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Benazir Bhutto returns to Pakistan and faces bomb attacks.

Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan this week. Scenes on the road from the Karachi airport in her home province of Sind were initially scenes of jubilation, important for Bhutto’s credibility. Shortly after midnight, in a part of the road where the street lighting was not functioning, Bhutto was attacked in two related bombing incidents. The carnage was severe with over 130 killed including, according to the BBC many of her personal bodyguards as well as some leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Benazir Bhutto was adequately protected by her armored vehicle. Who is Benazir Bhutto and why is she the target of terrorist attacks?

Benazir Bhutto comes from a distinguished family. Her father who had been Prime Minister was hanged by General Zia ul-Haq. In Pakistan such actions carry a long train of potential consequences. Bhutto has twice been Prime Minister of Pakistan and was the first woman to be elected to leadership in a recently independent Muslim country. Bhutto was excluded form government twice as a result of allegations of corruption. She exiled her self for eight years in the Gulf, just before the coup launched by (now President) Musharraf, but recently negotiated her return to an increasingly troubled Pakistan.

Bhutto is a tough politician and knew before she returned that militant groups, whom she opposes, had threatened to attack her. Bhutto is against what she has called the ‘cowards of Al-Qaeda’ and others ‘terrorists’ who were ‘trying to take over my country’. Bhutto is a secularist in political terms, interested essentially in the restoration of democracy to Pakistan. She believes that it is only the restoration of democratic politics that will start the process of improving conditions in the country. Bhutto is pro-American (she was educated in Pakistan in mission schools and then in the United States where she studied first at Radcliffe college and then at Harvard) and seeks for a moderate Pakistan.

The political ‘deal’ that allowed her to return is complex. President Musharraf’s hold on power has been in considerable difficulties. In the border regions with Afghanistan militants support Al-Qaeda. Lawyers have been upset by his attempt to rid himself of the country’s Chief Justice earlier in the year. Opposition to Musharraf by lawyers has been very strong in the North-West Frontier Province. Musharraf seems to be recovering some of his grip as he has just been appointed for another five years in office provided that the Supreme Court thinks that he was eligible to stand. Bhutto has returned with corruption charges dropped and with a promise to cooperate with the government and work towards fair elections. According to the Economist newspaper, the deal is not yet fully agreed.

No group has yet claimed responsibility. International support for Bhutto has been sympathetic and quick. According to the BBC, the Prime Minister of Australia (John Howard) pointed the finger at ‘al-Qaeda’ though added that it was too early in the day to be certain. The United States has said that ‘extremists’ will not be permitted to stop the democratic process in Pakistan. It is clear that Pakistan has entered a new phase with respect to concerns about its stability and political future. Both Bhutto and Musharraf are going to need to exhibit extreme care in how they handle their political life separately and together over the next dangerous few weeks. For the sake of stability they will need to contrive a deal frm enough to ensure order and flexible enough to ensure fair elections.