Reflections on October’s unsuccessful assassination attempt.

BY BENAZIR BHUTTO, www.WJS.com–from the The Wall Street Journal editorial page.

(Editor’s note: This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 23. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated today in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.)

I survived an assassination attempt last week, but 140 of my supporters and security didn’t.

This mass murder was particularly sinister, since it targeted not just me and my party leadership, but the hundreds of thousands (some estimate up to three million) of our citizens who came out to welcome me and demonstrate their support for democracy and the democratic process. Their deaths weigh heavily on my heart.

Oct. 18 underscores the critical situation we confront in Pakistan today–trying to campaign for free, fair and transparent elections under the threat of terrorism. It demonstrates the logistical, strategic and moral challenge before us. How do we bring the election campaign to the people under the very real threat of assassination and mass casualties of the innocent?

The attack on me was not totally unexpected. I had received credible information that I was being targeted by elements that wanted to disrupt the democratic process–specifically that Baitul Masood (an Afghan who leads the Taliban forces in North Waziristan), Hamza bin Laden (an Arab), and a Red Mosque militant had been sent to kill me. I also feared that they were being used by their sympathizers, who have infiltrated the security and administration of my country, and who now fear that the return of democracy will thwart their plans.

We had tried to take precautions. We requested permission to import a bulletproof vehicle. We asked to be provided technology that would detect and disarm IEDs. We had demanded that I receive the level of security to which I’m entitled as a former prime minister.

Now, after the carnage, the fact that the street lights around the assassination site–Shahra e Faisal–had been turned off, allowing the suicide bombers to gain access near to my truck, is very suspicious. I am so discomfited that the bomb investigation has been assigned to Deputy Inspector General Manzoor Mughal, who was present when my husband was almost murdered under torture some years back.

Obviously I knew the risks. I had been targeted twice before by al Qaeda assassins, including the infamous Ramzi Yousef. Knowing the modus operandi of these terrorists, coming back to the same target again (i.e. the World Trade Center), certainly underscored the danger.

Some in the Pakistani government criticized my return to Pakistan, and my plan to visit the mausoleum of the tomb of the founder of my country, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. But here was my dilemma. I had been in exile for eight painful years. Pakistan is a country of mass, grassroots, people-to-people politics. It is not California or New York, where candidates can campaign through paid media and targeted direct mail. That technology is not only logistically impossible, but it is inconsistent with our political culture.

The people of Pakistan–whatever political party they may belong to–want and expect to see and hear their party leaders, and be directly part of the political process. They expect mass rallies and caravans, and to hear directly from their leaders through bullhorns and loud speakers. Under normal conditions it is challenging. Under the terrorist threat, it is extraordinarily difficult. My task is to make sure that it is not impossible.

We are consulting with top political strategists on the problem. We want to be sensitive to the political culture of our nation, give people the opportunity to participate in the democratic process after eight long years of dictatorship, and educate the 100 million voters of Pakistan on the issues of the day.

But we do not want to be reckless. We do not want to endanger our leadership unnecessarily, and we certainly don’t want to risk potential mass murder of my supporters. If we don’t campaign, the terrorists have won and democracy is set back further. If we do campaign, we risk violence. It is an extraordinary dilemma.

We are now focusing on hybrid techniques that combine individual and mass voter contact with sharp security constraints. Where people have telephones, we can experiment with taped voice messages from me describing my issue positions and urging them to vote. In rural areas we are contemplating taped messages from me played regularly on boom boxes set up in village centers. Instead of the traditional mass caravans of Pakistani politics, we are discussing the feasibility of “virtual caravans” and “virtual mass rallies” where I would deliver important campaign addresses to large audiences all over the four provinces of Pakistan. We are thinking of new voter education and get-out-the-vote techniques that minimize my vulnerability, and minimize the opportunity for successful terrorist attacks over the next critical weeks leading to our parliamentary elections.

The sanctity of the political process must not be allowed to be destroyed by the terrorists. Democracy and moderation must be restored to Pakistan, and the way to do that is through free and fair elections establishing a legitimate government with a popular mandate–leaders supported by the people. Intimidation by murdering cowards will not be allowed to derail Pakistan’s transition to democracy.

Ms. Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996.


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