Benazir Bhutto Buried; Riots, Rallies Continue in Pakistan on Friday; Imran Khan: Musharraf Must Resign

Benazir Bhutto was buried in her ancestral village near Larkana in Sindh Province on Friday. Her widower, Asif Ali Zardari and 19-year-old son Bilawal helped lower her coffin into the grave. The Pakistani government predictably blamed the assassination on “al-Qaeda,” but Hillary Clinton and other US politicians rightly called for an independent United Nations commission to look into the crime, since the credibility of the military dictatorship right now is, let us say, low.

Opposition politician Imran Khan on Friday called for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to step down. He said while on a visit to India, “You cannot win the war on terror if you lose the battle to gain people’s hearts and minds . . . Musharraf is a problem, not our solution.” He also implied that the Bush administration had been in error to associate itself so publicly with Ms. Bhutto’s return to Pakistan, suggesting that that link made it more likely she would be killed by extremists.

Sindh Province remained largely closed down on Friday, as violent protests continued, with buildings set ablaze and sniping. The Pakistan army began deploying troops to show the flag, but they appear not to have risked clashing with protesters and imposed no curfew. There were a lot of attacks on government offices and government officials, apparently because Pakistan People’s Party activists believe that the government of Pervez Musharraf was in some way responsible for Ms. Bhutto’s death. The News details the violence:

“The charged workers and activists of the PPP continued protesting on the streets of Hyderabad on Friday since morning, setting scores of vehicles on fire and damaging public and private properties in the city. Angry protesters have blocked the Indus and the National Highways while the rail link was also affected because of firing and arson incidents in Hyderabad and adjoining areas. Firing incidents were also reported from various areas and at some places law-enforcement agencies scuffled with protesters to restrict their movement. The protesters set tyres on fire on various streets and also attacked the offices of union council Nazims in UC-16, UC-17 of Latifabad, UC Hatri, UC Seri, and UC Tando Fazal and torched some of the belongings of these offices. In Hyderabad city alone, the protesters ransacked the office of executive district officer for education, post master general office at Thandi Sarak, police check-posts and office of Sui Southern Gas Company. They also set on fire vehicles of the SSGC and also took out three vehicles parked at the residence of PML candidate Shahabuddin Husseini and set on fire five vehicles of the Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (Hesco) at Site area besides damaging other public and private properties. Reports said the protesters also attacked Tando Alam oil field in Hyderabad rural Taluka and set 15 vehicles and tankers on fire parked near its offices. Several shops were also set on fire in the district. “

Many residents of the major port city of Karachi remain stranded, without public transportation. Gas stations throughout Pakistan appear to have been closed, stranding motorists. Other Karachi residents lack essential supplies, as shops suddenly closed and have remained shuttered. Karachi industries (it is a major industrial city) have mostly ceased production, since workers have no way to get to the factories. Domestic flights from Karachi International Airport were cancelled, while international flights faced delays or cancellations, as well. The railway system in Sindh Province has been largely put out of commission by sabotage of cars, engines and rails, and won’t be repaired for 20 days or so. Pakistani army troops deployed in several districts of Karachi, with orders to shoot to kill if they saw rioters or looters.

Quetta and Baluchistan were mostly closed for business on Friday, after the All Parties Democratic Movement called a sympathy strike in commemoration of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. The News writes,

“Sources said some infuriated mob damaged three banks and set ablaze town council offices of Tehsil Sohbutpur in the Jafarabad district after hearing the news of assassination. The protesters came out of the houses and staged demonstrations. Independent sources from Jafarabad said the protesters also torched official property and vehicles. Many vehicles were damaged on the National Highway, which remained blocked throughout the day. The protesters created hurdles on highways and set tyres ablaze. They pelted stones on vehicles and also resorted to aerial firing. Quetta was presenting a deserted look as soon as the news of the tragic incident spread here and the citizens mourned the death of Benazir Bhutto.”

The Times of London reports that 4,000 Benazir supporters rallied in the northern Pushtun city of Peshawar, while in the southern Punjabi city of Multan, “about 7,000 people ransacked seven banks and a gas station and threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas.”

To get a sense of the place names mentioned above, see this map.

With regard to Benazir’s funeral, there was a strong sense of Sindhi nationalism in the air according to several press reports, with Sindhis complaining that only Sindhi prime ministers are assassinated, and some blaming other Pakistani ethnic groups for her death. Sindhis account for about 13% of the Pakistani population and predominate in the southeast of the country, but are probably the poorest ethnic group. They also have little representation in the powerful Pakistani army or officer corps. G. M. Syed led a Sindhi separatist movement until his death in 1995. The major city of Sindh, Karachi, is economically and demographically dominated by Muhajirs or Urdu-speakers whose forebears immigrated from India during the 1947 Partition. Pakistan’s other major provinces are also dominated by a majority ethnicity. Thus, Baluchistan is mostly Baluch, the Northwest Frontier Province is mostly Pushtun, Punjab is mostly Punjabi, and Azad Kashmir is Kashmiri. Pakistan lost its Bengali east wing when Bangladesh became independent in 1971. (Those who think Iraq would be more stable with four or five ethnically-based provinces should look at Pakistan carefully.)

Barnett Rubin weighs in on the significance of Bhutto’s assassination and the role of Muslim extremists at our joint Global Affairs blog and the WSJ.