Whose Bomb?

Indian Express , October 23, 2007

The tragedy that marred Benazir Bhutto’s triumphant return home reinforced several truths that have either been played down or simply ignored over the last several years. The first and foremost of these is the fact 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. 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 Afghanistan and Kashmir since the 1980s.

Even before the October 18 carnage in Karachi, 2007 had become the worst year for terrorist activity in Pakistan. More people have died in terrorist violence during the first ten months of this year than in preceding years. So far the number of reported fatalities for the year stands at 2037. The number of suicide bombings in Pakistan has been continually on the rise.

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, because extremists will not stop even if Pakistan distances itself from the Washington.

The second lesson of the unfortunate terrorist attacks on the PPP rally is that Bhutto is a brave and courageous woman who cannot and will not be deterred easily by either the threats of terrorists or the machinations of those who have consistently conspired against her. Even after the attacks, Bhutto did not change her stance against terror nor did she back away from her demand for restoration of democracy and free and fair elections. Bhutto’s suspicion that certain elements within Pakistan’s ruling establishment might be behind the bid to kill her should not be disregarded.

It is true that it is difficult for 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 Benazir Bhutto and the PPP remain undiminished by the political developments of the last two decades. The US (or for that matter the Pakistani establishment) could not have put the massive crowd that turned up to welcome Bhutto in the streets. The spirit of the PPP’s workers, which remained undiminished even after the terrorist attack, is impossible to orchestrate.

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.

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