Remembering the victims of 18 October 2007: The gruesome attack on the mammoth reception of Banzair Bhutto by about a million supporters in Karachi

18 October 2007: A day when the enemies of Pakistan, the supporters of Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Sipah-e-Sahaba, when the remnants of General Zia-ul-Haq in the Pakistani society, the Hamid Guls and Aslam Begs and other beast like creatures conspired to attack and kill Benazir Bhutto. The Karsaz blast resulted in deaths of more than 150 supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party.


The bittersweet homecoming

By Razi Ahmed

EXACTLY a year ago, Emirates flight EK 606 landed at Karachi’s Jinnah Terminal after delays caused by the constant in-flight turbulence generated by giddy supporters celebrating the return of Benazir Bhutto after eight years in exile. Pleas by Bhutto’s comrades at the request of the pilot failed to placate the party spirit of her supporters aboard the plane.

Sobriety returned though as the former prime minister descended the stairs, reduced to tears of joy by the emotions surging within as she set foot on home soil as well as the heart-warming spectacle of the waiting crowd, including aviation authority personnel, chanting “Jeay Bhutto”. Actually my memory of this moment is based on the historic images I saw later because, wanting the crowd to thin out, I had chosen to stay back in the cabin as Bhutto exited the plane. The view from high up in the aircraft was a political classic — Bhutto’s trademark dupatta, her supporters behind her, the press corps next to her and another throng of supporters in front.

It was an extraordinary spectacle of immense symbolic value. It seemed that people’s power had returned to the fore determined to take on the forces of dictatorship, restore democracy to the country and its people, and crush the warped ideology of the likes of Baitullah Mehsud.

Making our way through the mayhem we soon found ourselves inside the immigration hall, wondering whether it was worth trekking up to the Mehran Lounge, where Benazir Bhutto had been ferried.

Conflicting reports of her whereabouts trickled back to us. To find out whether she had commenced her onward journey, we decided to reach the scene of action.

Unusually deserted streets leading out of Jinnah Terminal belied the tumult that lay ahead at Star Gate Avenue, and also suggested that the procession hadn’t started yet. October’s unbearable humidity did not dissuade tens of thousands of people — a total of three million according to the PPP — from paying homage to their beloved leader. Clearly, she was the embodiment of hope for the thousands present at the scene, and possibly also for millions across the land watching the television coverage of a truly momentous moment.

The composition of the crowd was varied and eclectic, with probably every ethnic group in Pakistan represented. Flag-bearing delegations representing minority communities were a reminder of the oft-forgotten reason for the white in our flag.

In short, men and women of all shades and stripes gathered to accord a rousing welcome to a leader they clearly respected and in whom they saw, realistically or otherwise, the ability to fix their socio-economic problems and, on a broader scale, their country’s.

It was not a day to engage in evaluations of her two terms in office or her real or imagined misdeeds; nothing could shift the focus away from the sense of wonder only this sort of mass rally could inspire. How often does the nation with its varied population, religions and subcultures coalesce around a political figure and a moderate, nation-building ideology? Rarely. Hence the events of the day occasioned joy for resident Pakistanis as well as the diaspora as they counterbalanced the ethnic divisions and bigotry eating away at the soul of the nation. Our collective unity in its finest diversity was there for the world to see.

Had the procession safely reached its destination, and the night its climax, perhaps things would have looked that way longer, the euphoria of the moment morphing into a larger campaign to rid the country of the depraved mindset of hate-mongers, suicide bombers and their brutal patrons.

All communities, serving as stakeholders, progressive street power at its zenith and an articulate, unwavering leadership forming the nucleus of a new Pakistan — that was the dream on display for the better part of that day.

The dancing and merriment, really a collective effervescence of sorts, proved to be short-lived as the killers sprang into action targeting an innocent and patriotic crowd, leaving close to 150 dead and scores others injured and maimed. Carnival was turned into carnage, as this paper put it the next day. It was the worst suicide attack in terms of death toll in the country’s short but horrifically bloody history of suicide missions. According to one estimate, nearly 120 suicide attacks have taken place since 2002.

One year down the road, despite the transition from dictatorship to democracy, little or nothing has changed; indeed the frequency of suicide bombings has increased and the hold of the obscurantists and merchants of death seems to have strengthened. No one seems to be able to come up with a sustainable formula for coexisting with or eliminating the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Worse, few mullahs and religious parties in our cities, towns and villages have condemned these reprehensible, unholy attacks that have left families in mourning and a nation in terror of the unknown.

Military operations against the militants have, at best, achieved only marginal success. Negotiations haven’t worked and deals reneged on have naturally collapsed. The politicians, meanwhile, continue to squabble instead of putting up a united front in the battle against militancy and terrorism. It is time for everyone to come together. And it is time for the silent majority to stir as it did on Oct 18, 2007, albeit ceremoniously, to make its position known. (Dawn)