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on assassination of Benazir Bhutto

The violence that has erupted across Pakistan following the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the northern Punjab city of Rawalpindi on the evening of December 27, has come as a terrible reminder of what havoc political turmoil can wreak on the lives of citizens.

Even as Benazir Bhutto, the chairperson of the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was being buried on December 28 in her native village of Naudero, in the heart of the southern province of Sindh, there were reports of continued turmoil across the country. The worst incidents took place in Sindh, where at least three trains have been burnt and dozens of government buildings set ablaze. But there has also been sporadic violence in cities across the country, and tensions remain high everywhere.

"It's terrible to be living in Karachi. I fear a stray bullet, or some arson attack may affect my family," said Asma Kazeem, a 31-year-old teacher and mother of four, who lives in the Malir area of Karachi -- a PPP stronghold. The sound of sudden gunfire rings out through the air outside her home several times as she speaks to IRIN over her mobile phone. Throughout the day on 28 December, mobs have rampaged through the city and at least six deaths have been reported. Karachi, which has seen repeated political, sectarian and ethnic violence over the past few decades, has a reputation as a tinder box, easily set ablaze.

Pakistan's emergency services, as incidents in the past have exposed, is notoriously ill-equipped to deal with crisis. Currently, government and charitable ambulances are plying roads in Karachi, but no clear-cut plan of action seems to exist.

"We are simply doing all we can to help. We have been given no orders," said Sohail Ali, a volunteer for the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, currently engaged in efforts to ensure the injured in Karachi are given timely help. Hospitals in the city have been put on high alert, and fire-fighting engines stationed in various places. However, citizens say that, in the past, these services have proved inefficient.

"I remember the scene at Karachi's hospitals when a suicide bombing at a Benazir-led rally in October 2007 killed 130 people. There was chaos, and medical staff were ill-trained to deal with trauma cases of this nature," said Raza Ahmed, 25, a medical student.

Anticipating a worsening law and order situation, the administration in Karachi has now called out the army, with troops deployed along roads.

Across the country, in response to the unrest, college and school examinations have been cancelled, markets shut and public transport has disappeared from roads. The situation is worst in towns in Sindh. Fires blaze in Hyderabad, the province's second largest city, some 150km north of the port city, power has remained suspended for hours and people have, in some cases, been unable to leave their homes since the evening of December 27.

"We had tea with no milk for breakfast, even the children did without, because it is too dangerous to step out here," said Abbas Hussain, a car mechanic based in the city. His neighbor, Qamar Suleman, feared "things could get worse. I have seen that happen before in Sindh."

There is also apprehension that the violence could take on dangerous, ethnic dimensions. The country's largest province, Punjab, is regarded by Sindh, and other smaller provinces as suppressing the interests of their people and exerting an oppressive economic and political domination. Nationalist unrest has simmered in Sindh and the province of Balochistan, which neighbors it to the west, for years -- and some fear the killing of Benazir, from Sindh, in a major Punjab city, will aggravate feelings. Some are blaming Benazir's murder on political figures in the Punjab.

"Benazir had mentioned these people as being after her life. They could be involved in her death," said Fareed Ali, a PPP supporter based in Lahore. PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told IRIN: "It was impossible to speculate yet" as to who had killed Benazir.

Benazir Bhutto's death comes at the end of what has been a particularly violent year for Pakistan. A spate of suicide bombings, thought to be carried out by pro-Taliban militants, have claimed over 300 lives, and left many others injured. The new instability left behind by her death, with uncertainty over whether elections scheduled for January 8 can take place, will only aggravate the existing situation. The chaos on roads is already adding to the hardships of life for many people, and it is not known how long the current situation may persist.

"My father was sick and had chest pains this morning. But I could not get him to a hospital as there is no public transport on the roads, and I do not own a vehicle," said Shaukat Masih, 40, a laborer in Lahore. Others elsewhere in the country face similar difficulties, with no end yet in sight to the crisis that has taken Pakistan by storm.

© IRIN 2007

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Albion Monitor   December 29, 2007   (

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