December 27, 2007 20:16 IST
Former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on Thursday when gunmen opened fire at her vehicle just before a suicide bomber blew himself up at an election rally in Rawalpindi, killing more than 20 people and injuring several others.
Reports said five bullets were fired at Bhutto, one of which pierced her neck. The 54-year-old leader of the Pakistan People's Party was rushed to the Rawalpindi general hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
According to rediff.com columnist Hamid Mir, "Benazir was shot at by a sniper rifle from close range and a few moments later a suicide bomber created the blast to make sure that she is assassinated. It was a determined effort. They made sure she doesn't survive the attack. She died due to the injury in her neck. I was told about it by injured party leader Ibne Rizvi before he went into comma."
"She expired at 6:16 pm," said Wasif Ali Khan, a PPP member at the hospital.
She is survived by her husband Asif Ali Zardari and three children.
Bhutto was shot as she was getting into the car after addressing thousands of supporters to canvass votes for the January 8 parliamentary election. Before her supporters realised what had happened, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the rally at the Liaquat Bagh Park. Several people, who were around her car, were blown to pieces. A television reporter at the scene said the suicide bomber's head was found almost 70 feet from the site of the blast.
Eyewitnesses said body parts were strewn across the area. Ambulances rushed the injured from the spot to nearby hospitals.
Mir said, "Yesterday, I had chatted with her. She was told many times that she carries as much risk as (Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf. On October 15, (army chief) General Ashraf Kayani and the director general ISI met her in Dubai. They clearly told her that there are forces determined to assassinate her. She thought they were trying to deter her from coming back to Pakistan. I found she was overconfident."
Added Mir, "Her partymen forced her to take risks. They were dragging her from one constituency to other. The threat to her life was so clearly understood by everybody. It was like the writing on the wall."
Liaquat Bagh Park is where Pakistan's first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in October 1951. Bhutto's father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in April 1979 at a spot not very far from where his daughter was killed.
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan after a eight-year self-imposed exile on October 18. She served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996.
Darling of the West
Charismatic Benazir Bhutto was beauty personified and the Oxford and Harvard educated former Pakistan premier was once on People magazine's "50 most beautiful people list".
Bhutto's glamorous looks and her dress sense, including her trademark white scarf, had made her a media darling in the West.
Bhutto was featured in the People Magazine in 1988 when at the age of 35 she became the youngest person-- and the first woman--to head the government of a Muslim-majority state in modern times.
Jemima Khan, former wife of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has launched the 'Free Pakistan Movement' in London, had written a long piece in a British newspaper calling Bhutto, who was "A Cleopatra in a Hermes scarf".
"She's back. Hurrah! She's a woman. And she's not bad looking either. Benazir may speak the language of liberalism and look good on Larry King's sofa, but both her terms in office were marked by incompetence. Make no mistake, Benazir may look the part, but she's as ruthless and conniving as they come -- a kleptocrat in a Hermes headscarf."
Pop diva Madonna is famous for flaunting her Hermes scarves along with several other fashion divas.
Bhutto's "diamond studded designer fashion glasses" have also become the cynosure of all eyes. Former railways minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed had even taken a dig at her designer glasses at a press conference recently.
A senior journalist had once written about her designer glasses: "With her designer glasses and bright lipstick she looks like a young version of Greek singer Nana Mouskouri."
"Bhutto's pale skin, designer clothes and degrees from Harvard and Oxford seem to contradict her self-appointed role as saviour of Pakistan's poor and illiterate -- particularly in Karachi's slums."