Bhutto's Assassination and Successor
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a suicide attack on Dec. 27, 2007, at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. President Pervez Musharraf blamed al Qaeda for the attack, which killed 23 other people. Bhutto's supporters, however, accused Musharraf's government of orchestrating the combination bombing and shooting. Rioting throughout the country followed the attack, and the government shut down nearly all the country's services to thwart further violence. Bhutto had criticized the government for failing to control militants who have been unleashing terrorist attacks throughout Pakistan. In the wake of the assassination, Musharraf postponed parliamentary elections, which had been scheduled for Jan. 8, 2008, until Feb. 18.
Scotland Yard investigators reported in February 2008 that Bhutto died of an injury to her skull. They said she hit her head when the force of a suicide bomb tossed her. Bhutto's supporters, however, insist she died of a bullet wound. Also in February, two Islamic militants who had been arrested in connection to the assassination admitted that they armed the attacker with a suicide vest and a pistol.
In the parliamentary elections in February, Musharraf's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, which has been in power for five years, suffered a stunning defeat, losing most of its seats. The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, which was led by Bhutto until her assassination and is now headed by her widow, Asif Ali Zardari, won 80 of the 242 contested seats. The Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by Sharif, took 66 seats. Musharraf party's won just 40. His defeat was considered a protest of his attempts to rein in militants, his coziness with President Bush, and his dismissal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. The Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-N formed a coalition government. In March, Parliament elected Fahmida Mirza as speaker. She is the first woman in Pakistan elected to the position.
In March, Zardari selected Yousaf Raza Gillani, who served as speaker of Parliament in the 1990s under Benazir Bhutto, as prime minister. One of Gillani's first moves as prime minister was to release the Supreme Court justices that Musharraf ousted and detained in late 2007.
The new government signaled a change of course with the announcement that it would negotiate with militants who live and train in Pakistan's remote tribal areas. The policy met resistance from the United States, which, with approval from Musharraaf, has stepped up its attacks against the militants.
In May, the coalition government reached a compromise agreement to reinstate the Supreme Court justices who were dismissed in Nov. 2007 by Musharraf. The agreement fell apart days later, when the Pakistan Muslim League-N said it would withdraw from the cabinet because the Pakistan Peoples Party insisted on retaining the judges who replaced those who were dismissed by Musharraf. In addition, the two parties disagreed on how to reinstate the justices. Sharif wanted the judges immediately reinstated by executive order; Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People's Party preferred it be done through Parliament, a process that may be protracted.