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Dec 28, 2007 at 11:17am IST

Benazir's column: Extremism happens with state support

Pakistan Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto wrote this piece on cnn.com to reflect on the tumultuous events following her return to Pakistan last month. In this commentary, the former prime minister reflected on a failed assassination attempt on her life at that time and vowed to keep pushing for the restoration of democracy.

I have long claimed that the rise of extremism and militancy in Pakistan could not happen without support from elements within the current administration. My return to my country poses a threat to the forces of extremism that have thrived under a dictatorship. They want to stop the restoration of democracy at any price. They have exploited a poor, desperate, and powerless people and allowed extremists the right environment in which to flourish.

The ruling party is an artificial, political party created in the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (Pakistan's equivalent of the CIA) during the General Elections of 2002. Its core support comes from the political partners of the military dictator of the '80s, General Zia al-Haq, who empowered the most radical elements within the Afghan Mujahedeen who went on to morph into al-Qaeda, Taliban and the Pakistani militants of today.

HER FEARS: Bhutto said that rise of extremism and militancy in Pakistan could not happen without admin support

This party has called for a banning of outdoor rallies, demonstrations and caravans. They would thus suspend all activity that demonstrates to the people of Pakistan and to the people of the world which parties enjoy mass support amongst the people.

On my return to Pakistan last month, throngs of people turned out to welcome me back home. The demand to ban grassroots political activity is a suspicious prelude to what could be an overt attempt to rig the upcoming elections. All people who believe in the process of democracy should reject this attempt to undermine public participation in the campaign and set the table for what I believe would simply be a fraudulent election.

It has now been more than two weeks since the horrific assassination attempt against me and the police have still not filed my complaint. They filed their own report without taking statements from eyewitnesses on the truck targeted for the terrorist attack which resulted in the death of more than 158 of my supporters and security guards.

Soon thereafter, I was asked by authorities not to travel in cars with tinted windows -- which protected me from identification by terrorists -- or travel with privately armed guards.

I began to feel the net was being tightened around me when police security outside my home in Karachi was reduced, even as I was told that other assassination plots were in the offing.

While the authorities speculated on whether a suicide bomber had been involved or two suicide bombers or perhaps a hand grenade or perhaps a car bomb, I reflected on my plight.

I decided not to be holed up in my home, a virtual prisoner. I went to my ancestral village of Larkana to pray at my father's grave. Everywhere, the people rallied around me in a frenzy of joy. I feel humbled by their love and trust.

Although it remains difficult to know for certain, I doubt that a suicide bomber was involved in the attack on me. I suspect, after talking to some of the injured, that the terrorists used a small child as a ploy to get to me. They were trying to hoist the child -- dressed in the colors of my party's flag -- onto my truck.

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Failing to do so, they dropped the child near my vehicle. Some witnesses said the child had been rigged as a human bomb. I can't be sure. What followed was a massive explosion, killing scores immediately, tearing many bodies in half and sending blood, gore and flames up into the vehicle.

In less than a minute a second bomb -- reports later suggested a car bomb -- went off.

As I have reflected on the past two weeks, there are some things I wonder about:

• What was the car doing there?

• Why had the street lights been turned off?

• Was that intended to prevent my security from clearly seeing any approaching dangers?

• Is there any truth to the report that a high government official ordered the lights turned off "to prevent her getting so much television coverage"?

• Why would the leadership of the ruling party of Pakistan make a claim that my own party had committed the attack to gain sympathy?

• Why would the investigation be initially given to a police officer who was present when my husband was nearly tortured to death in 1999?

And, then, there is to me the most worrying: the adamant rejection by Islamabad of any assistance from the state-of-the art forensic teams of the FBI and Scotland Yard. There are precedents in Pakistan for such international assistance. Such teams were called in to investigate the mysterious and sudden death of Army Chief General Asif Nawaz and the Egyptian Embassy bombing in the '90s.

I had called in international experts when my brother Murtaza was killed in what I believed was a conspiracy to destabilize my government in 1996.

We can only wonder -- if there is nothing to hide -- why international investigators from the FBI and Scotland Yard are being prevented from assisting a Pakistan-led investigation?

The sham investigation of the October 19 massacre and the attempt by the ruling party to politically capitalize on this catastrophe are discomforting, but do not suggest any direct involvement by General Pervez Musharraf.

Until recently, he had made both public and private commitments to confidence building gestures that would move Pakistan forward in the transition to democracy. But at a time when he should be demonstrating to our country and the world his seriousness in allowing free, fair and transparent elections, he has declared martial law. This can only be seen as a step to entrench his dictatorship.

We must have elections under an independent caretaker government, and neutral administrative officials who have the confidence of all major political parties in the country. And these elections should be under the supervision of an autonomous and competent Election Commission.

It is time that Islamabad facilitates the operation of a rigorous election monitoring mechanism -- both domestic and international -- that can guarantee the sanctity of the ballot and allows election experts to conduct exit polls to insure that the counting reflects the voting.

It is time, in other words, for reconciliation to truly begin that will allow for the mobilization of the moderate majority of my nation and the marginalization of militants, fanatics and extremists.

But for that to happen, General Musharraf will need to revive the constitution by lifting martial law

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