By Farooq Sulehria
First things first: the attack on Benazir Bhutto in Karachi on
her return from her second exile proves yet again that the presence
of US forces in a region, be it in the name of weapons of
mass destruction or war on terror, destabilises
That Benazir Bhutto was the target of the suicide bombers is
true but not the whole truth. Her return was not the cause of
the attack. It was rather effect. An effect of the US-led war
on terror. By targeting Benazir Bhutto, Taliban gave a warning
to the USA and her allies.
WARNING TO USA ON HER WAR ON TERROR
Choreographed by the US, Benazirs return was full-of-twists-and-turns
Fundamentalists saw her return to Pakistan as a US-sponsored act
similar to the arrival, in Kabul, of Northern Alliance in 2001.
Hence, notorious Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud had vowed
to kill her. Her offence, in Mehsuds view was: 1) her support
for military attack on Red Mosque (soon after Red Mosque operation,
a suicide attack on Benazirs supporters at a rally left
13 dead), 2) her statement that she would allow incursions by
US forces into Pakistan in pursuit of bin Laden; 3)- her promise
to West that she would allow the IAEA to question Dr Khan, a leading
nuclear scientist, accused of passing nuclear technology to Iran.
Another Taliban commander, Haji Omar, told BBC: Benazir
is coming to Pakistan on the US dictation in order to launch operation
against holy warriors. Like Musharraf, she will also be a target
of our attacks
That Benazirs return was a US-sponsored act is beyond doubt.
General Musharraf has publicly confessed to the US hand in negotiating
Benazirs homecoming. It all started when. General Musharraf
was plunged into an abyss of unpopularity following a mass movement
that took hold of Pakistan in summer this year. His bloody handling
of now world-famous Red Mosque in federal capital Islamabad further
snatched carpet from under his feet. Taliban and pro-Taliban forces
in Pakistan retaliated, in the wake of Red Mosque saga, with suicide
attacks on military installation on almost daily basis. For few
weeks, Taliban ruled the roost in Pakistan. The military seemed
helpless while an extremely unpopular Musharraf was unable to
control either war on terror or the country itself.
As usual, White House stepped in. Musharraf was dragged to cohabitation
with Benazir whom Musharraf had declared a corrupt politician
not to be allowed to return as long as he was in power. The US
plan was to a Benazir seated on Musharrafs shoulder in order
to use Benazirs mass social base to minimise ever-big anti-US
sentiments in Pakistan while using Musharrafs military might
to curb Taliban who have completely taken over the Tribal Areas
and certain districts bordering Afghanistan (where Sharia
laws have turned the region to Taliban-era Kabul: girls education
banned and men ordered to grow beard plus public hangings for
US spies, adulterers etc).
The day Benazir arrived, a British minster, Lord Malloch-Brown,
dashed to Pakistan to discuss a future pro-Western government
in Islamabad. The day before, the British Deputy High Commissioner
in Karachi, Hamish Daniel, called on Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad
to ensure that Bhutto's homecoming was accorded full protocol.
Ironically, it was the same Benazir Bhutto barred from addressing
EU institutions owing to corruption cases against her. But then
whats new in it. Western governments have long pampered
shady characters in their attempts to organise the globe to their
Washington and its allies hope to have a pro-Western government,
with Musharraf as president and Benazir as prime minister, after
parliamentary elections in January next year. The plan was put
in action early October with the promulgation of a National Reconciliation
Ordinance. Under the ordinance, all charges against current and
former lawmakers who have been accused of corruption (Benazir
most prominent among them) were dropped. In return, Benazir helped
Musharraf to get re-elected as president. In Pakistan, president
is elected by national and provincial parliaments.
UNPOPULAR DEAL BUT BIG RECEPTION
Though the Benazir-Musharraf deal was universally unpopular in
Pakistan (according to polls, she lost popularity in October compared
to May this year), yet she was received by an unprecedently big
crowd in Karachi. There are many explanations for this big crowd
that generated a lot of media frenzy both locally and globally:
Heros welcome, screamed CNN. Benazir togs
emot som en drottning, (Benazir gets a queens welcome)
commented Swedish tv (SvT). An otherwise Benazir-hostile electronic
media in Pakistan, baffled by the mass reception she received
at Karachi airport, went into rapture over the scale of mass mobilisation.
Comparisons were made with million-man reception she got in Lahore
on her return from exile in 1986. One million received me
in 1986. Two million today, claimed Benazir herself on a
Pakistani tv channel as she left the Karachi airport. Reuters,
however, thought quarter of a million turned up while AP put the
number at hundred thousand.
Her second homecoming, however, was no comparison to 1986. On
her arrival in Lahore back then, she recited and immortalised
a poem published in Jeddojuhd (now a weekly ), a small left monthly:
Main Baghi hoon, Main baghi hoon (I am the rebel.
I am the rebel). In response, million-man crowd was chanting:
Benazir aai hej, Inqlab lai hej. (Benazir has returned
with revolution). Her return had electrified Pakistan in 1986.
