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Former Prime Minister Bhutto Assassinated


And we have more now on the developing story out of Pakistan, the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

And we're joined by Jackie Northam who's a national security correspondent for NPR. She's here with me in the studio. Jackie, thanks so much for coming in.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: When did this happen? And what do we know?

NORTHAM: Well, it happened just after 6 p.m. Pakistan time, 6:16, in fact. And what it was, was there was a campaign rally in Rawalpindi; that's a garrison town just outside the capital Islamabad. Military bases out there where there have been suicide bombings over the past few months, certainly, increasingly. This, again, was a political rally. Benazir Bhutto had finished up apparently. And they - let me stress right here that details are still coming in - you can imagine the chaos over there right now.

She had finished up and was going into her car and she was shot apparently both in the neck and the throat. And then the man that shot her then blew himself up. And they raced her to a hospital in Rawalpindi and they tried to put - you know, they did try to do some surgery on her, but it was just too late and she died.

MARTIN: And who would be responsible?

NORRIS: You know, it's very difficult at this stage. She has said when, you know, when she was heading back into Pakistan in October, she said, before then that this is one of the things that she was going to do if she got back into power is to really go after the terrorists. She said that President Pervez Musharraf had not done enough, he had turned a blind eye to this. And so she had put herself out there and then when she returned in mid-October, I think anybody can recall that she - you know, there was this huge rally when she landed and her convoy went thru Karachi and a suicide bomber was there as well. And about a hundred and fifty people died in that. So, she knew that there was going to be trouble and there was going to be this type of thing. And she was prepared. Apparently, the security was quite good at this rally today, but…

MARTIN: But that is a very, very serious breach. For someone to get close enough to her, if indeed it is true, that she was shot. For someone to get that close is a very serious breach.

NORTHAM: Well - and you know, and I don't want to go too far out, but let's say if it was a gun in an army town, it could have been somebody within the army, who could get that close, who would be all right going in there with weapons presumably. But, you know, again, the details are far too early right now, but what I was saying is that she knew that this was, you know, that there was really serious concerns about security in that type of thing, but, you know, she went ahead anyway.

MARTIN: You just got back from a reporting trip to Pakistan and so, I wanted to ask what - of course, she's a former prime minister.

NORTHAM: Mm-hmm, twice.

MARTIN: She have it twice and have this very sort of checkered career and accused sort of corruption and mismanagement, but still a very popular figure.


MARTIN: You know, nonetheless. Was she a very serious contender?

NORTHAM: Oh, she's really was, absolutely. Yeah. In fact, you know, people thought that - what people thought the results were going to be were a hung parliament with her and Nawaz Sharif, the other major contender, and would certainly be giving President Musharraf a run for his money as well. And she certainly was - you know, you talk about that she's a very popular figure. I mean, she had the Bhutto name, her father was prime minister, and he was extraordinarily popular, Zulfikar Bhutto. He, too, was - I'm sorry, he died. He was executed by the government. Then her brother was assassinated as well. So, I mean, you know, this is an unknown to her family, certainly in that. But her name, the Bhutto name, is legend there. And she's an iconic figure - pardon me, she was an iconic figure.

MARTIN: And, of course, it's too soon to speculate, but then you have to wonder what affect this will have on elections. First of all, do you think…

NORTHAM: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: …that elections will continue to be held on schedule? I mean, there's been this situation where the Pervez Musharraf, the prime minister - sitting prime minister, suspended the constitution for a period of weeks, but then said that he would then go ahead and set elections. Do you think that he will then continue?

