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Karsaz Tragedy and memories of Benazir Bhutto

Its been a long time since I started gathering the pieces of puzzle that Pakistan’s politics appeared to be, with little success though. And the reason is very simple; there is no such puzzle. Pakistan’s politics can best be described by the cliché of 3 As – Allah, Army and America. And it remains unchanged till today.  Do whatever you like, make whatever efforts you possibly can, build whatever movements you may conceive, raise whatever slogans you cherish; 3 As theory maintains its relevance.

Storm that was raised circa 2010 AD deserves special mention here; as time has proved today that that storm had been actually stirred in some teacups of cozy and well decorated offices and drawing rooms in and around Islamabad. Later on, in the same teacups that storm had been promoted as Tsunami. But after it failed to cause required havoc it was all set to be sent back to where it actually belonged, the teacups. There is little room for doubt that some rigging was meted out to the storm as well. What kind of rigging? Well, of many kinds; some of which you would have learnt by heart by now; but there is also of a special kind that you would probably have missed i.e. rigging of information technology. In 1990, the conspiracy that General Aslam Baig and Nawaz Sharif hatched to deprive a young vulnerable Benazir Bhutto of her public mandate could not see the light of the day for 20 long years. If someone knew about it, he did not dare talk, and if someone dared talk about that, his voice was muted by strict censorship. But this time round, the revolution of “change” got exposed almost immediately, not only that, the exposure is also spilling over to the public through TV, newspapers and, the most important of all – the social media.  Its not that whole conspiracy has been uncovered, but it can be hoped that it will not take 20 years to get to know which “Mehran Bank” came handy in 2010. There must have been some, and there are already some rumors in the air. The day of 18 October, 2007 made its way into the long list of black days in the history of Pakistan’s politics as on that day Benazir Bhutto was targeted by a devastating attack in Karsaz, Karachi where she had landed on her return from 8 years of self-exile. That was the day when people of Pakistan gave her such a rousing reception that it immediately rang alarm bells in the concerned quarters.  Benazir was hit within hours. She escaped by hair’s breadth but 139 innocent citizens lost lives and 450 got injured. Every Pakistani’s eyes were wet but, it seems, some people don’t have in their chests what we ordinary folks call a heart. Benazir was attracting huge crowds and that had to be stopped. All tactics of fear failed to work with her, so she had to be killed before elections. Within two months of the first attack, far more brutal and organized attack was in waiting. Only a miracle could have saved her as two lawyer arrangements, may be ever more, were ensured this time. First she was forced to stop only to be shot in the head; then a terrible blast followed in case she survived the shots.

Pakistan’s hitherto history has not recorded any other example of a political leader who, through a genuine democratic process, rose from ashes to rule the hearts of millions. Corruption charges on her and the NRO deal are some failings, which were and remain indefensible; but the way she did politics in Pakistan really set an example. We often hear a lot of noise on rigging these days but those who cry wolf don’t have clean hands either. For an outside observer, in current scenario, the real challenge is to decide who did more rigging. But what rigging Benazir Bhutto was subjected to for long thirty years of her political career, that can best be described as “continuous rigging”. She was a real daring leader, who would look into the eyes of not one but two callous military dictators; an honor not shared by any other head of a political party. She had another distinction, which made her credentials superior to all other top leaders, including her own father; she had never been into the lap of any military dictator. She was of a tender age when General Zia ruled the roost after assassinating her father through handpicked judiciary. He had played his cards right by successfully faking himself as a “soldier of Islam” more than willing to fight the war of America; hence concentrating all 3 As in his own self. Then was unleashed an era of state oppression against workers of People’s Party and all other left-leaning groups; so much so that many western countries had to open their gates for Pakistani refugees who managed to escape his ruthless victimization. Young Benazir chose to pick up the gauntlet thrown to her by General Zia. Incidentally, it was the same time-period when Nawaz Sharif was hell bent to curry favour with General Zia by using all means – fair or unfair. Starting from that time till her tragic assassination in 2007, Benazir was kept out of real power by virtue of rigging. People would vote her to power but power found itself to be in someone else’s hand. If she somehow reached Prime Minister house, likes of General Aslam Baig and General Hameed Gul would set themselves to work until she was thrown out again. She did not give in until Pervaiz Musharraf usurped power and did everything at his disposal to keep her out of country hence politics.  She was completely pushed to the wall. Something from inside would also have been at work to break her when she was lobbying for return to power at Washington and London and facing trial in Swiss courts on corruption charges. She made a deal with Pervaiz Musharraf, the NRO. She had collapsed. Only to gather herself together again in 2007 when she found herself locking horns with the dictator one more time. We often hear these days a subtly crafted piece of propaganda that the PPP, which many military dictators could not destroy, has been done away with by Asif Zardari. The truth remains that Asif Zardari has only observed the final rituals of the PPP, the blame of destroying the PPP, however, rests with the same quarters that murdered Benazir Bhutto. What is unfolding before our eyes is a slow death of a vibrant political party having had its support base all over the country. It will have to be a miracle if the PPP could manage to keep its head above water this time for three reasons: one, crisis of leadership; two, dismal track record of corruption and bad governance and three, establishment which still stands firm on its feet. But the gift that the PPP is leaving behind is the bright prospect of inspiring new forces to follow her suit in her democratic struggle against military dictators with exemplary valor and steadfastness. And this is not an ordinary gift!

Adnan Randhawa

The writer is a lawyer and a former diplomat based in Islamabad.

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