Thursday, October 18, 2007

Benazir Bhutto returns from exile, Taliban-led assassination attempt kills over 100 supporters

The Aftermath

More than 100 people perished late Thursday as bombs detonated along the parade route as former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned to her home city of Karachi after eight years in exile.
Hundreds of thousands of jubilant Pakistanis lined the streets and danced atop cars as her entourage passed.

Then...Chaos erupted.

...After an initial small explosion, a huge blast came just feet from the front of the truck carrying Ms. Bhutto during a procession through Karachi. The blast shattered windows in her vehicle, The A.P. said.

Televised views of the scene showed bodies in the nighttime city streets, crowds running through traffic that is at a standstill and the noises of sirens and people screaming.

Before the explosions, hundreds of thousands of supporters lined the streets, dancing on bus roofs, waving banners and surging forward for a glimpse of their leader as she inched her way through the city atop a bullet-proof truck.

The huge and enthusiastic turnout earlier on Thursday made it an emotional homecoming for Ms. Bhutto, who was twice turned out of office and has lived in self-imposed exile. It was also a vindication for her politically that after leading two short-lived governments and being accused together with her husband of corruption and mismanagement, she could still command fervent support on the streets
The throngs that greeted Ms. Bhutto on Thursday were larger than those that lined the streets in 1986 when she returned from exile the first time, to face politically - and prevail over - Muhammed Zia-al-Huq, the General who had deposed her fathers government and installed martial law for the third time in Pakistan's short history as an independent nation.

That return from exile preceded Ms. Bhutto's historic rise to power. She was the first woman in the Muslim world to be elected Prime Minister and lead a nation.

Before the bombings, Ms. Bhutto looked out on the teeming crowds of mostly working class Pakistanis. Many were unemployed young men, a great many of whom had traveled hundreds of kilometers and camped along the roadside leading to the airport, anxiously awaiting her arrival.

In words that later seemed prescient, she spoke strongly against terrorism and the need to save Pakistan from extremism through democracy. “The time has come for democracy,” she said. “If we want to save Pakistan, we have to have democracy.”

She has been outspoken against militants and Al Qaeda and repeated the same comments as she flew in. “The terrorists are trying to take over my country and we have to stop them,” she said.

The New York Times is now pegging the death toll at 115 and counting, and the Taliban, allied with (the real) al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the bombing and assassination attempt against Ms. Bhutto, who is determined to take a hard line against their thuggery and extremism.