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Joyous karachi shellshocked

The city limped back to normalcy on Friday, but tension was palpable in many areas, reports Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Oct 20, 2007 03:20 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

The city limped back to normalcy on Friday, but tension was palpable in many areas. There were reports of stone pelting and minor violence in some localities.

Banks, offices, shops and public areas re-opened, but traffic was thin and many chose to stay indoors. “We fear some sort of backlash and want to keep out of any trouble,” said one city resident.

Banners welcoming Benazir Bhutto remained on many city streets but all the jubilation of Thursday when she landed in the city had vanished, replaced by a sense of utter gloom. “This is terribly depressing. The return of democracy has been hijacked,” said Muhmmad Saeed, a city resident who had waited at the Mazhar of the Quaid (Mohammed Ali Jinnah) to listen to Benazir address a public gathering.

The blame game has begun in full earnest. Leaders of Bhutto's Pakistan People’s Party ( PPP) leaders blamed the government for a major security lapse. The government blamed the PPP cadres for breaching security and amassing such large crowds.

Rehman Malik, a close personal aide of Benazir’s, said the bomb jammers promised to them by the government were not given. Another PPP leader and former army officer, Naseerullah Babar said that it was a pre-planned attack. “The manner in which the blasts occurred one

after the other and from different positions showed that it

was very well planned attack,” he said.

Fauzia Wahab, a local PPP MP, charged that there was official complicity in the whole affair. Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's husband, has claimed that Pakistan's intelligence agencies may have had a hand in the attack. Officials, however, discount this possibility.

President Musharraf has termed the blasts a national tragedy. Both he and opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif telephoned Bhutto to offer their support.

Many have pointed the finger at extremist elements across the border in Afghanistan. Brigadier Mohtaram, the province's home secretary, told a press conference on Friday that there was enough evidence to conclude that it was a suicide attack.

Benazir said in a statement that she suspected extremist elements once close to Pakistan's former military strongman, General Zia Ul Haq, were behind the blasts.

Hundreds of Karachi residents lined up at hospitals to donate blood to those among the wounded who needed it. All of Pakistan has been shaken by the magnitude of the attack. Attacks were expected, and all manner of security arrangements were made - yet the worst attack in Pakistan's recent history was carried out with impunity. Karachi police chief said 18 policemen had died in the blasts, but he was helpless when such large crowds were involved. “We did our best. Sometimes that is not good enough,” he commented.

“The attack has brought Bhutto closer to General Musharraf,” said Syed Jawaid Iqbal, political analyst.