A Note on the Return of Benazir Bhutto

22. Oct 2007

Stig Toft Madsen

October 22, 2007

The return of Benazir Bhutto was both marvelous and tragic. If the TV screen does not convey the full picture, one may read Christina Lamb’s eye-witness account in The Sunday Times on October 21st

“So, who did it?”, Lamb asks speculating that “Potential suspects include ethnic groups such as the MQM, the organisation that vies with the PPP for rule of Karachi, Taliban sympathisers and even old-guard politicians in deadly opposition to Bhutto.” One may add to the list Dawood Ibrahim, the smuggler wanted in connection with the 1992 Bombay blasts, whom Benazir Bhutto has reportedly threatened to hand over to India (B. Raman, Chronicles Of An Attack Foretold, Outlook, October 19, www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20071019&fname=benazir&sid=1). Benazir’s husband quickly named Brig. Ejaz Shah, the head of the Intelligence Bureau. According to intelligence analyst B. Raman, Shah’s men and the Sind police formed the outer ring around Benazir’s convoy. The fact that the suicides bomber(s) got so close to the vehicle indicates that something was amiss – as does the mysterious switching off of street lights, which, Lamb notes, has often accompanied murder in Karachi. On the other hand, the attack may simply have been carried by one or two men sent off from somewhere in Pakistan with a suicide belt and a grenade, a bit of money for the road, and the instruction to get as close as possible. Granted that the convoy was moving at a snail’s pace for hours on end, the security cordon was hardly impenetrable. In South Asia, people often grant the state the capacity to maintain peace and order at will. In reality, the state is less than omnipotent.

The attack on Benazir’s convoy was also an attack on a procession. Religious and political processions occupy public space, physically, visually and audibly (South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asia and in the Diaspora, Knut A Jacobsen (ed), Routledge, forthcoming). Benazir’s procession was a kind of pilgrimage to the tomb of the Father of the Nation. Music, dance and colorful displays accompanied the event. People from all walks of life were participating. Politically challenging, the procession also challenged the drab aesthetics of the Islam that allows no worship of life, or even of graves.

Thus, the attack on Benazir is part of the war against popular Islam that Islamists are waging in the Subcontinent. Earlier this month, a bomb exploded at the most venerated Muslim shrine in the Subcontinent, i.e. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine in Ajmer in Rajastan (“The war against popular Islam” by Praveen Swami in The Hindu Chishti is sometimes called Garib Nawaz, i.e. the Emperor of the Poor. The poor also participated in Benazir’s procession. They may get a chance to vote but they cannot themselves stand for election. The present election rules require that candidates hold a bachelor degree. When the dust clears, such undemocratic bottlenecks may come in for review.