Written reports are not sufficient to convey the level of chaos which has seized Pakistan since the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi on Thursday. The country has been upended by violence which dwarfs the riots in reaction to government crackdowns this fall.
Bhutto may have been controversial for some, but it is clear that many Pakistanis were pinning their hopes for a return to orderly representative government on her campaign to return as Prime Minister, and her assassination has directed their anger at the current government.
Violence immediately after the assassination on Thursday was followed by further rioting associated with her funeral Friday in Karachi, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of mourners, pouring through the streets, carrying her coffin and passing it from hand-to-hand. The level of grief and outrage was palpable.
As always, YouTube provides us with easy access to an interesting selection of videos, starting with live CNN coverage of the Bhutto funeral interspersed with riot footage, all very choppy, but with good commentary:
Further video from SkyNews includes clips of various leaders giving their tributes to Bhutto, some of the best of the riot footage, including clips of burning busses, and more funeral coverage.
Speculation has been running wild about how Bhutto actually died. Initial reports that she was killed by three gunshots fired from the crowd immediately before the explosion have now been disputed. One claim is that the shots were fired by a sniper, not a gunman in the crowd. Another theory is that a blow to the head or neck from the side of the sun roof of her car caused a fatal injury. Another is that her death was caused by shrapnel from the explosion. The one area of agreement seems to be that the wound to her neck caused her death.
As with the Kennedy assassination there are several videos circulating of the attack and more will probably surface in the next few days. None of the current videos are very clear, but they are being studied to try to determine what actually happened. Here are two different views of the actual attack, gunshots and explosion, one from CNN and one from SkyNews:
Meanwhile, speculation that the Musharraf government or other groups may have been responsible for the assassination has been effectively countered with the release of an apparent intercepted al Qaeda telephone conversation about the assassination, which seems to substantiate their claim of responsibility. Certainly al Qaeda had much reason to be hostile towards Bhutto as anyone, and their ability to carry out operations inside Pakistan has been demonstrated before.
It seems too soon to say what the ultimate outcome for Pakistan will be, but it certainly could be on the brink of civil war, or facing an upheaval just short of that outcome. The Musharraf government has promised to restore order, but as demonstrated earlier this year, their heavy-handed tactics are prone to backfire and provoke more anger. If the elections are actually held on January 8th as promised, the outcome could be a radical change in government, or the final straw that breaks the camel's back and leads to all-out civil war.