There is a numbing déjà vu about the latest bloody attack in Pakistan in which a suicide bomber blew himself up killing 22 policemen and four civilians. So routine has this become that people now take it as par for the course. Not a day passes without a number of people losing their lives to terrorist outrages. President Pervez Musharraf must be living in cloud cuckooland if he thinks that this deadly cycle of violence will blow over. With the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the terrorists have got a shot in the arm and their attacks are likely to become more bold and lethal. To worsen matters, informed sources suggest that alarmed at the rise tide of fundamentalism, the US has offered help in the fractious province of Waziristan. Given the antipathy to America on the streets, any attempt to cosy up further to Washington would be disastrous for the beleaguered president.
Since Benazir’s killing, the once wily general seems to have played all his cards wrong. From issuing contradictory statements about the cause of her death to putting off elections, each step has taken Pakistan further down the slippery slope. As of now, he has promised to hold elections in February but he may well put them off again citing the deteriorating law and order situation. The real reason, as we all know, is that he fears defeat at the hands of a resurgent Pakistan People’s Party riding on the sympathy wave generated by Benazir’s death. Military dictatorship, whether under Musharraf or any other general, has not worked for Pakistan. There is no point waiting for the day when violence will abate and elections can be held. Though things appear bleak for Pakistan now, the people are yearning for democracy. It is only when civil society, which the terrorists are trying to decimate, is strengthened that peace will return. The army must now learn to take the backseat to a civilian government.
Elections will also expose the slender margins of support the fundamentalists have among people, as has happened in the past. As long as Musharraf hangs onto power, the fundamentalists will use his proximity with the US to justify their murderous campaign. After enduring all these blood-soaked years, the people of Pakistan deserve a chance at real democracy.