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Blasts confirm instability, polarization in Pakistan

  • Story Highlights
  • At least 124 dead following blasts in Karachi, Pakistan
  • Benazir Bhutto returned to country earlier in the day after eight years of exile
  • Bhutto was going to tomb of Jinnah, who led Pakistan to independence
  • Bhutto may have been targeted for being female and being pro-democracy
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(CNN) -- Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was nearing the tomb of Pakistan's founding father when blasts struck near her convoy in Karachi, Pakistan, killing at least 124 people.

Fire erupts from a car in front of the vehicle carrying former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who led Pakistan to independence and championed equal rights, stood for democracy and human rights.

That Bhutto chose to visit his grave was an important symbolic move, said Akbar Ahmed, former Pakistani ambassador to the United Kingdom.

"The fact that she went to to Mr. Jinnah's mausoleum would send a message to Pakistanis ... that Jinnah remains the symbol of all Pakistan," he said. "The fact that she selects Jinnah reemphasizes that she is taking a mainstream position in Pakistan politics."

She had planned to stop and pray at the tomb, then deliver a speech to her supporters. The streets were packed with people watching her motorcade pass.

Bhutto and those with her were not injured in the attacks, and her companions said she reached her family home safely. The windshield of the vehicle she was riding in was smashed by the blasts, CNN's Dan Rivers said, and a vehicle that was following hers was totally burned out. The scene, he said, was "absolutely horrendous," with blood literally running in streams down the street. Video Watch how Bhutto escaped uninjured »

The blasts confirmed fears of instability linked to her return, which came after she reached a controversial agreement with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that will allow her to seek re-election as prime minister. Many were bitterly opposed to that deal.

"This is what everyone feared," Rivers said.

Ahmed said Musharraf, who is waiting to see if the Supreme Court confirm his eligibility as president, will most likely take this opportunity to strengthen his position.

"He will say, 'I told you so, He will tell Washington I told you so. He will tell Benazir Bhutto I told you so. This is not the time for you to come back, stay out let me handle the administration, let me be the strong man,' " Ahmed said.

Bhutto, 54, returned to the country Thursday after eight years of self-imposed exile. Earlier this month, Musharraf's office announced he had signed a "reconciliation ordinance" that dropped outstanding corruption charges against Bhutto and a number of other politicians. See a timeline of Bhutto's life in politics »

Officials had warned Bhutto to delay her return because there were reports that some "extremist elements were bent on hurting her, because she was seen as coming with an American agenda," said Tariq Azim Khan, Pakistan's information minister.

It's unclear who was behind the blasts. Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party considers the incident an assassination attempt against her, officials said.

"The primary suspects, of course, are the al Qaeda-Taliban alliances because they have named her as a primary target. She stands for democracy, she stands for a pro-Western position in Pakistan politics and, of course, her gender," Ahmed said. "At the same time, don't forget there's a history of bad blood between her party and the intelligence services."

Bhutto told CNN just before returning to her homeland that she was aware of the risks and knew some people wished her harm, but "I'm prepared to take them."

She did, however, tell CNN on Wednesday that she wrote Musharraf a letter naming those she feared would make an attempt on her life.

Threats against her, she said, were made by "certain people who have gained a lot through dictatorship. They have presided over the rise of extremism, they have created safe havens in the tribal areas of Pakistan for the Taliban and other militants and they fear my return."


Bhutto, daughter of deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto -- served as prime minister from 1988 until 1990, when her government was dismissed amid corruption allegations that she denied. Her father, who founded the PPP, was executed in 1979.

Bhutto returned to power in 1993, but again her government was dismissed amid corruption allegations in 1996. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

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