Thursday, October 18, 2007
Special Editorial - Blasts, Blitzkrieg, and BB
[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Lefteris Pitarakis]
Is Benazir Bhutto’s second return as hopeful as her first?
Amidst blasts that killed more than 100 of her supporters, Pakistan’s former and (perhaps) future Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, returned home to Bilawal House at Karachi's Clifton. This ended an 8-year-long self-imposed exile in Dubai and London. The attack on Ms. Bhutto's convoy proved it was sensible of her to leave the three children behind. But assassination threats by terrorists did not deter thousands of working-class supporters, of Sindh and other provinces, from flocking to the city avenues. The wealthy were glued to their television.
It was a tender picture. Wearing green shalwar kameez and white dupatta, Ms. Bhutto had tears as she emerged out of the Emirates aircraft. This woman, of course, has been fortunate. Belonging to a great feudal family, she was the eldest child of the country’s most dynamic politician. Father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto groomed her as a successor to his legacy. Educated in Radcliffe and Oxford, she became the Muslim world’s first democratically-elected woman Prime Minister. She was twice elected to that post.
Yet there is much to be pitied about Ms. Bhutto. Father was hung by the noose. Brother Shanawaz died in suspicious circumstances in France. Second brother, Murtaza, was killed in a mysterious gunfight in Clifton. Husband Asif Ali Zardari spent 8 years in prison. She herself wasted about 5 years in solitary confinement during General Zia’s regime. Meanwhile her life remains in danger.
No wonder Ms. Bhutto excites sympathy even from her critics. She has seen too many bad times; has made too many sacrifices. She deserves all the adulation she has been greeted with. As eager crowd besieged the streets to welcome their leader, she reminded the romantic heydays of 1986. (That is till the blasts marred her triumphant procession.) That was also the year of her Return but a very different one. Then back from exile in London, she would crisscross the nation in a steel grey Pajero jeep raising slogans of General Zia jawe, jawe, jawe. Today she has power sharing agreement with the General. That year she was Ms. Clean. This year she comes tainted with corruption scandals.
Yet, we are not pessimistic about Ms. Bhutto, the country’s truly popular leader. If she creates a smooth working relationship with General Pervez Musharraf, restrain the entrepreneurial instincts of her husband, strengthen the ‘moderate middle’, rein in religious fundamentalism, limit America’s influence, phase out the army’s extracurricular hobbies, and somehow manages to stay alive, we feel this can as well be one of those defining moments for Pakistan. Once again.