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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 45

Triumph and Tragedy in Karachi


Wednesday 31 October 2007, by SC


While developments within the country, including the curious fate of the Indo-US nuclear deal (which thankfully will be analysed in detail in Parliament’s winter session unlike what happened in the last session when such a debate was thwarted due to the thoughtless stonewalling by the principal Opposition party), continue to hog the headlines the Karachi attack on Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade on her triumphal return to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile remains at the centre of public attention even after a week has elapsed since that horrendous incident which took a toll of 139 lives (according to the official estimate though the unofficial death-toll is much higher) leaving over 500 injured, some of them crippled for life.

The Karachi explosions are doubtless a grim reminder of the distance the country has traversed since 1986 when Benazir’s return to Pakistan after her father’s execution saw all sections of the people (including those without any political affiliation) coming out in large numbers to greet her. She was then identified with her father; hence the slogan—“Bhutto hum sharminda hain, tere kaatil zinda hai” (Bhutto, we are ashamed that the one who murdered you continues to live)—rent the air at that time. This time round she has been given a rousing reception no doubt but there is a difference—her return to the country has been accompanied by her deal with Musharraf, the military dictator; even if one rationalises this as a compulsion on her part since without this her return to Pakistan would have been next to impossible, such a deal, brokered by the world’s most powerful state, smacks of a kind of opportu-nism which many in Pakistan (not only the anti-West jihadis) cannot countenance. And in spite of this ‘compulsion’ or ‘opportunism’ from Benazir’s side if around 250,000 people reportedly came out in the streets to greet her it is only because they saw in her a personality capable of delivering them from a military dictatorship and firmly guiding them towards a civilian democratic dispensation.

But the most glaring contrast of her present homecoming with her returning 1986 lies in the change in the Pakistani polity, with the rise of religious extremism of the Al-Qaeda-Taliban type. Which is why her triumphal return turned into a real tragedy for so many people, a large number of whom were her ardent supporters and followers.

The triumph and tragedy of October 18 bring out one aspect of the current Pakistani scenario which has been brilliantly captured by Murtaza Razvi in his column in Dawn.

The past few days’ events in Karachi should serve to remind the Army that while democratic public participa-tion brings joy and hope to the people, growing extremism and bad governance that have defined the system tailor made under military’s tutelage only bring death and destruction. The pragmatic, new beginning made by reaching out to Bhutto should be allowed to take its course rather than be stomped and the country taken back to 1999, if not even further back in time. The current system has failed to arrest the growth of extremism because the pseudo-democratic process put in place is not up to the job.

The words once again highlight the urgency of transition to democracy in military-ruled Pakistan for democracy alone can be the best means to fight extremist terrorism and religious extremism (provided governance is given due weightage). It is thus essential for Benazir to join hands with all other democratic elements and forces, notably the PML-N led by Nawaz Sharif and its associates, to ensure this smooth transition. But while doing so her excessive reliance on the West, that is, primarily Washington, could become a liability for her (unless she is able to shake it off in due course).
One should be able to clearly comprehend the meaning, essence and dynamics of democratic upsurge in contemporary South Asia.

October 25 S.C.

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