“This latest tragedy is likely to reinforce beliefs that Pakistan is a dangerous, messy place and potentially very unstable and fragile and that they need to cling to Musharraf even more than they did in the past,” said Daniel Markey, who left the State Department this year and is now a senior fellow at the private Council on Foreign Relations. Amid the political chaos and uncertainty roiling the country in the wake of Bhutto’s slaying, U.S. officials scrambled Thursday to understand the implications for the massive aid and counterterrorism programs that have been criticized by lawmakers, especially as al-Qaida and Taliban extremists appear resurgent along the Pakistan-Afghan border. Underscoring the concerns, a grim President Bush interrupted his vacation to condemn Bhutto’s slaying, demanding that those responsible be brought to justice and calling on Pakistanis to continue to press for democracy. “We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life,” Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch, before speaking briefly to Musharraf by phone. “The United States does not have a great deal of leverage where Pakistan is concerned,” said Wendy Sherman, who served as counselor to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Other analysts warned that Bhutto’s assassination might further damage Musharraf, whose democratic credentials have been seriously tarnished by growing authoritarianism, and have led to widespread unrest. “Legitimacy for Musharraf will be deferred if not impossible,” said Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation. “The U.S. likely does not have a plan for this contingency as Musharraf remains a critical ally and because Bhutto’s participation was hoped to confer legitimacy to the upcoming January elections.” Bhutto, who served twice as Pakistan’s prime minister between 1988 and 1996, was mortally wounded Thursday in a suicide attack that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. She had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18 when her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker. The attempt on her life added to U.S. concerns about the country that had already been heightened by the situation in Pakistan, largely ungoverned frontier provinces where a truce between Musharraf’s government and tribal leaders is credited with helping extremists regroup and reorganize. In addition, Musharraf’s declaration of emergency this fall, along with a clampdown on opposition figures and judges, irritated the administration, which was criticized in Congress for lax oversight of the nearly $10 billion in U.S. that poured into the country since he became an indispensable counterterrorism ally after 9-11. Under heavy U.S. pressure, Musharraf resigned as army chief and earlier this month lifted emergency rule to prepare for the elections. Bhutto’s ability to run for parliament had been a cornerstone of Bush’s policy in Pakistan. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! WASHINGTON – The assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has dealt a severe blow to U.S. efforts to restore stability and democracy in a turbulent, nuclear-armed Islamic nation that has been a critical ally in the war on terror. Bhutto died Thursday when an attacker shot her and then blew himself up as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi. It was the second suicide attack against her since her tumultuous homecoming from an eight-year exile in October. And enraged crowds rioted across the country after the assassination. The other key opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif – whose government was ousted in the 1999 coup that brought Musharraf to power – quickly announced he was boycotting the parliamentary elections, which are meant to usher Pakistan toward civilian government after years of military dominance. While not entirely dependent on Bhutto, recent Bush administration policy on Pakistan had focused heavily on promoting reconciliation between the secular opposition leader who has been dogged by corruption allegations and Pakistan’s increasingly unpopular president, Pervez Musharraf, ahead of parliamentary elections set for January. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan ClarksonIn Washington and Islamabad, U.S. diplomats urged that Jan. 8 elections should not be postponed and strongly advised against a reimposition of emergency rule that Musharraf had lifted just weeks ago. FBI and Homeland Security officials sent a bulletin late Thursday to U.S. law enforcement agencies citing Islamist Web sites as saying al-Qaida had claimed responsibility for the attack and that the group’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, had planned it. The intelligence community is using all of its resources to determine who was behind the Bhutto assassination, Director of National Intelligence spokesman Ross Feinstein said. The United States has poured billions of dollars in financial assistance into Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001, when Musharraf made a calculated decision to align his government with Washington in going after al-Qaida and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. That move is blamed for several unsuccessful assassination attempts on him. But it was not clear, however, what if any influence Washington might have or whether Bhutto’s death would drive the United States into a deeper embrace of Musharraf, whom some believe offers the best chance for Pakistani stability despite his democratic shortcomings.