Boston Globe : In visit to homeland, Bhutto vows to fight extremism

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In visit to homeland, Bhutto vows to fight extremism

Concerns about a second attack dictate moves

By Griff Witte, Washington Post | October 28, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Under extraordinarily tight security, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto returned to her ancestral homeland yesterday in her first major move since an assassination attempt against her last week killed 140.

In a quick and tightly scripted visit, Bhutto paid respects at the tomb of her father, former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and waved to a crowd of thousands that had gathered to mark her homecoming after eight years of exile.

Bhutto did not speak to the assembled mass of flag-waving supporters, and concerns about whether there would be another attack seemed to dictate every aspect of the trip.

Her convoy, which included vehicles equipped with machine guns, sped along the route from the airport in the southern city of Sukkur to the tomb in the village of Garhi Khuda Baksh. Only bodyguards and the media were allowed near.

Bhutto's white, bulletproof sports utility vehicle was equipped with a hatch in the roof, flanked by two metal slabs. At several points, she emerged to show her face to local backers who worship the Bhutto name with an almost religious fervor.

Once inside the tomb - a five-domed, white marble mausoleum that is still being built more than a decade after work began - a solemn-looking Bhutto laid rose petals over the grave of her father, who was hanged in 1979 by Pakistan's then-dictator, General Zia ul-Haq.

Bhutto, who is campaigning to be elected prime minister, flew to Pakistan on Oct. 18, arriving in the port city of Karachi.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to welcome her. But two explosions, at least one caused by a suicide bomber, struck her convoy as it inched through the streets. Bhutto emerged unscathed, but hundreds of people were injured or killed.

For more than a week afterward, Bhutto, 54, was sequestered in her family compound in Karachi, although she made brief, unannounced forays to visit wounded supporters at city hospitals.

She has said repeatedly since the attack that she believes she is still under threat, and she has said that the government has not done enough to ensure her safety.

Bhutto reached a deal with President General Pervez Musharraf to return to Pakistan, though she has accused rogue government officials of conspiring with Islamic extremists to assassinate her. The government has vehemently denied the charge.

The security concerns pose a considerable challenge for Bhutto and for Pakistan as January parliamentary elections draw near. Bhutto, whose Pakistan People's Party has long relied on mass rallies to drum up support, has said her party is talking with political consultants about other, less dangerous campaign tactics, including recorded messages.

Yesterday, Bhutto's personal bodyguards, many armed with automatic weapons, appeared to be in charge of her protection, with government forces present in modest numbers.

Militant violence has become increasingly common, not just in the volatile frontier region bordering Afghanistan, but in major cities. In a meeting with reporters last night, Bhutto vowed to fight the extremism.

"There is an attempt by the extremists and the terrorists to dictate who should be allowed to hold public meetings and who should not. . . . The agenda of the terrorists is to stop democratic parties from flourishing so they can continue to grow," she said at her family's compound.

Pakistan has a choice between "creeping Talibanization" or standing up to save Pakistan, she said. "I believe the message of Islam is peace, and I hope that together as a nation [we]can work for peace."

Bhutto says she is not intimidated by the Karachi attack. She has said she plans to visit Lahore and Islamabad, and also wants to go to Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir and remote areas along the Afghan border, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are tightening their grip.

After paying her respects to her father, Bhutto went to a balcony and waved to about 2,000 supporters. Banners depicting Bhutto and her late father covered walls and hung from lampposts.

"I just wanted a glimpse of Bhutto from afar," said Ali Hassan, 52. "It seems very beautiful that she has come here after being away so long."

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.