GARHI KHUDA BAKHSH, Pakistan – On Benazir Bhutto’s last trip home, tens of thousands of supporters came to see her however they could, on tractors, by foot, hanging off the back of buses. To them, the former prime minister was both a queen and a loved one. Now that she had been killed, they said, they felt like orphans.

Men held up posters of Bhutto and notes she had written to them. Women sobbed, clutching at strangers. And young men said they wanted to get even for Bhutto, the former prime minister slain Thursday while waving at supporters after a campaign rally in the army garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Bhutto’s funeral Friday was nothing like that for a former head of state. There was no pomp, no circumstance, no police, no one from the government. There was not even a Pakistani flag, only hundreds of flags from her Pakistan People’s Party.

The funeral also had no security or metal detectors, despite the two suicide attacks against Bhutto and her supporters in recent weeks, only angry young men with guns or long bamboo sticks. Thousands of people pushed into the shrine to see Bhutto buried next to her father, shoving and jostling for position.

“We want to take revenge, we only want revenge,” said Zulfikar Ali Abbasi, 27, one of many here named after Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister who was hanged after a military coup in 1979. “She was our leader.”

The graveside scenes of mourning and anger captured the wider sentiment across the country Friday, as distraught Pakistanis rioted, set fire to tires, trains and homes, and ransacked banks. Gun battles raged throughout Rawalpindi, and paramilitary soldiers in southern Pakistan were given orders to shoot rioters on sight.

Both at the funeral and across the country, the people’s anger was targeted at the government, particularly at President Pervez Musharraf, blamed by many for being directly or indirectly responsible for Bhutto’s death. Many questioned why security for her had not been stepped up after a previous suicide attempt on Bhutto left 140 dead on the day she returned from exile 10 weeks ago.

In light of the emotions here, it appeared unlikely that Bhutto’s supporters would believe the government, no matter what it says or does in coming days to stem the violence or explain the circumstances of her death.

Witnesses on Thursday said that Bhutto died while waving from the sunroof of her vehicle at a campaign rally, shot at least twice just before a suicide blast killed at least 20 people, less than two weeks before Jan. 8 parliamentary elections that might have laid the ground for her to become prime minister again.

So party officials here dismissed the government’s new claim Friday that Bhutto had died not from gunshots but from her head being thrust against the sunroof lever as she ducked the blast, crushing her skull. They demanded a thorough investigation.

“I personally saw the body,” said Babar Awan, a leading member of the party who was at the rally. “That is a false claim. It was a targeted, planned killing.”

In many ways, Bhutto was a divisive figure, and not all Pakistanis were mourning her as passionately as those at her burial.

Her return to Pakistan in October was controversial, in the midst of the U.S. pushing a deal in which she would share power with Musharraf, a former army general. Her party had always stood against military rulers, and some supporters were frustrated with Bhutto’s decision to potentially cooperate with him.

But after Musharraf declared emergency rule Nov. 3 while mired in his most serious political crisis since seizing power in a bloodless military coup in 1999, Bhutto distanced herself from him and said she could never serve with him.

Her death has far-reaching implications. Some say it means the end of her political party, the most popular in Pakistan, because there is no clear successor. Bhutto was elected chairperson for life, and although she said she was a populist believer in democracy, she often acted like a party autocrat, threatened by any rising star in her party even while in self-imposed exile for eight years.

“The party leadership is finished,” said Saeed Ahmed Bhutto, Bhutto’s cousin. “The Bhutto family is finished. The Bhutto cause is finished.”

Bhutto party members said they had never seen such violence as that which was convulsing the country since her death, not even when her father was hanged.

“Whoever is connected to the government directly or indirectly, people are after them,” said Zulfiqar Ali Mirza, 53, who was also named after Bhutto’s father and has known her since childhood.

Black plumes of smoke could be seen above Karachi and Sukkur on a special flight that took family members, Pakistani journalists and two Western journalists to Bhutto’s funeral. Fires could be seen from the road, and the air smelled like burned tires.

On the one-hour drive from Sukkur to Naudero, where Bhutto had a large compound, banners still hung that said “Welcome, Benazir.”

In many ways, Bhutto’s funeral was exactly as she would have wanted it, supporters said – messy and populist, allowing even the poorest laborer a glimpse at her coffin and a chance to throw rose petals.

At Bhutto’s home in Naudero, her coffin, draped in the green, red and black flag of the Pakistan People’s Party, was carried into the back of an ambulance. People clutched at the coffin and ran after it, wailing.

Family members and friends piled into cars and followed. The convoy threaded and pushed through crowds to make it to the mausoleum, which Bhutto had built for her father but never saw until she returned from exile this fall. Men beat their chests and heads and cried. Seas of people stretched across the dusty plains near the shrine.

Inside the white-marble mausoleum – which resembles a smaller, less grand Taj Mahal – a hole had been cut into the marble floor next to the grave of Bhutto’s father. A prayer, the prayer of the dead, was held outside, and men held their palms to the sky. The ambulance backed inside the shrine, and supporters threw rose petals at it.

Her husband and son, Bilawal Zardari, helped lower the simple wooden coffin into the ground. They threw handfuls of sandy soil on top, helped by supporters, and slowly the coffin disappeared from view.

(c) 2007, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): BHUTTO

GRAPHIC (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): BHUTTO

AP-NY-12-28-07 1940EST

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.