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Pakistan's Political Turmoil

Hundreds of thousands of mourners paid their last respects to Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto as she was buried on Friday beside her father at the family mausoleum, a day after allegedly a suicide attacker killed her. VOA'S Ravi Khanna takes a look at how the assassination might impact Pakistan's political scene and its ongoing war against extremism.

An Islamic cleric led mourners in prayers as her plain wood coffin, draped in the red, green and black flag of her Pakistan People's Party was placed in a grave inside the vast, white marble mausoleum in southern Sindh province near Bhutto's ancestral home.

On Thursday, as news of the 54-year old Benazir Bhutto's assassination spread across Pakistan, angry supporters of the opposition leader took to the streets across the country to protest against her killing. The killing threw the campaign for the January 8th election into chaos and created fears of mass protests and an eruption of violence across the volatile south Asian nation.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth says this is the time for President Musharraf to rise to the occasion and try to unite the country by including every one across the political spectrum. "President Musharraf should join with them, with the political parties, all political parties including Islamist political parties, playing by democratic rules in parliament. They should be part of this broader coalition to deal together with the forces of extremism," he said.

Inderfurth says moderate forces in Pakistan are the country's future. "What President Musharraf can do is to join with those forces that, unfortunately, found themselves, many of them, in jail during the emergency, the lawyers, civil society, human rights organizations all of these people they are not the enemy in Pakistan. They are the future of Pakistan."

The enemy, according to, President Musharraf, are the extremists who want to establish a theocratic state.

Farhana Ali at the Rand Corporation says the Bhutto assassination will strengthen Musharraf's hand in dealing with them. "Now with the latest attack against Benazir it only makes his claim much stronger that Pakistan has come into the hands of the extremists and that Pakistan now needs to take a stronger stance against terrorism."

But Teresita Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says as a result of the instability caused by Bhutto's assassination, the war against terrorism in tribal and border areas is going to slow down. She points out, "The question at this point is how much attention will the Musharraf government be able to devote to the border areas when its entire domestic tranquility is shattered and they feel they need to be focusing in the first instance on keeping peace in Pakistani cities."

But Farhana Ali says it is only natural that the battle against terrorists will take the back seat for now as President Musharraf tries to go ahead and hold parliamentary elections on schedule. "The right thing to do is not to be deterred. The right thing for Mr. Musharraf, in my opinion, is go forward with the elections to prove to the world community that Pakistan is strong, that Pakistan intends to remain committed to the path of democracy," Ali adds.

Both Schaffer and Inderfurth believe opposition leader Nawaz Sharif can play a very constructive role now in building bridges with the Musharraf government for a smooth transition to liberal democracy, what Bhutto was trying to do before she was killed on December 27th in Rawalpindi.