Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated Thursday at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. Bhutto, who returned from exile in October, was reportedly shot just before a suicide bomber detonated, killing 20 other people and wounding dozens more. Pakistani bloggers offer firsthand accounts of the reaction in their cities, while others speculate about the killing’s effect on the U.S. presidential campaign.
Blogger Tee Emm from Karachi, Bhutto’s hometown, reports the city’s initial reaction at the frequently updated Metroblogging Karachi: “Karachi appears to be in a grip of unprecedented panic right now. There is obvious panic and everyone is shocked. As the offices get closed down, people are rushing to their homes in anticipation of protests.” At the same blog, Teeth Maestro is coordinating online condolences: “She was a hero to many, and rival to others, but the bottom line is that she was a brave leader of our nation and her struggles for democracy will not go unremembered.”
The Pakistani Spectator offers sympathy: “Her murder is the murder of Pakistani nation. … It’s not about People’s Party or Muslim League or whoever else. It’s about the humanity. It’s about the courage of the lady, who came back to the country from the posh palaces of London and Spain … and she was well received. Though she was accused of deals and dheels, she nonetheless ruled the hearts of millions of people in the country.” On Slate’s XX Factor,Dahlia Lithwick recalls Bhutto’s complexity: “Bhutto was a complicated woman—underneath the traditional veils she was a graduate of Oxford and Harvard, who spoke flawless English. But then under all that she was also a political creature who had mastered the sort of shape-shifting needed to cast herself as a historic figure in the mold of Indira Ghandi or Joan of Arc.”
Many bloggers expect Pakistan to erupt in violence. At Foreign Policy’s Passport, Blake Hounshell gives a bleak outlook: “Angry riots and a reimposition of martial law are probably a foregone conclusion. And for the United States, it probably means that U.S. policymakers now see President Pervez Musharraf as their only option.”
Steve Clemonsatthe Washington Note avoids overstating Bhutto’s political power but predicts the likely devastating effects on Pakistan’s tense political situation: “While it is doubtful that she could have easily calmed Pakistan’s increasing turmoil if she had ascended to officialdom while in some power-sharing arrangement with President Musharraf, her death today makes everything much more fragile. …[W]hile Pakistan’s future would always have been messy, that mess will be less managed and scripted and will now be far more uncontrolled, unstable, and dangerous.” Conservative Confederate Yankee writes that Musharraf now faces his “greatest crisis”: “The January 8 elections now seem in doubt, and missteps by Musharraf could plunge the nuclear-armed country into a possible civil war. … If Musharraf is able to keep the situation from deteriorating to that point, and Islamists are found to be responsible for Bhutto’s assassination, he may finally be forced to face the Taliban and al Qaeda-aligned militants in the border regions that terrorists have used as a staging area and base camp since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, forces he has largely tried to appease or ignore in the past.”
More than a few are pointing fingers at al-Qaida and the Taliban. At conservative Wizbang, D.J. Drummond counts the motives: “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.” Cliff May, at National Review’s Corner, peers into the Islamist mind: “This is not some extraordinary event. This is not the work of some lone madman. This is how militant Islamists contest elections—not just in Pakistan but also in Lebanon and Gaza and wherever they get a foothold. Why bother with op-eds, TV commercials, high-priced campaign strategists, spin doctors and pollsters when with one suicide bomber you can eliminate your opponent entirely?”
The tragedy was still fresh when the presidential campaigns started tripping over one another to be the first to offer response. At Slate’s Map the Correspondent, John Dickerson writes: “Moments after … Bhutto’s death was announced, I was getting e-mails from campaign aides, political obsessives, and the campaigns themselves. The candidates are quick to express their sadness, of course, but everyone is moving so fast because they’re trying to muscle into the news cycle more than ever. There’s only a week to go before the Iowa caucuses, and this murder lands right in the middle of a key issue in both parties. The ability to react to unpredictable news in a crazy world is at the heart of both primary debates.” Liberal pundit Steve Benen of the Carpetbagger Report predicts what various candidates’ supporters will say and concludes: “My hunch is no one has the foggiest idea which candidate Bhutto’s death helps, if any, but that won’t deter the breathless speculation.”
Conservative Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters opens fire on Gov. Bill Richardson’s statement, which called for the U.S. to force Musharraf out of office: “The stupidity of this statement cascades through several levels. First and foremost, how would the U.S. ‘force’ Musharraf to step down? Should we invade Pakistan to fight on the side of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who have pursued that same goal for the past six years, thanks to Musharraf’s alliance with the US? Or does Richardson expect us to conduct an assassination? Better yet, why should we dictate who runs Pakistan? Isn’t that a rather bald assertion of so-called American imperialism?”
Read more about the Bhutto assassination. Pajamas Media offers a news-and-blog roundup. In Slate, read Christopher Hitchens on Bhutto’s courage and Nicholas Schmidle on what this means for the Pakistani elections. From the Slate archives, read Bhutto’s weeklong “Diary,” where she shouts down a hostile parliament, deals with the government shutting off her electricity, and indulges her children (and eventually herself) with pizza and chocolate cake.