We were all in a festive mood. We thought that political activity would restart with the arrival of Benazir Bhutto.
Lekin sab ummide khatam ho gayi.
These twin blasts are a signal to review the American-British cobbled alliance within Pakistan. It is also a challenge to civil society, which is still in making, to unite to fight religious extremists. Moderates of Pakistan will have to stop internal quarrels to fight terrorism. Benazir Bhutto's husband Zaradari has blamed the Inter Services Intelligence for the blasts and Benazir has blamed Intelligence Bureau, but the bigger issue should not be diverted. As we know, religious extremist elements are having a grouse against America since 9/11 and since Americans invaded Afghanistan. In addition, from 1979 to 2001 it was Pakistan's State policy to support religious fundamentalist elements. Now, it is high time for the moderates to unite.
After these bomb blasts, although the elections will be on schedule but the colours of the coming Pakistan election will be subdued. Now, you may not see processions during the campaigns.
Yesterday, Pakistan People's Party workers and supporters were out on the streets. Karachi was celebrating Bhutto's homecoming. She arrived at the Karachi airport at 1.40 pm, completed formalities and started her procession at 3 pm. She said at the airport that she has arrived with the message of reconciliation.
There were security threats to her and her procession. More than 20,000 security personnel and police officers were present in the city.
Benazir herself was given security by her own people. Her security arrangement was carefully planned with the help of the Karachi police. Rehman Malik, former deputy director general of the Federal Investigation Agency was handling her security. Malik was also in exile all these years with her.
Benazir had supported the attack on Lal Masjid, she had said she will hand over Dr A Q Khan to the Americans, she had also said that if she won the elections and found that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan she will allow Americans to target him inside Pakistan. All these utterances invited threats. Federally Administered Tribal Areas is currently facing serious troubles where security installations are being attacked by suicide bombers. Threats against Benazir had come from FATA. The militant group led by Baitullah Mahsood had said they are targeting Benazir. FATA is having a violent reaction against the US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. In view of the serious threats the Musharraf administration requested her to delay her arrival back home but she didn't agree.
Rather, she covered the short distance from airport to Karsaz bridge in nine hours to reach Mohammad Ali Jinnah's tomb. Imagine, at 12.30 am, midnight!, she was still two hours away from the tomb where she was to give her first public speech. In Pakistan leaders take pride in showing how they covered a distance of five hours in a day due to the crowds. This is our culture!
Our estimate is that five lakh people were on the streets to greet Benazir. The PPP claims three million people came to celebrate her arrival.
At 12.30 am, Benazir was inside her bulletproof car and was preparing her speech when the twin blasts shook her up.
Our reporters claim that a suicide bomber hit the police vehicle. The second blast could be through a vehicle stuffed with bombs. However, it is not verified, yet.
After nine hours police officers were tired and a little relaxed. They were not as alert as in the daytime. One side of the bridge has navy offices and the other side has a museum of the Pakistan Air Force. More than 25 police officers have died. Total of 140 deaths, a large number of people belong to the PPP. A camera operator of Ary TV is also among the dead.
Many commentators have alleged that the Indian consulate near the Afghanistan border is helping fighters in FATA but generally the Pakistani public is not blaming India for the current problems of Pakistan.
I believe Benazir may get sympathy within her party and supporters but there is a wave against her for siding with America, too. The anti-American public is asking her what was the need to carry on her procession for so long in spite of serious threats. Why did she waste so much time? Why she put people at risk, to prove a point? How many families have become destitute? For proving her own popularity, she risked people's lives.
Lakhs of people were walking on the streets along with her convoy but still, militants had the nerve to strike and they actually did.
We moderates know this is a strong message to the Americans that extremist elements in Pakistan can strike wherever they want, whenever they want.
Mahmood Sham, Group Editor of Jung, Karachi, spoke to Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt