Thursday, December 27, 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Shocking news this morning: Benazir Bhutto was assassinated only hours ago during a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Around 15-20 others are reported dead. The NYT story is here (Bhutto Assassinated in Attack on Rally, NYT, 28 December 2007). My usual portal into the Pakistani blogosphere, Chapati Mystery, already had the the story up when I got there. According to the Times account, although the exact details remain to be confirmed, she was apparently struck by gunfire, and then by shrapnel from a subsequent explosion detonated by a suicide bomber. She was taken to a hospital in Rawalpindi, where attempts were made to revive her, but she was declared dead at 6:16 p.m. local time.

I don't want to go on at length about this, since the story will be well covered elsewhere, but for anyone who doesn't know already, Bhutto was a former Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988-1990, 1993-1996), twice dismissed from her office for alleged corruption. She went into a self-imposed exile in 1998, from which she returned this past October, under an agreement with Pervez Musharraf withdrawing all charges against her. Her return, as a leading opposition candidate in the upcoming 2008 Parliamentary elections, was greeted by an immediate assassination attempt by suicide bombing, which left over a hundred dead in Karachi. She was briefly placed under house arrest during the state of emergency declared by Musharraf in November. For a quick bio, see e.g., Wikipedia's entry for Benazir Bhutto (being continuously updated).

What can I say? I don't know enough about Pakistani history and politics to have a legitimate opinion on the merits of Bhutto's career, views, or candidacy; but regardless of one's political persuasion, no one who believes in making collective decisions through peaceful, lawful, democratic procedures can avoid feeling pain and disgust when a life is cut short to silence dialog and subvert the process. My only comment for now is on the following sentence from the Times story, regarding the attack that took place last October in Karachi: "The government has maintained that she ignored their warnings against such public gatherings and that holding them placed herself and her followers in unnecessary danger." Indeed. How can democracy ever proceed under circumstances that preclude public gatherings, whether prevented by dictatorial fiat or fear of assassination?

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