Welcome back, Bhutto: Dozens dead in jihadi assassination attempt on ex-PM; Update: Husband blames Pakistani intelligence

Pakistan being Pakistan, you wonder if this really was jihad or just her enemies in the government trying to make it look that way.

She stepped off the plane this morning after eight years in exile and was greeted by a few hundred thousand supporters. Now this:

Twin blasts wounded several supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto as she made a triumphant procession through Karachi hours after returning home from eight years in self-imposed exile, police said early Friday.

Television channels said Bhutto was safe, but witnesses said dozens of people were killed and injured in the bombings.

Bhutto had reportedly disembarked from a truck that was taking her to a homecoming rally near the tomb of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan…

[Earlier,] Azad Bhatti, a 35-year-old poultry farmer from the southern city of Hyderabad said he had “blind faith” in Bhutto’s leadership.

When Benazir Bhutto is in power there is no bomb blast because she provides jobs and there is no frustration among the people,” he said. “whatever she thinks is for the betterment of the people.”

She’s returned pursuant to a power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf that’s designed to bolster his collapsing support and let him keep the presidency in exchange for her becoming prime minister. She’s said all the right things about crushing the Taliban, but whether that was hot air designed to draw U.S. support for her return from exile or something more substantive remains to be seen. Assuming this attack is in fact the work of fundies and not Musharraf trying to short circuit her renaissance, it’s reminiscent of the bombing of the Iraqi parliament building in April insofar as it’s designed to show the jihadis’ reach as much as it is to inflict casualites. They didn’t get her — but they got close, and it only took a few hours. Message sent and message received. Stand by for updates.

Update: Fox News says they got close enough to shatter the windows of the truck she was riding in. More than 30 dead and 100 wounded as of the first tally, according to the AP. Another version of the same story quotes a CNN reporter describing “rivers of blood.” How close did they get?

An initial small explosion was followed by a huge blast just feet from the front of the truck carrying Bhutto during a procession through Karachi. The blast shattered windows in her vehicle.

Update: Rick Moran’s touting a big story from the Asia Times about an alleged all-out offensive against the jihadis in Waziristan that Musharraf’s planning. I’m skeptical. The LA Times reported a month ago that his flagging popularity had forced Musharraf to back down — although perhaps a united front with Bhutto has changed that calculus a bit. Even so, the Guardian reported as recently as two days ago that the Pakistani military was planning yet another disastrous ceasefire with the Taliban and there’s reason to believe their troops’ hearts aren’t in this fight. And if it is true and Musharraf is planning some big push, then why on earth has the Red Mosque returned to the control of Islamist nutjobs?

Update: As is usually the case after a terrorist attack, Getty’s publishing uncensored images of the carnage. Don’t proceed if you don’t have a strong stomach. If you do, click.

Update: Earlier estimates were predictably low. The death toll is 45 now.

Update: Given the size of the blast, it’s probably a car bomb. The BBC: “It is not clear whether the bomber was in a car or on foot, although police said an unregistered small white car pulled up near a police escort immediately before the explosions.”

Update: Bhutto may have lucked out:

Christina Lamb, Ms Bhutto’s biographer, was on the truck at the time of the explosions…

“We had been on the bus for about nine hours, there were huge crowds and we were talking about what a great atmosphere there was.

“Suddenly there was an enormous blast and everybody just screamed. I was covered in blood, but it wasn’t mine, it was somebody else’s.

“There were about 20 people on top of the bus, it was pretty exposed in retrospect.”

She added that Ms Bhutto had by chance gone downstairs in the bus away from the blast at the time it went off.

Update: The death toll isn’t as high as some Iraqi suicide bombings but it’s higher than most. 93 and counting. One of the weapons in the Taliban’s arsenal is an appeal to patriotism among Pakistanis: they’re all technically countrymen so Musharraf’s offensive in the tribal areas is, in theory, an attack on his own people. Bombing civilians who came out to see Bhutto very foolishly undermines that argument.

Update: Bhutto’s husband hints that it must have been an inside job. Not far-fetched.

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