Pakistan's former P.M. makes long trip despite assassination attempt

Sunday, October 28, 2007
Pakistan's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, center, waved to supporters Saturday upon her arrival at Sukkur airport, about 300 miles from Karachi, Pakistan. (B.K. Bangash ~ Associated Press)

GARHI KHUDA BAKSH, Pakistan -- Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto went to her ancestral village Saturday amid tight security and sprinkled flower petals on her father's tomb on her first trip to provincial Pakistan since the bloody assassination attempt against her nine days ago.

She vowed to fight Islamic extremism -- a call that came as pro-Taliban militants in another corner of the country executed 13 captives in response to a military assault against their leader.

Bhutto returned on Oct. 18 from an eight-year exile to a massive welcome rally in Karachi, shattered by a suicide bombing that killed 143 people. She has since been largely confined to her residence in the city, but is eager to start her campaign for parliamentary elections slated for January.

"There is an attempt by the extremists and the terrorists to dictate who should be allowed to hold public meetings and who should not ... The agenda of the terrorists is to stop democratic parties from flourishing so they can continue to grow," Bhutto told journalists Saturday evening at her vast family compound.

Pakistan has a choice between "creeping Talibanization" or standing up to save Pakistan, she said. "I believe the message of Islam is peace, and I hope that together as a nation [we] can work for peace."

Tough security

Security was tight Saturday, but throngs of people still swarmed around Bhutto at her family's white-domed marble mausoleum in the village of Garhi Khuda Baksh.

Wearing her trademark white headscarf, Bhutto smiled and waved to supporters from her sport utility vehicle's sunroof with black metal sheets shielding her on the left and right, and a female aide standing in front of her. Her convoy was flanked by paramilitary troops in white pickup trucks with machine guns mounted on top. Other guards clung to the sides of the SUV.

Hundreds of armed private security guards surrounded the mausoleum and formed a tight circle around the opposition leader as she got out of her vehicle, pushing their way through a chaotic fray of supporters and journalists.

In the mausoleum she paid respects to her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first popularly elected leader who was overthrown by the military and hanged in 1979. During her 45-minute visit, she said prayers and spread pink flower petals on his tomb and those of other relatives.

She later went to a balcony and waved to about 2,000 supporters. Banners depicting Bhutto and her late father covered walls and hung from lamp posts.

Stabilizing Pakistan

Bhutto, whose two governments between 1988 and 1996 toppled amid allegations of mismanagement and massive corruption, came to Pakistan after talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf yielded an amnesty on pending graft cases against her. After elections, they could team up to fight Islamic extremism.

Militant violence has become increasingly common, not just in the volatile frontier region bordering Afghanistan, but in major cities such Karachi and the capital, Islamabad.

Bhutto says she is not intimidated by the Karachi attack. She has said she will visit Lahore and Islamabad, and also wants to go to Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir and remote areas along the Afghan border, where the Taliban and al-Qaida are tightening their grip.

She has accused elements in the government and security services of trying to kill her, and demanded that international experts join the investigation -- a call the government rejected.

"Our investigators have solved all the cases of the past including those of Karachi, and I believe those involved in the Oct. 18 attack will also be arrested," Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Saturday in Karachi.

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