Two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated today in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
The conspiracy involved both a shooter and a bombing, and at least 15 additional people are reported dead.
The government of President Musharraf is in a state of chaos. At best, he will be harshly blamed for not protecting Bhutto (there was an earlier attempt to kill Bhutto in October which left 140 dead, but security for Bhutto was not improved), and at present his possible complicity in the murder is widely suspected and in some places assumed. There has as yet been no official statement from U.S. officials; it must be presumed that the assassination has pre-empted normal business.
Update (Kim): We are waiting for a statement from President Bush, which should come at 11:00am EST. Both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani issued statements a short time ago.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban had a lot to fear if Bhutto returned to the Prime Ministership. Not only was she the first woman leader of a Muslim nation, but she was also moderate, pro-democracy, and pro-US. She wasn’t afraid to publicly announce that, if she won the election, that she would seek out and destroy the radical Islamists that have caused all the turmoil in Pakistan. From the Guardian:
Even before Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October after eight years of self-imposed exile, there had been open threats against her. A pro-Taliban militant leader, Baitullah Masood, said he would target her with suicide attacks. Masood, probably the most prominent militant leader in the north-western region bordering Afghanistan, has also been accused of carrying out attacks on Pakistani soldiers.
Bhutto’s pro-western attitude would have made her a natural target for militant Islamists. Another militant commander, Haji Omar, said before her return: “She has an agreement with America. We will carry out attacks on Benazir Bhutto as we did on General Pervez Musharraf [the Pakistani president].” Authorities had warned Bhutto that extremists sympathetic to the Taliban and al-Qaida would target her.
A spokesperson for the al-Qaeda terrorist network has claimed responsibility for the death on Thursday of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
“We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,” Al-Qaeda’s commander and main spokesperson Mustafa Abu Al-Yazid told Adnkronos International (AKI) in a phone call from an unknown location, speaking in faltering English. Al-Yazid is the main al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan.
It is believed that the decision to kill Bhutto, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was made by al-Qaeda No. 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October.
Death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and ultimately one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Bhutto.
Update III: Mark Steyn offers his thoughts on Bhutto’s assassination and doesn’t have much good to say about how our State Department handled things:
Since her last spell in power, Pakistan has changed, profoundly. Its sovereignty is meaningless in increasingly significant chunks of its territory, and, within the portions Musharraf is just about holding together, to an ever more radicalized generation of young Muslim men Miss Bhutto was entirely unacceptable as the leader of their nation. “Everyone’s an expert on Pakistan, a faraway country of which we know everything,” I wrote last month. “It seems to me a certain humility is appropriate.” The State Department geniuses thought they had it all figured out. They’d arranged a shotgun marriage between the Bhutto and Sharif factions as a “united” “democratic” “movement” and were pushing Musharraf to reach a deal with them. That’s what diplomats do: They find guys in suits and get ’em round a table. But none of those representatives represents the rapidly evolving reality of Pakistan. Miss Bhutto could never have been a viable leader of a post-Musharraf settlement, and the delusion that she could have been sent her to her death. Earlier this year, I had an argument with an old (infidel) boyfriend of Benazir’s, who swatted my concerns aside with the sweeping claim that “the whole of the western world” was behind her. On the streets of Islamabad, that and a dime’ll get you a cup of coffee.
As I said, she was everything we in the west would like a Muslim leader to be. We should be modest enough to acknowledge when reality conflicts with our illusions. Rest in peace, Benazir.
Update IV: The AP has a report on President Bush’s statement:
President Bush demanded Thursday that those responsible for the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir be brought to justice.
“The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy,” he said. “Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice.”
The president was speaking to reporters at a hangar adjacent to his Crawford ranch in central Texas.
Bush expressed his deepest condolences to Bhutto’s family and to the families of others slain in the attack and to all the people of Pakistan.
“We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life,” he said.
Bush looked tense in delivering a statement that lasted about a minute and he took no questions.
Update V: Don Surber offers his analysis on Bhutto’s assassination.
Update VI: The US checking into al Qaeda’s claim that it assassinated Bhutto.