Friday, October 19, 2007

In Pakistan, a spectacle turns to gore

Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming was designed to be a spectacle, a show of strength. The former prime minister boasted to an Indian television channel, NDTV, before her departure to Pakistan that she would meet with a groundswell of popular support in her country.

In organizing a spectacle of this scale, with over 200,000 people accompanying her motorcade from the airport in Karachi, Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) however took tremendous risks.

A crowd of that size was sure to be unmanageable, and a huge security risk -- a point not missed by the suicide bombers who attacked her convoy killing more than 125, and injuring more than 150.

The recrimination has now begun. Bhutto’s supporters say that the government did not provide adequate security to the procession. There are also dark hints that the Pakistani police and intelligence may have been involved in the attack.

Much is also being made of the radicalization of Pakistan, of the proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism. These arguments will surely buttress President Pervez Musharraf’s bid to stay in power, and will also ensure that Ms. Bhutto, regarded as pro-West by sections of the US and European media, will be regarded as the best hope of the US and the West to lead a transition to a democratic, pro-Western government in Pakistan.

That a bunch of terrorists were able to attack Bhutto’s procession is not an indication of widespread support for Islamic terrorists in Pakistan. It may be just that Bhutto’s temptation to make an impact on her first day in Pakistan created a security risk, an opportunity for the terrorists to fulfill their murderous mission.

It is difficult to put the blame at this point on the security provided by the government. When there are over 200,000 people shouting and yelling and jumping around in jubilation , management of these crowds can be a nightmare for security forces, and it is easy for a terrorist to infiltrate the crowds. At a press conference on Friday, Bhutto said she had been warned of terrorist attacks, with very specific information.

In a cynical sort of a way the terrorists have made a “martyr” of sorts of Bhutto, while embarrassing Musharraf.

This is not to say that radical Islam is not getting popular in Pakistan. It will in fact get worse, if a transition to democracy does not happen soon enough. If the US insists on maneuvering a pro-West government in Pakistan, over the heads of Bhutto’s opponents like Nawaz Sharif, it risks once again antagonizing large sections of Pakistanis. The US has to realize that it does not need pro-West government to fight Islamic fundamentalism. It needs democratically elected governments.

Related article:

Can Musharraf ride the tigress ?

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