In her last public appearance in the United States before returning to Pakistan last October, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazhir Bhutto showed the defiance and willingness to make powerful enemies that was her trademark.
Speaking to Newsmax after a speech to the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC on September 25, Mrs. Bhutto defied President Musharraf for imposing emergency rule, and accused him of harboring Islamic radicals in the army and the intelligence services at the same time that Musharraf claimed he was their worst enemy.
In a gesture of reconciliation just before she announced her intention to return to Pakistan, Musharraf withdrew a request to Interpol to enforce a Pakistani arrest warrant against Mrs. Bhutto on corruption charges.
But Musharraf’s gesture did little to temper Mrs. Bhutto’s determination to unseat the Pakistani president, with whom she had been negotiating a power-sharing formula.
She blasted Musharraf for turning Pakistan into “the Petri dish of the international extremist movement,” and said that military rule had increased the power of Islamic extremists, not diminished it.
“The very ones who created the mujahedin [in Afghanistan] and who later moved on to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, have today moved to control our homeland security,” she said, referring to Musharraf and his military government.
In Islamabad today, Geo TV – the largest private television network broadcasting in Urdu - revealed that Bhutto had sent a letter to Gen. Musharraf just two days before returning to Pakistan on October 16 naming three members of his government she claimed were conspiring to assassinate her.
In her interview with Newsmax, Mrs. Bhutto promised that if she returned to Pakistan as prime minister, her first priorities would be to provide an alternative to the radical madrassas that now educate a majority of young Pakistanis by reforming government schools.
But she was less confident of her ability to weed out extremist officers from the army and from Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), the powerful intelligence service that is dominated by the military.
“The reform of the armed forces depends very much on the constitution of Pakistan,” she said. “The constitution gives those powers to the president, so reform of the intelligence services will be a job for the president.”
However, she told Newmax that if she was elected as Prime Minister, she would “offer my advice” on an army purge.
“And my first advice would be to get rid of all those officers who are retired from the ISI and who played a pivotal role in the jihad against the Soviets.
“They believe they defeated one superpower. They want to fight another superpower. And their inclusion in key posts like Pakistan’s current intelligence bureau and administration is detrimental to the fight against terror,” she told Newsmax.
Mrs. Bhutto was shot today when she emerged through the sunroof of her armored SUV to address supporters after a political rally.
According to eyewitnesses, the lone assassin emerged from the crowd and shot her in the head and the chest, before detonating explosives and killing himself and others in the crowd.
Mrs. Bhutto had angered the radical imams appointed by Gen. Musharraf’s government to head major religious institutions in Pakistan, and declared that she would “not allow them to build on government land,” as Musharraf had done.
She noted that the Red Mosque in Islamabad, where Islamist radicals battled government forces earlier this year, was illegally built on government land.
“This is why I say that elements of the government have supported and protected the extremists. Without that support, the extremists could not have built the Red Mosque complex in Islamabad, they could not have mutinied, and we would not have lost a hundred innocent lives. So there has to be a clear message to the militants that you can’t violate the laws of the land.”
In a televised statement in Crawford, Texas, President Bush blamed “murderous extremists” for the murder.
“The United States 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,” the President said.
Mrs. Bhutto understood that the fight against extremism had to begin within the Pakistani government itself. Her outspoken criticism of radicals within the armed forces may ultimately have been her undoing.
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