HORRIFYING millions of frightened Pakistanis, Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the country’s biggest political party, was assassinated on Thursday December 27th. Her attacker fired gunshots into her car as she was leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi, then exploded a suicide bomb. At least 15 of Miss Bhutto’s followers were also killed.

Miss Bhutto had been campaigning in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistan’s military elite, for an election set for January 8th. It may now be postponed. Pervez Musharraf, the country’s recently demobbed president, has convened crisis talks to discuss this latest, and potentially most grievous, example of instability in Pakistan. Supporters of Miss Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)—which had expected to win the election—were meanwhile reported to be gathering in angry protests across the country.

Even before Miss Bhutto’s murder, the election campaign had been bedevilled by political conflict and terrorism. The role of each of its main actors—including Miss Bhutto and Mr Musharraf—has been contested in the courts and on the streets, against a backdrop of worsening insurgency and Islamist terrorism.

Miss Bhutto had returned to Pakistan in October to lead her party, after an eight-year self-imposed exile. The event was marked by a suicide bomb attack on her homecoming parade in Karachi, which killed over 140 people. Islamists terrorists, fighting an insurgency in north-western Pakistan, had previously threatened to kill Miss Bhutto. They are probably behind her murder.

From Economist.com

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