Gulf News October 24, 2007
The tragedy that marred Benazir Bhutto’s trium-phant return to Pakistan brought home several truths that have either been played down or simply ignored over the past several years.
The first is that terrorism is a threat to Pakistan and Pakistanis and not merely a response to the foreign policy of a distant superpower.
Too many Pakistanis have convinced themselves that the war against terrorism is America’s war and any harm faced by Pakistan as its consequence is the result of Pakistan’s decision to join the US in this war.
But Pakistan has faced terrorism, first in the form of sectarian killings and later in the shape of orchestrated bombings ever since its security services got involved in proxy wars in Afghanis-tan and Kashmir since the 1980s.
Pakistan needs to fight terrorism for the sake of its own people and not just because the US is willing to provide large amounts of economic and military aid for fighting terrorists.
Those who punish men for not growing a beard and behead human beings like animals because their understanding of religion does not coincide with that of the extremists will not stop even if Pakistan distances itself from the Washington.
The second lesson of the unfortunate terrorist attacks on the Pakistan Peoples Party’s rally is that Bhutto is a courageous woman who cannot and will not be deterred easily either by threats of terrorists or machinations of those who have consistently conspired against her.
Even after the attacks, Bhutto did neither change her stance against terror nor did she back away from her demand for restoration of democracy and free and fair elections.
It is true that it is difficult for Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf to believe charges of complicity or tolerance of mass murder against some close friends and associates. But it is equally true that the victim’s concerns must not be ignored.
Allaying Bhutto’s fears, resulting from almost two decades of being hounded by the establishment, is crucial if terrorism is to be defeated through a combination of popular support and law enforcement authority.
The third lesson of October 18 is that the popularity of Bhutto and the PPP remain undiminished. Before Bhutto’s return, the conventional wisdom offered by many pundits and some politicians was that “Benazir Bhutto is now seen as pro-American and pro-Musharraf”.
But neither these suggestions nor the charges of corruption and misrule that have been repeated over the past 19 years seemed to carry much weight with the millions enthused about Bhutto’s return.
The US (or for that matter the Pakistani establishment) could not have put the massive crowd that turned up to welcome her in the streets. The spirit of the PPP’s workers, which remained undiminished even after the terrorist attack, is impossible to orchestrate.
Manipulated elections are easy when alternative means of gauging public support do not exist, which explains the desire of the King’s Party (the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid) to ban public rallies and popular manifestations of political support altogether.
Why did so many members of Pakistan’s intelligentsia fail to predict that Bhutto’s return from exile would generate an enthusiasm similar to the PPP’s shows of popular support in the past?
One explanation might lie in the fact that over the years two Pakistans have evolved, with very different understandings and certainly divergent priorities.
One Pakistan consists of the middle and upper classes, estimated by one former World Bank economist to number 30 million or so, who think in the terms that have shaped the Pakistani political discourse of the last few months.
The other Pakistan, estimated to number 130 million, comprises the poor and the dispossessed who still consider the PPP their party.
Well-to-do Pakistan has gone hoarse condemning Bhutto for her failings in and out of power and most recently for negotiating with Musharraf. But the masses seem unaffected by these arguments.