Shaikh reported violent demonstrations in Larkana, some 250 miles from Karachi, a shock for an area that hasn't seen the kind of turmoil plaguing Pakistan's western regions near the Afghan border. "The whole city is burning like other parts of the province," he says. "Before this incident, Sindh had been relatively calm as compared to North West Frontier Province (NWFP), and Balochistan, where anti-Pakistan and anti-Army sentiments are running high. But after this incident, I am afraid the situation will be very much like NWFP, and Balochistan, where the Army is so far unable to control the situation," Shaikh said.
The nationalist movement in Sindh, thought to be supported by India, surged after the hanging of Bhutto's father and continued throughout the eleven years of Zia's military dictatorship from 1977 to 1988, a time when Zia was a close U.S. ally in arming Islamic radicals against Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan. The separatist movement was almost extinguished after the democracy was restored, and Benazir Bhutto became the country's prime minister in 1988.
In interviews and speeches, Bhutto said she was aware of the risks of returning to Pakistan but added that she felt a responsibility to try to help restore democracy and provide better governance for Pakistan. She narrowly escaped a suicide bomber's attack on Oct. 18, 2007, when she faced countless thousands of supporters in Karachi on her return from a self-imposed exile. Some 150 people were killed and 500 injured in that attack. She complained afterwards that Pakistani authorities had not provided adequate security.
"I have been writing this since October last that if Benazir Bhutto had died, nobody could stop the separation of Sindh from Pakistan," says Abbas Athar, a senior columnist with the Daily Express, one of Pakistan's most widely circulated newspapers. "It will further foment the anti-Punjab sentiments in Sindh."
Now complicating matters is the fact that she was killed while on a campaign stop in the Punjab province city of Rawalpindi, which adjoins the capital of Islamabad. Further, her main political rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who also recently returned from exile to rally supporters in the parliamentary elections, comes from Punjab. Sharif, who was ousted in Musharraf's 1999 coup, said his party now will boycott the elections.
The head of the six-party Islamic religious alliance in Parliament, Jammat-e-Islami Chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad, called for a nationwide day of mourning on Friday. "This is a highly condemnable act of terrorism perpetrated by the enemies of Islam and Pakistan," he said. "This is the act of those elements, who do not want peace and tranquility in the country."
He added that Bhutto's assassination is an attempt to plunge the country into a chaos. "This is a testing time for the entire nation. This is not the murder of Ms. Bhutto, but this is murder of democracy."