KARACHI, Oct 19: Former prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto on Friday condemned the suicide attack on her rally and blamed it on what she termed ‘Zia remnants’. She described it as an attack on democracy and vowed to confront the ‘coward’ militant elements who wanted to rob the people of their fundamental and democratic rights.

She vowed to remain in the country and lead her party’s campaign from the front.

Addressing a news conference at her seaside residence, Ms Bhutto, wearing a black armband to mourn the Thursday tragedy, said “the attack was not on me, the attack was on what I represent. It was an attack on democracy and on the very unity and integrity of Pakistan”.

She said that before returning home, she had written to President Pervez Musharraf that more than three officials were planning suicide attacks on her. She refused to identify the officials.

She said in reply to a questioner that it was no naivette to return despite having been cautioned by the government against the militant threat.

“The attack was a message sent by the enemies of democracy to all the political parties of the country. It was intended to intimidate and blackmail all the political forces and elements working for democracy and human rights. It was a warning not only to me and the PPP but to all political parties; indeed to the entire civil society.”

She claimed that before her return to Pakistan, she had been informed by a brotherly country that several suicide squads had been sent to Pakistan to kill her.

“It was conveyed to me by a brotherly country that one suicide squad was from within Taliban elements, one was from the Al Qaeda, the third was from amongst the Pakistani Taliban, and the fourth was from Karachi... The telephone numbers of some of the suicide squad handlers were also given by the brotherly country to the government of Pakistan,” she said.

Taking a swipe at military rule, Ms Bhutto said: “Dictatorship fuels the forces of extremism and narcotics trade. Fearing democracy, these cowards attacked a woman and unarmed innocent men and children”.

The attack was intended to warn the people against exercising their right to participate in the political process for the attainment of their social, economic and political rights, she said, telling the perpetrators of the crime that her party would not be deterred.

“The party would never allow its voice in support of the people’s political and democratic rights stifled. We will continue to raise voice and fight for the people’s rights, come what may,” she said.

“It is imperative for all of us to fight to save Pakistan by saving democracy. Democracy brings development and marginalises the anti-people forces. We must save Pakistan, save democracy and save the fundamental rights of the people.”

Ms Bhutto called upon “moderate forces”, both in and outside the government, to forge a united front to tackle militancy as “militancy is a threat to unity and integrity of the country and a threat to the image of Islam”.

“We will not let militants destroy the hopes of our people for freedom and prosperity despite the tragedy in the night that followed the triumphant homecoming during the day.”

Ms Bhutto said she had a feeling that with “so much detail in their hand, the government would be able to apprehend them, but I can understand the difficulty”.

The PPP chief refrained from holding the government responsible for the attack. Ms Bhutto said she had been advised not to return to Pakistan, but she kept her appointment with the people of Pakistan and returned despite knowing that this attack was possible.

“On Oct 16, before returning home, I wrote a letter to Gen Musharraf in which I informed him that if anything happens to me as a result of these attacks, then I will neither nominate the Afghan Taliban, nor Al Qaeda, not even Pakistani Taliban or the fourth group. I will nominate those people who, I believe, mislead the people. I have spelt out names of such people in the letter,” she said.

Ms Bhutto said she knew who her enemies were and who were the forces of militancy who wanted to kill her because they were coward. “I have named three people, and more, in that letter to Gen Musharraf. I have named certain people with a view to the attack that took place yesterday so that if I was assassinated, who should be investigated.”

MORE THREATS: She alleged that more attacks were being planned on her life. She said her apprehension was that a strike would be made on either of her houses in Clifton and Larkana.

“The modus operandi will be that selected people will be planted in the police department and posted near my house. Perhaps, commandos will be sent in the garb of a rival political party and blamed for the attack.”

Ms Bhutto said she had shared this piece of information with Gen Musharraf and was confident the government would take pre-emptive measures.

She believed the “battle to save Pakistan is going to require a heroic effort and I hope that the people of Pakistan will support me and all political parties to stave off a militant takeover”.

She disclosed that a media representative had told her on return from Dubai that he had received a phone call from a retired military official that there would be an attack on her that day and that the MQM would be doing that. “I said that if such an attack comes, it will not be from the MQM.”

In reply to a question, she said Gen Musharraf was very sorry for the attack and had called on “all and sundry to unite for the fight against extremism and militancy”.

At the outset, Ms Bhutto offered prayers for all those who lost their lives in the suicide attack, announcing that the PPP would offer ghaaibana janaza prayers on Suinday in all district headquarters.

She thanked the UN chief, President Musharraf, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Senator Asfandyar Wali, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and India’s L. K. Advani for inquiring after her in the wake of the tragedy.

“Our thoughts, prayers and sympathies are with those who laid down their lives and to their families.”

She also condoled with the family of the TV cameraman and a number of policemen who died after the explosions. She also praised the party cadres, workers, and all those who trekked long distances to welcome her on her homecoming.

Updated Oct 20, 2007 12:00am

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