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Violence killed Benazir Bhutto. It also seriously maimed the prospect of democracy in Pakistan. It seemed to be Bhutto’s nemesis to be the victim of a political assassination. She had been a lucky survivor in the blast in October on the day of her return from exile. The bomb attack, one of the deadliest to occur in Pakistan, had exposed the vulnerability of public figures to the cruel machinations of radical Islamists who could not be kept out even by the most foolproof security. But that did not deter Bhutto from pledging to carry on with the political experiment that had brought her back to the country after eight years. She had returned to Pakistan on the basis of a West-brokered agreement with the president that intended to pay lip-service to the people’s democratic aspirations while retaining the president in power. But she was quick to realize the futility of such a power-sharing deal which had no democratic backing. The people of Pakistan had given her a third chance to be their leader, and she chose not to let them down. So, despite the monumental risks that an electoral campaign entailed, she took on the challenge with renewed focus on alleviating the suffering of the common people. But in doing so, Bhutto also made a rendezvous with death.

The most important question regarding Pakistan’s future that this killer attack raises has to do with the president of the country. The repeated suicide-bombings, targeted as much at Pervez Musharraf’s loyal following as at his opponents, show that the situation in Pakistan has slipped out of his control. It is significant that Bhutto’s murder took place in Rawalpindi, which has the characteristics of a garrison town. Mr Musharraf himself, given the shameless political choices he has made, has to take much of the blame for this. Only days back, he used the spiralling violence to justify the emergency that went on to consolidate his hold on power without doing anything to control the mayhem. Much to Mr Musharraf’s consternation, neither the suspended freedom nor the violence has killed the popular urge for democracy. It is unlikely that Bhutto’s assassination, despite the temporary derailment it may cause to that process, will suppress that irrepressible aspiration. With Bhutto gone and Nawaz Sharif out of the electoral race, there will now be little to stop the president-backed Pakistan Muslim League to sail into power in January. That is, of course, unless Mr Musharraf uses Bhutto’s assassination to stave off democracy yet again in Pakistan.

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