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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 region.

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.

Choreographed by the US, Benazir’s return was full-of-twists-and-turns affair.
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 Mehsud’s view was: 1) her support for military attack on Red Mosque (soon after Red Mosque operation, a suicide attack on Benazir’s 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 Benazir’s return was a US-sponsored act is beyond doubt. General Musharraf has publicly confessed to the US hand in negotiating Benazir’s 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 Musharraf’s shoulder in order to use Benazir’s mass social base to minimise ever-big anti-US sentiments in Pakistan while using Musharraf’s 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 what’s new in it. Western governments have long pampered shady characters in their attempts to organise the globe to their liking.

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.

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: ‘Hero’s welcome’, screamed CNN. ‘Benazir togs emot som en drottning’, (Benazir gets a queen’s 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 of Sindh.

Bhutto’s 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 country’s 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 country’s 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 attacks.

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 Bhutto’s second term in office that Taliban were launched in Kabul. She, to this day, defends her policy of dispatching Taliban to Kabul. Benazir’s 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.

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