The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto: The Unsolved Murder of the Muslim World’s First Female Prime Minister
The American political scene has become particularly acrimonious of late. Thinly veiled calls to physical violence have driven the less stable among us to act rashly. While the details are adequate to induce the gyrating fantods in the news media, our antics have absolutely nothing on those of Pakistan.
Pakistani politics is a bucket of snakes.
Benazir Bhutto was both the 11th and 13th Prime Minister of Pakistan. Her professional life was enigmatic, dangerous, chaotic, and inspirational.
Accused of corruption and officially ousted from her post twice, she yet remained the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim-majority nation. Imprisoned, exiled, persecuted, and ultimately murdered, Benazir Bhutto came to represent both the best and the worst of her part of the world.
Benazir Bhutto was born into a life of privilege. Of mixed Kurdish and Sindhi origins, her father was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1973. Four years later he was overthrown in a military coup and hanged.
Benazir was classically educated at both Harvard and the University of Oxford, returning home shortly before her father’s death. The coup leader Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq imprisoned her for a time before exiling her to Great Britain in 1984.
Bhutto returned to Pakistan in 1986 having been heavily influenced by Margaret Thatcher’s economic platforms.
Determined to import these concepts to her home country, Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. However, Pakistan was and is the home of some of the most politically and theologically primitive people on the planet. Conservative political forces, as well as radical Islamists, did not accept the idea of a liberal female leader with grace or restraint.
What followed was a labyrinthine mess of charges and countercharges accusing her administration of both nepotism and corruption. History has become so muddled that we will likely never separate truth from fiction. In 1990 the President of the country, Gulam Ishaq Khan, dismissed the Bhutto government via an overtly rigged election.
After her successor was also given the boot due to corruption Bhutto was elected Prime Minister yet again in 1993. This time she threw herself behind economic privatization and the expansion of women’s rights, earning a whole new slate of political enemies in the process. After the murder of her brother and a failed coup attempt, the President dismissed her a second time. She subsequently accepted voluntary exile in Dubai and continued to influence the government via proxies.
In 2007 with the support of the United States she returned to Pakistan intent on running for Prime Minister yet again in 2008. Central planks in her platform emphasized civilian oversight of the military and opposition to Islamist violence. Despite powerful public support, a 15-year-old suicide bomber cut her down at age 54.
The Killing of Benazir Bhutto
Bhutto had already survived one assassination attempt via suicide bomber two months prior to her death. This attack took place immediately upon her return to Pakistan. As she left the airport her security detail formed a human chain to keep assassins at bay. The resulting suicide bombers claimed between 139 and 180 lives, including fifty of Bhutto’s security detail. There are conflicting reports of the ultimate death toll. Bhutto herself escaped unscathed.
Bhutto had repeatedly decried her lack of effective security.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf held her in no great esteem, and rumors swirled regarding sundry plots and lethal schemes. However, none of these dark portents was sufficient to dissuade her from campaigning in public.
She had reached out to the UN, the CIA, and the Mossad, as well as to the private security firms Blackwater and ArmorGroup for assistance. Her security on the day of her death was both local and inadequate.
Bhutto had just completed a political rally in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and was traveling exposed and upright in the open sunroof of her armored Toyota Land Cruiser.
One or more assassins attacked her vehicle from a range of about three meters, initiating the assault with several quick pistol shots. Bhutto fell back into the vehicle, and a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest.
It has never been conclusively determined if the bomber was also the shooter or if there were multiple assassins. The bomber’s head was found on the roof of a nearby building.
The result in a tightly packed crowd was unfiltered carnage. Twenty-four people died. Bhutto was rushed to the nearby Rawalpindi General Hospital. In a bizarre quirk of fate, the physician trying vainly to save her life was the son of the surgeon who had attempted the same feat on Liaquat Ali Khan more than half a century before.
Liaquat Ali Khan was a former Pakistani Prime Minister who was assassinated in the same place and taken to the same hospital in 1951.
The cover-up was both immediate and effective. Bhutto’s body was quickly buried without an autopsy, and Pakistani investigators secured a mere twenty-three pieces of evidence before thoroughly hosing down the crime scene. Rumors abounded concerning a coordinated sniper attack, and the specific cause of death is widely disputed to this day. The official line was that Bhutto was unharmed by the assassin’s handgun but died from a depressed skull fracture. She purportedly incurred this injury when she struck a component of the vehicle at the moment of detonation. However, eyewitnesses attested to a bloody gunshot wound before the bomb went off. The government seized all the medical records.
