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Pakistan’s darkest hour

The spectre of extremism has taken away the leader of the only real political party in the country, reports Amit Baruah.

world Updated: Dec 28, 2007 02:09 IST
Amit Baruah

The foot soldiers of Pakistan's state-spawned Bhindranwales have snuffed out the life of Benazir Bhutto. The spectre of extremism, haunting Pakistan since it began the jihad against the Soviet Union in 1980, has taken away the leader of the only real political party in the country.

Long used to directing the Bhindranwales to Afghanistan and Kashmir, Pakistan's formidable military establishment seems helpless in dealing with the jihadis operating with impunity against their own people across the country.

Make no mistake. Pakistan has plunged into one of its gravest crises ever. The aftermath of Benazir's assassination in Rawalpindi is about survival of the state, not point-scoring.

There is an organic link between the bomb blasts that have become a part of daily life in Rawalpindi, Karachi, Kabul or Kandahar.

Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba are all one. Their faces differ, but they act as one.

Ask President Pervez Musharraf. He narrowly escaped the jihadis, many of them from within the Pakistani Air Force, who twice attacked his convoy in December 2003. He survived by the skin of his teeth. Benazir didn't.

Musharraf was the army chief, Benazir wasn't. She was the leader of a political party that had been out of power since 1997 and was making a desperate bid to ensure that the Pakistan People's Party would once again rule from Islamabad.

All the signs of her killing were there. On October 19, 139 people were killed in Karachi as a victory procession went through the streets of Sindh's capital to welcome Benazir.

But she continued to campaign, showing political courage where a lesser leader would have chosen to stay indoors.

Far from turning Pakistan away from the politics of Islamist extremism, General Musharraf's policies of "enlightened moderation", a case of one step forward two steps back, have firmly entrenched the jihadis in the country's politics.

Yes, Musharraf arrested many Al Qaeda men at the behest of the US after 9/11. But his men didn't have their hearts in the job. They didn't believe in it.

Today is not the day to play the blame game. Pakistan's establishment knows what it did in the past: whom it enticed into planting bombs and hurling rhetoric. The cancer of extremism is now in its malignant phase.

No Jimmy Carter, no George W. Bush can bail Pakistan out of this one. It's not about money or handouts. It's a battle for the country itself, of the safety and security of the ordinary people of Pakistan, their near and dear ones and, yes, of the rich and famous: the politicians and the generals.

Benazir was more dangerous to the jihadis than Musharraf. She was a political leader who could fight the battle of ideas, who could tell people why the jihadis were not their friends. That's why she had to be killed.

It's possible that the days ahead will be full of disaster and turmoil for Pakistan. The meaningless elections of January 8 may be cancelled; the army may again say that it needs more powers to maintain law and order and state stability. But more of the same is not going to help.

Sometimes clichés say it all. This is a battle for the survival for Pakistan as a nation. Not for a few generals or feudals, but for the people at large.

The jihadis want Pakistan to be an Islamic emirate, with an Amir-ul-Momineen: the leader of the faithful. Benazir Bhutto was everything that the Islamists stood against.

She has paid the ultimate price. Will her sacrifice be in vain?