She was many things for many people. For her supporters, Benazir Bhutto was a Princess Charming with a soft, silky voice and a beguiling appearance, promising them God and the world. For the servants and laborers on her estates in Larkana, she was the mistress of the house, as impatient as she was demanding. And for her political allies and opponents alike, Bhutto was an instinctive politician, adept at gauging the political mood and unwavering in her determination to achieve her goals.
What next for Pakistan?
The name her ambitious and powerful parents chose for her means "The Incomparable" in Urdu. Constantly aware of her important place in history, Benazir chose to name her autobiography "Daughter of Destiny." Whether she was loved or hated, and whether the government of US President George W. Bush made the right decision in expressing its preference for Bhutto and touting her as the shining hope of democracy in Pakistan, she never failed to make an impression on anyone.
On that fateful Thursday afternoon, Bhutto was campaigning in Rawalpindi, a garrison town only a few kilometers from the parliament and ministries in the capital Islamabad. She sought to portray herself as being tough on Islamist terror and as Pakistan's savior. Bhutto, who had just returned to her native Pakistan in mid-October after an eight-year exile, and her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were leading the opinion polls in the run-up to the parliamentary election President Pervez Musharraf had set for Jan. 8.
'Allah Decided the Hour of My Death'
There was hope and almost a celebratory sense of change in the crisp winter air as the candidate, wearing a white shawl, sat in a white limousine en route to her campaign appearance, a white megaphone attached to the roof of the vehicle.
After speaking to a crowd of cheering supporters in Rawalpindi's Liaqat Bagh Park, Bhutto sat down in her vehicle, which then began moving toward the gate to the park, where a group of supporters had gathered. Despite warnings of a possible assassination attempt, Bhutto climbed up onto the seat to wave to her fans through the car's sunroof. That was when the assassin saw his opportunity.
There were several gunshots. According to the government, though, Bhutto's life was not snuffed out by bullets. Rather, Islamabad says the force of the ensuing bomb slammed Bhutto's head against the sunroof, smashing her head. The blast killed 20 others as well. A video of the attack surfaced over the weekend, however, which appears to support claims from Bhutto supporters that she was shot. The footage shows a man firing a handgun from close range -- Bhutto's hair and shawl jump upwards as he fires. Bhutto allies accuse the government of trying to cover up just how lax the security was at the rally, but her husband elected not to allow an autopsy, meaning the true cause of her death may never be determined.
Last Hope for a Peaceful Future
What is clear, however, is what happened immediately following the attack. In one image, an uninjured man sat, staring into the distance in disbelief, surrounded by carnage, while others screamed in despair. An angry mob of supporters attempted to break down the door of the hospital where Bhutto was taken. Seemingly oblivious to the realization -- after having seen Bhutto's blood-soaked body -- that their efforts were in vain, the mob even attempted to storm the operating room.
Doctors at the municipal hospital announced the death of Benazir Bhutto at 6:16 p.m. local time on Dec. 27, 2007. It was on that date, and at that moment, that Pakistan's last hope for a peaceful future was probably extinguished.
But who killed her? Was it al-Qaida terrorists? They had, after all, threatened to kill Bhutto months ago because she had declared her support for Musharraf's bloody storming of Islamabad's Red Mosque to get at the Islamists who were holed up inside. She had also declared war on all radical religious fanatics. Or was it perhaps agents from Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency ISI, settling old scores? Or could the attack have been the work of supporters of Nawaz Sharif, Bhutto's archrival and main competitor for many years? It could even have been revenge for an attempted assassination of Sharif only hours earlier -- Sharif escaped unharmed, but four of his supporters died in the attack.
A few hours after the murder, a man claiming to be a spokesman for the al-Qaida terrorist network called the Asia Times newspaper and claimed responsibility for the assassination. American FBI experts were quick to characterize the claim as "highly credible."
Hours after Bhutto's death, an e-mail message was released that Bhutto had written on Oct. 26 to her American friend and advisor Mark Siegel, who passed on the message to the CNN. "In the event of my death," she wrote in her message, in which she instructed Siegel to release its contents should she be killed, "I would hold Musharraf responsible." It was a macabre message from a politician who was apparently convinced that she was doomed -- from someone determined to have the last word, to be the ultimate interpreter of the incident, even from her grave. In the e-mail, Bhutto accuses the president of not having taken sufficient steps to prevent her death: "And 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."
While anything seems possible, one thing is certain: Pakistan is descending into chaos. Bombs are exploding in Peshawar, Lahore and half a dozen other places, but especially in the country's largest city Karachi in the southern Sindh province, a stronghold for Bhutto's PPP. More than 30 people died in the unrest that ensued during the first 24 hours after the political assassination with at least 10 more deaths coming over the weekend. Security forces were authorized to shoot rioters on sight in an effort to restore calm.
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from SPIEGEL Magazine section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2007
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH