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Sound of silence echoes in Lahore

Has the martyred Benazir Bhutto already led her Pakistan Peoples Party to victory in the elections? Vinod Sharma examines.

world Updated: Dec 31, 2007 03:22 IST
Vinod Sharma

Has the martyred Benazir Bhutto already led her Pakistan Peoples Party to victory in the elections? From the mass empathy, the sense of shock and palpable anger against the former Premier’s rivals in the establishment, it seems the people have already delivered their verdict.

A deafening silence envelops this otherwise throbbing political nerve-centre of Pakistan. Petrol pumps are shut, roads near empty and the Punjabis genuinely devastated by Benazir’s dastardly murder on a Rawalpindi street on December 27.

“I’ve never seen Lahore mourn anybody with such overwhelming sorrow,” remarked Liaquat Ali, a cabbie who drove me down from the airport. It was grief that’s keeping people indoors, not fear, he insisted.

Indeed, never before has Pakistan been so united in grief, not even when General Zia-ul-Haq shocked the world by hanging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979.

At that time, some of his opponents in the now defunct Pakistan National Alliance had distributed sweets; the National Awami Party’s Khan Abdul Wali Khan ruefully calling him a snake whose head needed to be crushed: “Saamp paon taley aaya hai, iska sar kuchal do.”

Nearly three decades later, Wali Khan’s son Asfandayar was among the mourners at Larkana. Even if to partake of the torrent of sympathy, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif became the first top leader of the Pakistan Muslim League to visit ZAB’s grave, next to which his illustrious daughter was laid to rest on Saturday.

The enormity of the challenge Benazir’s removal from the scene could pose to the integrity of her country came across in a slogan that wasn’t as meaningful in her lifetime as it is in her death: “Charon subon ki zanzeer, Benazir, Benazir.”

Perhaps for this reason, her children, including Bilawal, the PPP’s new chairperson, have decided to adopt the Bhutto name.

The zanzeer bit left many sobbing at a condolence meeting at Lahore’s Bilawal House. In overhead banners, the portraits of ZAB, Benazir and Shahnawaz with that of Murtaza — who fell to a police bullet during Benazir’s second regime — were proof of another cemented bond.

Murtaza’s wife Ghinwa had floated her own political outfit after his death. But her presence and that of her children — Fatima and Zulfikar junior — at Benazir’s burial is widely viewed as a precursor to a family reunion.