NORTHAM: One would presume he would. They might be delayed, it's hard to say actually, at this point. It might be delayed, but one would presume that they are still going to go ahead because there is an awful lot of pressure on him to continue what the United States calls, you know, going down the road of democracy. And that, obviously, is part of it, is the elections. Certainly, the equation, the dynamics of this election, though, when it is held, are going to change enormously. There's no question about that. Now, the other fellow, Nawaz Sharif, who's also a prime minister twice and also was considered a highly corrupt - his administration, much as Bhutto's was, is enormously popular as well. And so, he will also give Musharraf a run for his money. So…

MARTIN: Jackie, I want to ask you to standby, if you would, just for a couple of minutes. I'm going to bring in another voice now. It's Shuja Nawaz. He's the author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, It's Army, and the Wars Within." He's joining us on the phone from his office in Virginia. Mr. Nawaz, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. SHUJA NAWAZ (Author, "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, It's Army, and the Wars Within"): Good morning.

MARTIN: This must have been a great shock. How do you - I'm asking to speculate and I know that that's unfair, but do you feel that this attack taking place in Rawalpindi, was there some message intended by that, or do you think it was perhaps just a crime of opportunity?

Mr. NAWAZ: I think it was a crime of opportunity, as you put it, because she had been target from the point when she landed back in Pakistan, and she knew that this was going to be the case. I met with her in Washington before she went to be on her way to Pakistan. And we spoke about the dangers of that time. That she was very spiritual and fatalistic individual who trusted in God, as you put it. And we talked about security precautions. But this was something that she knew that she going in for. She was a target also because she was seen as somebody who represented an alliance with the West - and that's probably why the terrorist have targeted her, much more than former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

MARTIN: What is that, do you think will this have on elections? And, again, I'm asking you to speculate, but do you think elections will go forward as planned and what affect do you think it will have?

Mr. NAWAZ: I think it's going to create a tremendous turmoil within the politics of Pakistan and, of course, the immediate reaction from her own party, which is probably one of the more popular single parties in the country -across the country and all the provinces is going to be unprecedented. It will also create the possibility of President Musharraf reverting back to his state of emergency. Also, he may have to waive a possibility of postponing the elections because they're due on the 8th of January. And with this kind of chaos and political turmoil, it may be difficult to ensure a good election.

MARTIN: Is there a successor within Bhutto's party who would be a logical person to step to the fore?

Mr. NAWAZ: Unfortunately, no, because the whole party, like most of the other political parties in Pakistan, have been run on a single person, almost dynastic system. The only other person who might be considered to lead the party to carry forward the name would be her husband, but he is outside the country, in Dubai at the moment. Although, he is running for parliament again.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NAWAZ: And he may or may not be willing to go back into the fray. Unfortunately, as Ms. Northam was saying earlier, this is almost a dynastic curse on her family. She's now the very famous member of her family who has been killed.

MARTIN: Jackie, I wanted to ask you the - Musharraf, of course, has been considered an ally of President Bush and he - I know he's been informed of the assassination. Is there any role for the U.S. at a time like this?

NORTHAM: Oh, there certainly is. I mean, the U.S. has heavily invested politically and, you know, for national security reasons, in past, Pakistan. And it was the U.S. that soon negotiated Bhutto's return back to Pakistan this time as well. It's a little unclear right now what's going to happen with that. Whether they - they'll still continue to back Musharraf, but I think, you know, sort of the gloss is off - his reputation with the U.S. right now, after this constitution, and purging the Supreme Court, and that type of thing. And I think there was still some hope that he might be able to forge some sort of relationship with Bhutto, but it's unclear. It will be interesting to see what happens now with the U.S.

MARTIN: And there's a candidate, Mr. Nawaz, is this - how does he factor into this?

NORTHAM: Nawaz Sharif?

MARTIN: Yes, how does he factor into this?

NORTHAM: Well, he's not seen as pro-west as much as it's certainly Bhutto and he was actually with the fact the Saudis that were helping him. And so…

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

NORTHAM: …it's going to be interesting to see what happens next month.

MARTIN: All right. All right. NPR's national security correspondent Jackie Northam. She was here with me in the studio in Washington. Jackie, thanks so much for that update.

NORTHAM: Thank you.

MARTIN: We were also joined by Shuja Nawaz, he's the author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, It's Army, and the Wars Within." He joined us on the phone from Virginia. Thank you so much for speaking with us, sir.

Mr. NAWAZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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