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Pakistanis Mourn on Slain Benazir Bhutto's Anniversary


Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are expected to flock to the tomb of Benazir Bhutto on Saturday to honor their former prime minister, one year after her assassination in a suicide attack. Pakistan declared a national holiday to allow Pakistan's 160 million people to pay tribute to the first woman to lead a Muslim nation, whose murder last year at an election rally shocked the world. VOA's Ravi Khanna has this special report on the first anniversary of her assassination.

One year ago, Pakistan's charismatic leader and two time prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, was gunned down as she left a campaign rally near Islamabad. The government blamed it on Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, but he denied responsibility.

The 54-year old Bhutto was campaigning to return to power, just two months after returning to Pakistan from exile.

The killing threw the world's only nuclear Islamic nation into chaos. It led to months of political turmoil that ended in September when Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, claimed the presidency.

Earlier this month, the United Nations honored her with the Human Rights award and her son Bilawal accepted it for her.

"Democracy in Pakistan is not just important for Pakistanis," Bilawal Bhutto said, "it is important for the entire world. In this age of the exploitation and radical interpretation of my beloved religion, we must always remember that democratic governments do not empower, protect and harbor terrorists."

Benazir Bhutto had promised to rid the country of terrorist elements using Pakistani soil for attacks into Afghanistan and India, and to make Pakistan a more moderate and modern nation.

But Pakistan's troubles have worsened in the past 12 months with more than 50 suicide attacks killing civilians, severe economic woes for the government, high food prices and regular power shortages.

Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation, believes the best way to honor the passing of Benazir Bhutto is to work towards realizing her dreams.

"I think it is Pakistan itself that has to make the decision that it wants to move forward to be a prosperous, stable and progressive country, every thing that Benazir Bhutto stood for," Curtis said.

Stephen Cohen at the Brookings Institution in Washington says Bhutto's husband, President Asif Ali Zardari, is trying to pursue her policies.

"Stabilization at home, economic growth, normalization with India, close relations with the United States but not being subordinate to the United States," Cohen said.

But in Islamabad, Pakistani analyst Riffat Hussain of Qaid-e-Azam University says people seem disenchanted with Mr. Zardari's approach to governance, which he describes as marked by benign authoritarianism and lack of vision.

Marvin Weinbaum at the Mideast Institute in Washington agrees and says Bhutto was more of a visionary than her husband and things would have been different if she was alive and in power.

"Pakistan very much is crying out here for someone who provides statesmanship for the country, who will do more than simply put together coalitions, someone who will provide inspiration and a way forward for Pakistan," Weinbaum said.

Haider Mullick says Bhutto would have also been harder on terrorism, especially the anti-Indian terrorist elements in Pakistan.

"And probably gone after some of these elements in a harder manner than Asif Ali Zardari because of her overall political base," Mullick said.

Mullick says terrorist attacks in Pakistan have increased since her assassination and, despite her husband being in power, the investigation into her slaying has made little progress.

The human rights group Amnesty International marked the day by urging President Zardari to conduct a transparent and independent probe into her assassination.

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