RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — Pakistan's paramilitary forces were on red alert Thursday following the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
The former prime minister was murdered by an attacker who shot her in the neck and chest after a campaign rally and then blew himself up. Her death stoked new chaos across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.
At least 20 others were also killed in the homicide bombing that immediately followed Bhutto's shooting.
Bhutto's supporters erupted in anger and grief after her killing, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and wailed, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf blamed Islamic extremists for Bhutto's death and said he would redouble his efforts to fight them.
"This is the work of those terrorists with whom we are engaged in war," he said in a nationally televised speech. "I have been saying that the nation faces the greatest threats from these terrorists. ... We will not rest until we eliminate these terrorists and root them out."
In the U.S., President Bush strongly condemned the attack "by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy."
Terrorism, which had been downplayed as an issue in the current presidential campaign, has once again come to the forefront and candidates are naturally scrambling to respond.
But the bigger concern is what's next for Pakistan. Do elections go forward as planned or does President Musharraf declare a state of emergency again and postpone the elections? Given the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear nation, their stability is of prime importance if there is to be any hope of peace in the Middle East.
Benazir Bhutto will be remembered for her courage as she returned to Pakistan knowing there was a very good chance that she would be assassinated. She was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice - her life - in order to give her country a chance to move towards a more stable democracy. It will be up to President Musharraf and the other leaders of Pakistan to determine whether Ms. Bhutto's dream will become a reality.