Today in Karachi, Pakistan, at midnight, a pair of suicide bomb attacks went off in ex-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's caravan. This is her first day back in Pakistan.
At the moment, the death-toll is 125 with almost 600 injured. The numbers of both are rising. Bhutto, along with top ranking members of Pakistan's People's Party, were all atop the truck that was hit, waving to supporters on the ground. The caravan was headed to the mausoleum of Pakistan's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Eyewitnesses on Pakistani TV are saying that immediately after the bombs they felt human flesh hitting them in the head.
In private correspondence with me, one Daily Times Pakistan columnist referred to the attacks as "Pakistan's 9/11." The reason for her reference has to do not necessarily with the death-toll but with the gravity of the attack. The area in Karachi where the bombs hit is called Karsaz. It is a high-end residential area, populated by the family of businessmen and other "old money." These people have significant pull in the country's politics and will naturally seek revenge. Geo TV, Pakistan's top private news-station captured the bomb blast on TV, and undoubtedly the image will be seared into the minds of the Pakistani public. The enormous death toll, the camera documented carnage, the media-storm that was already present at the caravan, will all make certain that these two bombs will echo long into the future of Pakistani public. They will most certainly affect the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Prior to her arrival, Bhutto had begun to receive information about attacks being planned against her. An editorial by Pakistan's Daily Times discussed the identity of the planners, specifically a Taliban leader named Abdullah Masood. The editorial links the militants in Waziristan (on the Afghanistan border), and "retired officers" from Pakistan's military who have an "ideological affinity" with the Taliban. Hussein Haqqani, from the conservative Hudon Institute, is reporting on BBC that prior to her arrival, Bhutto wrote a letter to Musharraf alerting him about the specific personalities - both inside and outside government -- that would likely threaten her. Bhutto herself thinks that Masood is a "pawn" working for her enemies in Pakistan's military.
One of the reasons Bhutto elicited these threats has mostly to do with the fact that she has said that she would allow a US strike inside Pakistan to eliminate Bin Laden. She said, specifically: "I would hope that I would be able to take Osama bin Laden myself without depending on the Americans. But if I couldn't do it, of course we [Pakistan and US] are fighting this war together and [I] would seek their co-operation in eliminating him." It should be kept in mind that Musharraf had completely refused the US to strike inside Pakistan, and in fact, Bush did not go into Pakistan because he did not want to upset Musharraf. So, Bhutto's position - of allowing the US in - is different from those of other political leaders in Pakistan. It makes her more of a target. Imran Khan, another one of Musharraf's opposition democratic leaders, and head of the Tehrik e Insaf Party which favors a welfare state in Pakistan, calls Bhutto a neo-con for her alliance with the US.
I have also been speaking to cynics in Pakistan who believe that Bhutto will - now that she has been lucky enough to survive - will be able to manipulate the attacks for political advantage. A Pakistani lawyer I spoke with believes that the attacks will allow Bhutto to minimize the history of her corruption and extra-judicial killing in her previous two terms as Prime Minister. There was an interesting analysis about Bhutto's return to Pakistan at the Guardian UK today, pointing out that Bhutto's return represents four years of back channel discussion involving the US, UK, and Musharraf. The columnist argued that Bhutto's return doesn't really represent the affirmation of democracy at all, and jihadists will be sure to point that out with their violence -- the analysis seems prophetic at this point.
Interestingly, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the man who was removed by General Musharraf and exiled to Saudi Arabia, pointed out on Pakistani TV that prior to the dictatorship in 1999, there was no such thing as suicide bombing inside Pakistan. While I do not have particular fondness for Sharif, he has a point. Though, it should also be considered that it was Pakistan's democratic leaders - Benazir in specific - who actually constructed the Taliban in 1996 (something she admits). Meanwhile, it was Sharif who served as the lap-dog of Islamist dictator Zia ul Haq in the 1980's and made alliances with Islamist parties. It was Sharif who caved to the fundamentalists in the late 90's and took the step of detonating the nuclear tests.
In both the short and long-term, my sense is that Pakistan is now on its way to a civil war, which will be focused on the Waziristan region. Already, Pakistan has had 90,000 soldiers deployed in the area. Those who oppose taking this step will be subjected to the media coverage of the two suicide attacks that is now available. Pakistan's 9/11.
There will be more discussion on my blog.
Meanwhile, on Pakistani TV, a commercial that shows a number of adorable children speaking out against terrorists -- one of whom is saying "Enough is enough!" -- is on repeat.