Video accounts are ambiguous, and physical evidence is intentionally scant.
The details are important. In this backwards culture, death by firearm is apparently adequate to attain martyr status, while supposedly being brained by a sunroof lever is not. Additionally, accusations have swirled implicating everyone from President Musharraf down to the local police force in the killing. Ultimate blame was officially placed upon Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. While these two organizations were certainly awash in proper villains, the vast majority of those implicated died in drone strikes for other reasons. That trail has gone cold.
There was a 7.62x25mm Norinco Type 54 pistol recovered from the scene. Type 54 was a Chinese copy of the Soviet TT33 Tokarev service pistol. Type 54 was a common Pakistani police sidearm, and Pakistan had no shortage of illegal arms venues.
The TT33 was originally designed by Fedor Tokarev in 1930 and clearly drew inspiration from John Browning’s FN Model 1903 pistol.
The gun included a novel removable hammer/sear module that could be replaced at the user level. This module incorporated machined magazine feed lips that would help keep the gun running reliably should the magazine become damaged. The original pistol had no manual safety.
The TT33 first saw Chinese service as the Type 51, a hybrid firearm containing parts of both Russian and Chinese origins. Type 54 was an entirely Chinese weapon. The Type 54-1 and later Model 213 were essentially identical except that they included a manual external safety catch. The Model 213 is still in production in both 7.62x25mm and 9mm Parabellum chamberings, though it is currently restricted from importation into the United States. The Type 54 has been found in hotspots around the globe and was a popular weapon among the Yakuza, Japan’s infamous organized crime cabal. Some Pakistani-made versions included a burst fire function.
The Chicom Type 54 is not a terribly comfortable firearm. The thin grip combined with its spunky chambering makes recoil snappy. The near-90-degree grip-to-frame angle is awkward compared to more modern offerings.
The Fedor Tokarev-designed single action trigger is nice and crisp, however, at least on my Vietnam vet bring back example. The lack of a manual safety means the gun must be carried with an empty chamber or the hammer must be manually retracted prior to firing. Neither option lends itself to fast tactical employment.
Magazines drop free cleanly, and the thin-architecture makes the gun eminently concealable. By all accounts, the weapon was exceptionally reliable in action. The energetic bottlenecked cartridge was well advanced for its time. Many modern antipersonnel handgun rounds aspire to its performance even today.
The murder of Benazir Bhutto has been rightfully described as Pakistan’s JFK assassination.
Ex-President Pervez Musharraf was indicted in 2013 for his involvement, and he remains an expatriate fugitive today. Most of the Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects are dead as a result of their other nefarious pursuits. International terrorism doesn’t offer a particularly robust retirement plan. Two Pakistani Law Enforcement officers are currently imprisoned for their roles, both convicted for mishandling the crime scene.
Benazir Bhutto packed her government with friends and relatives and was indeed quite likely guilty of graft. However, she was an undeniably committed reformer in a world where reformers seldom lived very long. In the gory death of Benazir Bhutto, we see personified the chaos that is politics in the modern Muslim world.
Chicom Type 54
|Barrel Length||4.6 inches|
|Action||Short Recoil Single Action|
|Feed System||8-Round Detachable Box Magazine|
|Sights||Fixed Front Blade and Rear Notch|
was born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, having been immersed in hunting and the outdoors since his earliest recollections. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mississippi and is the product of a traditional American nuclear family. Where most normal American kids get drunk to celebrate their 21st birthday, Will bought his first two machineguns.
Will served eight years as an Army Aviator and accumulated more than 1,100 flight hours piloting CH47D, UH1H, OH58A/C, and AH1S helicopters. He is scuba qualified, has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning, and has summited Mt. McKinley, Alaska–the highest point in North America–six times (at the controls of a helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains).
For reasons that seemed sagacious at the time he ultimately left the Army as a Major to pursue medical school. Dr. Dabbs has for the last dozen years owned the Urgent Care Clinic of Oxford, Mississippi.
He also serves as the plant physician for the sprawling Winchester ammunition plant in that same delightful little Southern town. Will is a founding partner of Advanced Tactical Ordnance LLC, a licensed 07/02 firearms manufacturer and has written for the gun press for a quarter century.
He writes solely to support a shooting habit that is as insensate as it is insatiable. Will has been married to his high school sweetheart for more than thirty years and has taught his Young Married Sunday School class for more than a decade.
He and his wife currently have three adult children and a most thoroughly worthless farm dog named Dog.