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Twelve Years On, Benazir Bhutto Continues To Live On In Hearts

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Today marks the 12th death anniversary of former Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated following a political rally in Liaquat Bagh while campaigning for the elections of 2008.

Following eight years of self-imposed exile, Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 2007.

Right after her return, the former prime minister’s motorcade, which was en route to Mazar-e-Quaid for a welcome gathering, was hit with deadly explosions that killed at least 180 people. According to a report in New York Times, Benazir had warned the Pakistani government of an attack by extremist Islamic groups and revealed that they wanted to take over the country. She also sent a letter to the Musharraf government.

Undeterred, Benazir continued her campaign, and addressed a rally in Liaquat Bagh on this fateful day twelve years back. As she was leaving the venue, she came out of her vehicle through the sunroof to wave to supporters who had surrounded her motorcade. Two shots were fired from the crowd, and Benazir fell into her vehicle. The shots were immediately followed by a bomb blast. Benazir was rushed to a hospital the Rawalpindi General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Initially, the Pakistani interior ministry announced the cause of death to be gunshot wounds or pellets from the bomb explosion. It later stated that the cause of death could possibly be a result of a neck fracture that occurred due to Benazir hitting the sunroof latch when she ducked due to the explosion.

A news report in Dawn following the assassination quoted a senior PPP official as saying that the government’s explanation was a ‘pack of lies’. The official stated that Bhutto’s personal secretary Naheed Khan and party official Makhdoom Amin Fahim were in the car and they witnessed the PPP leader being shot in the head and abdomen.

The medical report stated the cause of death to be open head injury. A report in Washington Post, stated that doctors had been pressured to remain silent about the slain leader’s final hour and removed records of her treatment from the hospital. Moreover, in a move that still remains unexplained, authorities ordered the crime scene to be washed after the assassination attempt, before forensic examination was carried out.

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To this day, it remains unclear as to who killed the former prime minister. The interior ministry claimed that Al-Qaeda was behind the assassination, with the suicide bomber belonging to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. There were also claims that Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, was behind the assassination, a claim the TTP denied as they did not ‘attack women’. Senator Farhatullah Babar termed the ‘Al-Qaeda and Baitullah claims’ incorrect.

Benazir Bhutto had always stood up for a democratic Pakistan. One of her major endeavours in this regard was the signing of the Charter of Democracy with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Nawaz Sharif in 2006. The document called for an end to military rule, a move that threatened the regime of former president Musharraf. The charter was another instance of Benazir speaking truth to power and standing up for democratic ideals. Her biggest contribution to the democratic cause was when she, along with her mother Nusrat Bhutto, led a remarkable movement for the restoration of democracy against the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq at a time when the regime was considered un-challengeable.

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