BENAZIR Bhutto was a brave woman who knew the risks in returning to Pakistan in October to lead her party in the election scheduled for January 8. Minutes before she was assassinated yesterday she told her supporters: “I put my life in danger and came here because I feel the country is in danger.” The country is in even greater danger now; the possibility of civil war cannot be ruled out and even if it is averted a period of severe instability seems likely. In such circumstances it is problematical whether the election should still be held in ten days time; but to postpone it might seem to give a victory to those who do not want democracy in Pakistan. One key consideration may be that her Pakistan Peoples Party, the largest in the country, is now leaderless. Conspiracy theorists will have a field day identifiying the forces responsible for the assassination: the suspects begin with President Musharraf himself and run through several layers of Pakistani society including the army, the intelligence services and Islamist extremists. Bhutto had many, many enemies, among them people holding grudges against her father, and it will be surprising if the identity of her killers is ever satisfactorily established. Bhutto's assassination is a crippling blow to hopes that Pakistan might soon enter a state of stability. It is a setback to America's “war on terror” in which Pakistan has a key role and it makes still more difficult the West's mission in Afghanistan.


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