being a boost in Musharraf’s quest for legitimacy, other observers saw her as a rival to Musharraf. Bhutto’s inference that bombers who tried to take her life in October came from within the police fuelled talk of such a rivalry. Some 140 people died in that attack as they made their way to a meeting led by Bhutto. The former prime minister herself emerged unscathed.
The assassination attempt did not seem to break the determination of Bhutto, a member of a political dynasty that has been targeted before. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was prime minister in the 70s before a military coup led to his arrest and, in 1979, his execution.
Benazir Bhutto said recently: “My father used to say ‘the people of Pakistan are my political heirs, they are my sons and daughters.” After apparently striking a deal with Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto’s choice to confront him full-on took the government and opposition parties by surprise.