Christian leaders expressed sadness at the news of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and worry about its effect on democracy and stability in the politically tumultuous country.
“The murder of [the] former Prime Minister is one of the most tragic events in the history of Pakistan,” said the Rev. Johan Candelin, executive director of World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission.
“After working together with Mrs. Bhutto for democracy for several years I can say that her importance for democracy and human rights in Pakistan can never be underestimated.”
Pro-democracy opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, 54, was fatally shot Thursday minutes after concluding an election speech to thousands of supporters in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. As she stood waving to supporters from the sunroof of her white Land Rover, she was shot in the neck and then again in the chest by a suicide bomber who then detonated himself killing at least 28 people at the rally, according to CNN.
Her death sparked violence in cities across Pakistan including the burning of banks, shops, and gas stations, according to Pakistani media.
Gospel for Asia, which has more than 16,500 missionaries working in India and the region, is worried about the effects of Bhutto’s death on the region.
“Our GFA leaders in India told me that this event is bringing a huge crisis to the Indian Subcontinent,” GFA president and founder Dr. K.P. Yohannan reported. “Local newspapers indicate that al-Qaeda terrorism may now become a factor in South Asia. Regardless of its origin, the stability of the entire region is being shaken.
“Pakistan is one of the largest Muslim countries and has nuclear weapons,” he added, “ So this event has repercussions throughout the world.”
Leaders of countries around the world have strongly condemned her murder including U.S. President George W. Bush, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, according to The Associated Press.
The U.N. Security Council also voted unanimously to condemn the killing.
Bhutto, the first woman prime minister in a Muslim nation, is said to have had a Catholic nun named Anna as a home teacher in Pakistan and as a result had great respect for the Christian faith and sought to protect all religious minorities, according to WEA’s Candelin.
“She told me several times that she wanted to work for Pakistan where a Jew could go to the synagogue, a Christian to the church and a Muslim to the mosque – all without any fear,” Candelin said. “She was fully aware of the risk she took when she went back to Pakistan, but said that democracy is worth risking one’s life for.”
In October, after eight years in exile, the former two-time prime minister of Pakistan narrowly escaped a suicide attack that killed more than 140 people duing her homecoming parade.
Bhutto’s murder on Thursday occurred only a week ahead of Pakistan’s general election on Jan. 8.
“In the history of Pakistan she will have a very important place beside her late father who also was killed for his work for democracy,” Candelin said.
Her body was buried in the family’s ancestral graveyard in Gari-Khuda Baksh in Sindh province on Friday.
“It is my prayer that through this terrible event, the people of Pakistan and India will realize the need for a greater reality,” GFA’s Yohannan said. “I ask all Christians to join with me in praying for the people of Pakistan, and that God will use this crisis to open the eyes of those who do not know Him.
“We pray for the peace of the entire region,” he added.