Benazir Bhutto’s first comments after the bomb attacks on her convoy in Karachi seemed geared at generating the kind of political consensus Pakistan direly needs to fight terrorism.
The PPP chairperson neither blamed the government, nor any of her political adversaries, terming the attack on her person as one against the entire political class. As the PPP is arguably the only party with a pan-Pakistan presence, she said the suicide bombing was at once an assault on the unity and integrity of Pakistan.
“We are the only party whose support cuts across ethnic, provincial, class and religious divides,” asserted Benazir at a press conference meant to reach her message of ‘unity against terror’ to the domestic and international audience.
In personally naming all those who showed empathy and condemned the bombings, she attempted to lay the basis, or so it appeared, of a broader front against terrorism.
On the long list of those who reached out to her after the dastardly incident were former Premier Nawaz Sharif, whom General Pervez Musharraf has forced to live in exile in Saudi Arabia and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain.
Benazir went out of the way, in fact, to dispel rumours that the MQM could have a role in Thursday’s incident that left nearly 150 dead and several hundred injured.
If taken forward with the intensity she betrayed on Friday, her efforts, even if unsuccessful at immediately forging an anti-terror platform, would reduce the element of bitterness, the deep rancour that has forever vitiated politics in Pakistan.
In the early 1990s, Benazir, then Leader of Opposition, wasn’t even on talking terms with Sharif, the PM.
In this backdrop, the attack could be a blessing in disguise for the PPP leader whose decision to cut a deal with Musharraf hadn’t gone down well with even a huge section of her hardcore supporters. The National Reconciliation Ordinance, the General signed to insulate her from graft charges, was a joke by virtue of its very nomenclature.
Benazir knows no genuine political reconciliation in Pakistan is possible without Sharif’s direct participation in elections. The country’s fight against terror — and her own image — will get a big boost if she is able to persuade Musharraf to get over his fear of a PPP-PML(N) rapprochement and allow the former Premier to return home.
As pointed out by senior Pakistani journalist Mariana Babbar in a BBC discussion, Benazir’s conciliatory approach could well become a casualty in the rough and tumble of electoral politics.
But the bloodletting in Karachi does offer her the opportunity of an image makeover. Derided lately as the daughter of the west for being on Musharraf’s side and that of the US, she has a chance to again become the East’s iconic daughter — who drew millions to Lahore on her return home in 1986 after a long exile.