Optimism reined supreme unless she came to power and disillusioned
toiling millions with her pro-US, neo-liberal and anti-working
class policies coupled with corruption. Her husband, Asif Ali
Zardari, soon became notorious as Mr Ten Percent in Pakistan since
he was supposedly taking ten percent as bribes for all the governmental
financial contracts. She was removed from power in 1990 under
military pressure but returned to power in 1993. Her second stint
in power was even frustrating. Mr Ten Percent now had become Mr
Centpercent. In 1997 general elections, her PPP met an ignominious
defeat. Across Pakistan, PPP won 19 parliamentary seats in a house
of 250. However, in 2002 general elections, PPP emerged as largest
party while Benazir was still abroad in exile. The PPP vote bank
returned to Benazir since PPP voters refused to vote either for
the Islamist alliance MMA or pro-military faction of Muslim League.
Formed in 1967, PPP has a history of fighting military dictatorships.
Its workers offered heroic sacrifices particularly during 1980s
when General Zia was ruling Pakistan with an iron fist. Though
Benazir had welcomed the imposition of martial law by Musharraf
in 1999, thinking she would be invited by General Musharraf to
share power, yet she was forced to oppose Musharraf regime later
on since Musharraf rather shared power with her rivals. During
all these years, her popularity remained fluctuating. Her support
to US war in Iraq and Afghanistan was widely condemned in Pakistan.
Her US-friendly policies are in contrast with her father and PPP
founder, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto remains an icon for his anti-US foreign
policy as prime minister of Pakistan (1972-77). A CIA-backed military
coup removed him from power and he was hanged in 1979. His death
became a martyrdom and he nearly achieved the status of a saint-cum-politician
after his hanging in Pakistan, particularly in his home province
Bhuttos saintly-iconic status also was the one reason that
crowd gathered in its hundreds of thousands on October 18. Benazir
knew that she would be able to draw big crowd in Sindh hence she
landed Karachi, capital of Sindh province as well as countrys
largest city. Support for Benazir in Sindh also reflects the acute
national question in Pakistan. Since Punjab, largest province
that also constitutes 70 percent of the all-dominating powerful
military, is seen by smaller provinces as a usurper.
Also, secular minded, PPP workers of late had felt isolated as
only religious right grew in last five years. These politics-hungry
PPP workers reached to receive Benazir Bhutto to end their isolation
imposed by a combination of mullah-military collaboration. As
usual, money played a big role too. A big chunk was also bussed
in from across Pakistan. It was a three-billion-rupees (1
US dollar=60 Rupees) reception, reported countrys
largest Urdu-daily Jang. Still, on her arrival, PPP workers half-heartedly
chanted Go Musharraf Go, to express their harmless
disapproval of the deal.
The attacks on rally have shocked Pakistan. This suicidal attack
is seen as a warning note to all the democratic forces and an
attack on civil liberties, right of association and assembly.
An attempt is to terrify people struggling to get rid of militarism
and religious fundamentalism. While Benazir has blamed Islamists
(giving a clean chit to Musharraf) in the military intelligence
(ISI). Fact of the matter is, roots of evil suicidal mission that
hit her Karachi rally lie elsewhere.
It is US and NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq that are generating
frustration and anger. Bombing of Red Mosque, July this year,
and increasing US bombings of the Tribal Areas of Pakistan (likely
hide-out of bin Laden, according to media reports) where hundreds
have lost their lives has resulted in a great anger among the
youth. Many of those have opted to go for suicidal attacks to
avenge. Suicidal attacks are a miscalculation of the religious
fundamentalism who see suicidal attacks as the only way to teach
the imperialists a lesson. Imperialist forces and their Pakistani
collaborators (whether Benazir or Musharraf) will not be silenced
by these suicidal attacks. On the contrary, more repressive laws
and restrictions on civil liberties will be imposed on ordinary
citizens of Pakistan. Rallies have already been banned in Punjab
province on the pretext of law and order following Karachi episode.
Meantime, on October 24, Benazir announced not to organise rallies
anymore even during her election campaigns. Repression will further
weaken the progressive forces and civil society while fundamentalists
will fed on the resulting frustration leading to more suicidal
CHICKENS HAVE COME HOME TO ROOST
The Karachi incidence is yet another saga where apprentice turns
against sorcerer. True, the father of Taliban is Pakistan military.
But Benazir Bhutto played the midwife if not the mother in conceiving
and delivering Taliban.
Taliban, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, were launched, pampered,
patronised, financed and armed by Pakistan military. And it was
during Benazir Bhuttos second term in office that Taliban
were launched in Kabul. She, to this day, defends her policy of
dispatching Taliban to Kabul. Benazirs the then Interior
Minister Naseerullah Babur used to call Taliban as his boys.
Not to forget that all this was done with US and Saudi blessing.
.The apprentice, the Taliban, went out of control in a gradual
process. as the relationship between the religious fundamentalists
in Pakistan and Pakistan military changed under US pressure in
the wake of September 11.