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Experts Say Bhutto Assassination Could Embolden Extremists

The body of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest Friday in a grave at the family mausoleum in southern Sindh province. In this report from Washington, VOA Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at some of the implications for Pakistan of Ms. Bhutto's death.

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack Thursday as she left an election rally of her Pakistan's People's party in the city of Rawalpindi. The Pakistani government said Friday, there are indications al-Qaida terrorists were behind the assassination.

Karl Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for South Asia affairs in the Clinton administration, says the forces of extremism are on the rise in Pakistan.

"The numbers of suicide bombings that have taken place, which is something that is not part of Pakistani history - all of this at the same time as reports about the rise of, resurgence, reconstitution of Al-Qaida in the tribal areas of Pakistan, and the Taliban," said Inderfurth.

"Pakistan has been under the gun from [Osama] Bin Laden himself. Bin Laden in September had a tape recording in which he called on Pakistanis to rise up against President [Pervez] Musharraf and his government and all of its supporters," he continued.

Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert with the RAND Corporation, says Ms. Bhutto's assassination will only strengthen Islamic militants.

"The increasing impunity that the militants have been able to demonstrate, both in terms of the rapidity of their attacks, the kinds of attacks, the increasing use of suicide attacks - they are no longer just in the tribal areas, they are operating with impunity throughout Pakistan - clearly will embolden the militants to continue targeting important actors within the Pakistani government, as well as other people that they deem to see as a threat to what they are trying to do," said Fair.

Ms. Bhutto was killed as she campaigned for national elections scheduled January 8. Her death, says Karl Inderfurth, has serious implications for the country's immediate political future.

"The implications are greater uncertainty and greater risk as it [Pakistan] tries to make its transition from the military government of General Pervez Musharraf to a civilian government with Musharraf now as a civilian president and elections that were scheduled for January," said Inderfurth. "And now, of course, one has to ask whether or not those elections can be held under these circumstances. They may need to be delayed for a period of time to allow the political situation to right itself after this terrible blow that it has received."

Christine Fair from the RAND Corporation says President Musharraf faces a very difficult situation in the days and weeks ahead.

"If Musharraf is not able to get his political legs together, I think you are going to see increasing pressure - not only from civil society, which you are already seeing - but even from the army itself, that maybe it would be better for the country if Musharraf moved on," said Fair.

"And, obviously, if that happens, I think all of the capitals that deal with Pakistan are going to be thrown into a swivet because they don't have a plan. They don't have a post-Musharraf plan. They have no plan in place," she added.

Many experts say Benazir Bhutto's death may force many governments to reassess their policy towards Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf.