Bhutto laid to rest as mobs rampage through nearby town

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 28, 2007 

Mourners surround the ambulance carrying Benazir Bhutto's body.


GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH, Pakistan — They came by the tens of thousands Friday to the crumbling, dirt-poor village to pay homage as Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest in the giant family mausoleum, the latest murder victim in Pakistan's premier political family.

The former prime minister, assassinated Thursday in Rawalpindi before she could run for a third term in coming elections, was buried in a simple ceremony and without pomp. Followers choked the village as they pushed to reach the graveside in the five-domed mausoleum, a replica of the Taj Mahal.

But the scene was peaceful compared with nearby Larkana, where police disappeared and mobs took control, torching buildings and cars.

Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, and teenage son, Bilawal, shoveled earth into the grave after her body had been lowered, amid scenes of almost inconsolable grief in the crowds. The grave then was covered with a red sequined cloth.

At Bhutto's home, where her body was taken before the funeral, there had been wailing and hysteria. Men and women hugged and sobbed. The coffin was taken into the house draped in the flag of her Pakistan People's Party.

Bhutto was buried beside her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the first elected prime minister of Pakistan. He'd been executed by Gen. Zia ul Haq, who overthrew him in a 1977 military coup. A space had been cut in the marble floor of the mausoleum to accommodate her body.

The assassination had the shock effect of bringing the feuding Bhutto clan together. The mourners included the daughter and widow of her brother Murtaza Bhutto, who'd previously accused Benazir Bhutto of complicity in his death after he was gunned down in Karachi in 1996. Murtaza Bhutto's body is buried in the same mausoleum, as is that of another brother, Shahnawaz Bhutto, who also was murdered in mysterious circumstances.

The throngs arrived at the burial site on foot, kicking up clouds of dust as they walked. Few cars dared venture into the streets around Larkana, which angry young men burning tires had turned into a danger zone.

Police weren't on the road to the tomb or at the site, apparently fearing that their presence would incite the crowd. Nor were there any Pakistani flags, just the red, green and black colors of Bhutto's People's Party. Chants from the crowd blamed Pakistan's president for her murder: "Pervez Musharraf is a dog" and "we don't need Pakistan."

Zulfikar Ali Mirza, a former member of parliament who was close to Bhutto, said: "We always told her not to take risks. She was a risk-taker. She believed in destiny. She used to say, 'When my time comes, nothing can save me.' "

Mirza said Bhutto was the only political leader capable of uniting Pakistan's four provinces. "There is no more Pakistan" without her; "this is civil war," he said.

Said another man, Zulfikar Ali Abbasi, who was named after Bhutto's father: "We want to take revenge. We just want revenge. She was our leader."

"Our wish is that the country should move against the government," he said.

Gul Mohammed Jakrani blamed Pakistan's dominant Punjabi ethnic group for Bhutto's death, calling it a "conspiracy against democracy." Bhutto was a Sindhi, one of the three other major ethnic groups in the country. Larkana lies in the heart of Sindh province.

"The future of Pakistan is very dark," Jakrani said.

Burnt-out cars littered the streets of Larkana, among them police vehicles that had been smashed and stripped. Shops had been looted. When darkness fell, most people disappeared from the streets. Larkana is in bandit country, where it's unsafe even in normal times. And these were far from normal times.

"It is like, from each house, a sister has died," said Mohammed Tahir, a student who was manning an intersection. "We have no interest in this government. Sindh should be separate."

A senior local police officer, Shabir Ahmed Shaikh, said his men were afraid to go out into the streets in uniform.

"The establishment takes everything away from Sindh," said Shaikh, who said his force had recovered at least four bodies from burnt buildings.

With Bhutto's death, her People's Party will struggle to find direction, with no other nationally recognized figure to take her place. The sense among party aides was that the lifeblood had been drained from her political organization.

Saeed Ahmed Bhutto, a cousin, said: "The party leadership is finished. The Bhutto family is finished. The party cause is finished."

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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