One point that seems to have been overlooked by most commentators on Karachi’s horrific carnage is the size of the blast was unprecedented for Pakistan. Yes, suicide bombers are now unfortunately no longer a new-fangled phenomenon in our country, but one who comes packed with enough explosives to kill 140 people and injure over 400 people suggests Baghdad and not Karachi.
I accept that the crowded conditions of Benazir Bhutto’s rally meant larger casualties but nevertheless the number of dead and injured points to an abnormal increase in explosive power and sophistication.
Talking to some senior journalists I came across an uncharacteristic consensus of ideas. According to them, whenever an extreme and unexpected event, such as this, takes place, the logical question to ask is: Who benefits?
Pakistani electoral politics has always been a game of numbers. Outside our ‘chattering’ drawing rooms, massive crowds have always mattered, as the game is all about perception. The party that draws the most crowds is commonly perceived to be the winner and gets the lion’s share of the votes. The general voting public obviously likes backing winners.
So should the number of people gathered for Benazir Bhutto on Drigh Road (and all the way to the Quaid’s Mazar) have come as a surprise to anyone?
Those who had been monitoring the scene – which include even amateurs such as your Blogger – knew at least a week in advance that buses had been organised from just about every city, town and village in Sindh. Hundreds of more busloads were expected from southern Punjab and more than simply a few from distant NWFP as well.
Fact tell us - even after taking into account the police arrests and other barefaced attempts by the regime of political suppression - that the PML (Nawaz)only managed to muster some 5,000 people in Islamabad on the day of Nawaz Sharif’s arrival. As a result of this political fiasco the PML(N) leadership have had their political wind knocked out of them. The 'crowd failure' has also sent them to a period of media oblivion.
One should also recall that on 12 May even when the regime went into overdrive to produce ‘a sea of people’ for Musharraf’s rally at Islamabad, it could only assemble 35,000 that had been bussed from the much more populous province of Punjab. Even the MQM rally held that same afternoon in Karachi numbered, according to BBC World Service, no more than 25,000 to 30,000 people.
Even days before Benazir Bhutto’s arrival your Blogger expected at least some 200,000 people to turn up for the event. By that evening an impartial journalist suggested to your Blogger that if one roughly counted the buses and people, ranging from the airport terminal to the Mazar, the number was probably higher, perhaps somewhere in the region of 300,000 to 400,000.
Whether one loathes, detests, loves or simply tolerates the PPP leader, by 9 pm on the night of 18th October, the display of people power on the streets of Karachi confirmed that Benazir Bhutto had managed to completely disrupt the existing political equation.
But that was three hours before the scene of street carnage and destruction.
In the aftermath of the devestating bomb it is now almost certain that the electoral process has effectively been derailed.
Pakistani elections are all about rallies and meetings. The bigger and better the rally meant that rivals had to match them or else prepare themselves for electoral oblivion.
Now the chances of mammoth political rallies seem quite remote. Commonsense dictates that many people will now become averse to risking their lives just to see their political leaders in action. Why should anyone – excepting die-hard PPP jiyalas – attend a future Benazir rally knowing full well that there was more than a good chance of another bomb exploding?
So the answer to the question raised by the journalists about ‘who benefits?’ is not all that difficult to find. With the PML(N) playing defensively on a ‘Jeddah’ back foot and the agency-led Fazal Rehman causing implosions in the MMA, the derailment of PPP election campaign by the bomb is certainly fortuitous for Islamabad. But that doesn’t logically mean that the regime itself orchestrated the bombing. It is inconceivable to accept that any government would deliberately instigate the deaths of hundreds to prolong its stay in power.
However, if Benazir Bhutto’s accusations prove to be accurate then it means that there may be some people who have benefited – financially, ideologically or both - from the existing state of affairs and remain dead set against any political change. Obviously, if these people did exist, then they would have to have the wherewithal to recruit and assist jehadi ‘nutters’ to do the needful. If such turns out to be the case, then the finger could be pointed in only one direction.
Of course it always possible that it was the Jihadis themselves who were responsible. Nevertheless, there will always be those who will have to convinced that a Mahsud from remote tribal Waziristan would possess the sophistication and skill – with or without the help of Al Qaeda – to travel undiscovered to Karachi and merge with the throngs of PPP supporters and carry out such a deadly mission on his own (or just with the help of a few of his tribal colleagues).