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US: Benazir killing a cowardly act
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

The Bush administration, which had played a key role in trying to forge an alliance between former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf in an effort to stem terrorism, on Thursday condemned Bhutto’s assassination in Rawalpindi as a “cowardly act.”

Speaking to reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President George W. Bush said, “The USA strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy. Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice.”

Bush extended his “deepest condolences to the family of Benazir Bhutto, to her friends, to her supporters”. “And we send our condolences to all the people of Pakistan on this tragic occasion.”

“Bhutto served her nation twice as Prime Minister and she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. Yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country,” Bush noted.

He said the USA would “stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honour Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.”

A Bush administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Tribune, “We do condemn this attack on the rally. The attack shows there are still those in Pakistan who are trying to undermine reconciliation and efforts to advance democracy in Pakistan.”

Bush was on vacation at his family ranch in Crawford, Texas. White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Bush “has been informed about the situation in Pakistan. He was told about it this morning during his regular briefing.”

Sources close to Bhutto had complained about the lack of security From Page 1

afforded to Bhutto on her return to Pakistan in October. Following a failed assassination attempt in Karachi the former Prime Minister had sought additional protection. However, this request was not taken seriously, a source said.

Husain Haqqani, a key aide to Bhutto and currently director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University, told CNN the Pakistani government had been “dismissive” about Bhutto’s requests for proper security arrangements.

“They could have provided better security. Even the equipment they gave consistently malfunctioned. Bhutto had asked for independent security arrangements,” Haqqani said.

Sources told the Tribune security guards provided to Bhutto would “disappear” from their shifts for hours in the day. “This was their way of harassing her,” a source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In a column in the Washington Post in November, Bhutto wrote: “Musharraf knows how to crack down against pro-democracy forces. He is, however, unwilling or unable to track down and arrest Osama bin Laden or contain the extremists. This is the reality of Pakistan in November 2007.”

Following her death, Bhutto’s supporters have been blaming Musharraf for the assassination, rather than Al-Qaeda or the Taliban who had vowed to kill her.

But Bruce Riedel at the Brookings Institution said the assassination appeared to be the handiwork of Al-Qaeda. “Benazir was a target of Al-Qaeda for almost a decade,” he said. “They eventually got her.”

Bhutto’s husband Asif Ali Zardari was in Dubai with the couple’s children at the time of attack. Sources described Zardari as devastated by the news.

The Bush administration had worked to promote reconciliation between Bhutto and Musharraf in an effort to create a front against rising extremism in Pakistan. A secret meeting, encouraged by Washington, was arranged between the two in the UAE earlier this year. However, differences between the two leaders undermined efforts to create an alliance.

Riedel said Washington should now be clear that the answer to terrorism was a free and fair election. “What is required is a democratic government that has the legitimacy to deal with the problem,” he said. “We should not continue to put all our faith in a dictator that has failed to provide stability for the country, and instead put our faith in the people of Pakistan.”

Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the Tribune the assassination would have a devastating effect on the democratic process in Pakistan. “People expected these elections to be rigged, but its quite another thing to have a major candidate assassinated,” she said.

She said Musharraf could impose martial law if there were “massive disturbances” following the assassination. She said the development was bad for Musharraf “any way you look at it. He will look either complicit or incompetent.” 

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UK expresses shock

London, December 27
Expressing shock over the killing of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Britain today described the suicide bomb attack on her as “senseless” and called for “restraint” and “unity” in the Muslim nation.

“I am deeply shocked by news of the latest attack in Rawalpindi, which has claimed the life of Benazir Bhutto and killed at least 15 other people,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement. — PTIBack

 





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