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Former Pakistani Prime Minister Bhutto Assassinated


I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

The former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto died earlier today following a bombing and a gun attack at a political rally. At least 20 others are believed killed in the attack so far.


Joining me now from Pakistan is Najam Sethi, editor in chief of the Daily Times. Hello.

Mr. NAJAM SETHI (Editor in Chief, Daily Times): Hello.

CHIDEYA: Tell me what happened exactly. How was the attacker able to get to the Benazir Bhutto?

Mr. SETHI: Ms. Bhutto had addressed a big rally. She left the rally. She got into a bulletproof car. She was delighted, apparently, because it was a big turnout. She opened the sunroof of the car and put her head out to wave to all her supporters. And at that time, a gunman, barely 20 yards away from her, who was in a police commander uniform, apparently, open fire on her with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. One bullet hit her in the neck, another in the head, and she slumped into - onto the seat of the car. The crowd turned towards the man who then detonated a device and blew himself up.

CHIDEYA: Benazir Bhutto was a woman who had broken many barriers. She came from a political family. She also went to Harvard and Oxford. Why was she back in Pakistan at this moment?


Mr. SETHI: She'd been out in the cold for 10 years and she desperately wanted to get back. She was very courageous. She came back and she was met with an assassination attempt. She leveled the - pointed the finger at rogue elements in the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and constantly alluded to the fact that there was such people who wanted to eliminate her.

The last two or three days, she'd been talking about the fact that the security devices given by the government to her were not working. And she was aware of the fact that she was a target. She knew that either such people or there were al-Qaida people who would vow to get her were on the look out for her. But she knew that this election was important to her. She knew she was popular. She thought she had a really good chance of coming into power. And only last night, she'd said that if she came to power, the first thing she'd do is she'd crack down on the religious extremists in the country.

CHIDEYA: It's been a moment where Pakistan has been very much in the international spotlight for the state of emergency, for the issues between General Pervez Musharraf and the judiciary, among other branches of government. What do you think this assassination will do to the people of Pakistan as they look at how their country is proceeding politically?

Mr. SETHI: Well, there's going to be a short-term reaction and then there's a long-term backlash. The short-term - today, we see that the people are angry and sad and both. But they're out on the street. They're protesting. In her home province of Sindh, the people are extremely angry and volatile. The government has announced three days of mourning, which basically means no offices, nothing on the streets. But I think you will - you may expect to see a very violent reaction across the country.

Unfortunately, the anger is going to be targeted at General Musharraf and the government. People will subside to conspiracy theories and say that he didn't want her to win. He didn't want to share power with her. He didn't want this election to go ahead. And she'd already pointed a finger at people close to him in the past. So it's - that's the short-term.

In the long term, there are going to be serious consequences. She was the only, truly federal leader this country has had for a long time. All the other parties are either ethnic parties or religious parties or indeed subregional parties. Hers was the truly popular, liberal, secular party that straggled the lengthened birth(ph) of the country.

So she was, in a sense, the person who held the federation together. I think that's going to be solely missed and the federation is going to come under a lot of strain this next year.

CHIDEYA: What are you looking for next in this story as it unfolds?

Mr. SETHI: Well, we nearly have - the next story is going to be General Musharraf's fate. Because with this tide of anger, everybody is going to be either wanting his head or wanting to know how is he going to deal with this situation. And the Peoples Party and its supporters are going to be angry. The next story is, is there going to be an election on this country in two weeks time or not? And if not, why not? And if it is going to be held, will the Peoples Part participate? And if it does, will the people - what Ms. Bhutto's husband, who is now obviously in the legatee into power in a sense to avenge their sense of loss.

CHIDEYA: Well, sir, thank you so much.

Mr. SETHI: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: Najam Sethi is editor-in-chief of The Daily Times in Lahore, Pakistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.