Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, Pakistan Wailing and beating their chests, tens of thousands of people paid homage to Benazir Bhutto on Saturday on the one-year anniversary of her assassination — an event that dashed U.S. hopes the moderate Muslim politician would regain power and galvanize the campaign against al-Qaida.
The commemoration came amid heightened tensions with India over the Mumbai terror attacks and a Pakistani troop buildup along their shared border, though Pakistan’s leaders used the occasion to call for peace.
“We don’t want to fight, we don’t want to have war, we don’t want to have aggression with our neighbors,” Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a televised speech.
Tensions rose between the nuclear-armed neighbors after Delhi blamed Pakistani militants for last month’s three-day rampage in India’s financial capital and edged higher Friday with Pakistani intelligence officials saying the army had deployed troops toward the Indian border.
India’s foreign minister urged Pakistan to focus on fighting homegrown militant violence and avoid “war hysteria.”
“I appeal to Pakistan and Pakistani leaders, do not unnecessarily try to create tension,” Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency. “Do not try to deflect the issue. A problem has to be tackled face to face.”
Mukherjee has accused Pakistan before of trying to divert attention away from what many analysts say is a halfhearted attempt to rein in homegrown militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attacks.
Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, did not mention the troop movement in a speech honoring his wife, but insisted Pakistan was battling the “cancer” of terrorism.
“We ourselves have accepted that we have a cancer. Yes, we will cure it,” said Zardari. “They (terrorists) are forcing their agenda on us.”
Zardari took over the party after Bhutto’s death and was elected president in September, vowing to maintain her legacy and return the country to democracy after almost 10 years of military dictatorship.
“We will take Pakistan forward following the path of our martyr Benazir Bhutto,” Zardari told a gathering of party activists and her family close to the mausoleum.
Many of Bhutto’s mourners had walked for hundreds of miles (kilometers) in the bitter Pakistani winter to her family mausoleum, where they jostled for the opportunity to kiss her grave or toss rose petals.
“We have an unconditional attachment and love for Benazir,” said Nazir Ali, a 35-year-old donkey cart driver who had hiked for 15 days. “I am tired, but will keep trying to get into the mausoleum to have a glimpse of her tomb.”
Bhutto was killed in a gun-and-suicide bomb attack on Dec. 27, 2007, as she was leaving a campaign rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, just outside the capital of Islamabad.
She was campaigning to return her Pakistan People’s Party to power in parliamentary elections — a scenario supported by the United States and other Western governments, who liked her mass appeal among the country’s 160 million people as well as her secular credentials.
Despite her legions of admirers in the West — where she studied and spent years in exile — some at home alleged her two previous terms as prime minister were tainted by corruption and general misrule.
Zardari said his late wife “gave voice to the voiceless, strength to the weak and motivation to the people to strive for a goal higher than life.”
Many mourners were angry no one has been punished for the murder. “We are ashamed that your killers are alive!” they shouted.
The government of then-President Pervez Musharraf blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant commander with reported links to al-Qaida. A Mehsud spokesman has denied any involvement.
The United States also said Islamic extremists carried out the attack.
Two Pakistani intelligence officials said Friday that elements of the army’s 14th Infantry Division were being redeployed from the militant hotspot of Waziristan to towns close to the Indian border.