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Remembering Bhutto one year on

By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Islamabad

Benazir Bhutto (image from 2005)
Benazir Bhutto was killed on 27 December last year

The exit to the parade ground where Benazir Bhutto delivered her final speech has been transformed.

Workmen are putting the finishing touches to a small shrine marking the place where she was killed, elevating her to an almost saint-like status.

Posters plaster the walls, recordings of historic speeches boom from a speaker, hundreds of photographs are stacked on tables set up on the pavement.

Seasoned party worker Safdar Abbasi is remembering his leader's last words, in an election campaign she never finished.

Very soon the Bhutto name may start to disappear if the party fails to deliver this time
Zaffar Abbas
Dawn newspaper editor

"I think she was pretty charged that day and the speech that she gave, it was probably one of her finest speeches in recent memory," he says. "She took the crowd along."

Getty Images photographer John Moore recalls her last moments.

"I guess I was 20m [yds] ahead of the car, and I heard three shots fired," he says.

"As she moved down through the sunroof, I raised my camera. And just as I took the first photograph is when the blast occurred and there was complete chaos.

"People running, there was debris flying through the air, pieces of the vehicle, pieces of rubbish, pieces of human beings, all in the air."

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's most internationally recognised politician, shocked the country and the world, and devastated her supporters.

But what has been the political impact of her death?

Uncertain times

On one level, it has been huge: her Pakistan People's Party came first in the general election, bolstered by a sympathy vote. For the first time in more than a decade, it formed a national government.

A Bhutto commemorative coin issued by the State Bank of Pakistan
Pakistan has issued a commemorative coin to mark the aniversary

Five months later, former military leader Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign as president. He had made a deal to share power with Benazir Bhutto. Without her, it fell apart.

"I think one person who really must have regretted deeply at a very personal and political level her passing away was Mr Musharraf, because he lost his job," says Senator Mushahid Hussain, a member of the party that supported the now retired general.

Mr Musharraf was replaced by Ms Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari. Dogged by a reputation for sleaze, Mr Zardari has rocketed to the most powerful civilian position in the country.

But one year on, his government is no more popular than Mr Musharraf's, and the problems it faces are worse: an Islamist insurgency threatening to spiral out of control, an economy in meltdown and dangerous tensions with India.

These uncertain times have compounded the sense of loss represented by Benazir Bhutto's death.

"All of us are missing her physical presence," says Safdar Abbasi.

"I think just her physical presence would have mattered a lot. And today without her, even though the PPP is in the government, there's a big vacuum that has been created, and this vacuum, I don't know what our present leadership has in mind to fill it."

'Different stature'

The present leadership is seen by many to be unable to cope with the multiple crises facing the country.

A man is overcome with emotion in Rawalpindi soon after the attack which killed Benazir Bhutto on 27 December 2007
Bhutto died in a gun and bomb attack which killed some 20 other people

Would Benazir Bhutto have done better? Her track record in power was mixed at best. But she was a politician and leader of a different stature than her husband, according to Mr Hussain.

"Benazir had more experience, more knowledge of the workings of the Pakistani power structure," he says.

"Mr Zardari has been out of Pakistan, he's been out of power and he has a very poor team. It's basically his personal friends, buddies and cronies, most of whom were out of the power structure and who do not have government experience."

Zaffar Abbas, the Islamabad editor of the local Dawn newspaper, also decries government incompetence but, while acknowledging Mrs Bhutto's "capability, experience and style," he blames her "because she never encouraged people to come up and be groomed as politicians who could take the lead in running the affairs of the party.

"So what we see today is a bunch of mediocre people who are running the party."

Sorely missed

What then is the legacy that this iconic Pakistani politician leaves behind?

"I think it's the Bhutto legacy, which addresses the key problems of the people of Pakistan," says Mr Abbasi, who worked alongside her for 25 years.

"Madame Bhutto and her father [party founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto], their connection with the people of Pakistan was in trying to address these problems, and that has to carry through."

However, Mr Abbas believes any impact she had will be more transient.

"More than the legacy, more than the politics, more than the aims and objectives, it's the name which matters in South Asian politics," he says.

"Very soon the Bhutto name may start to disappear if the party fails to deliver this time."

For now, though, Benazir Bhutto is very much remembered in Pakistan - and sorely missed.

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