'Victim' Bhutto 'invited suicide attack'
By Peter Lloyd | South-East Asia correspondent | October 23, 2007
Politics in Pakistan can literally be a question of life and death.
Just hours after former prime minister Benazir Bhutto arrived back in the country last Friday morning after eight years in exile, she was the target of a suicide bomb attack.
Ms Bhutto survived, but the blast - blamed on Islamic extremists - killed 165 people around her and injured a further 500.
The 15-kilogram device packed with thousands of ball bearings cut down hundreds of bystanders. Even by the bloody standards of Pakistan, it was unprecedented carnage.
Now doctors and surgeons in Karachi's hospitals are treating some of the horrifically-wounded survivors.
Fifteen-year-old Sajjad is one of the youngest victims of Friday's bombing. A ball bearing is lodged in his spine. Neurosurgeon Haroon ur Rasheed says he does not expect him to walk again.
"He is quadriplegic. He's not even having movement of the hands," he confirmed.
Dr Rasheed is treating the most seriously injured. Walking through intensive care, where most of the patients are bomb victims, he stops beside the bed of a man whose skull was shattered by flying debris.
"In the long-term, if he survives he will remain in a vegetative state, like just opening his eyes and moving his limbs. If he survives, God bless him, if he survives."
The presumed target, Ms Bhutto, escaped injury but not criticism. The former prime minister had been told that four suicide bomb cells were in Karachi and planning to mount an attack. Police urged her to scrap the street parade and take a lower profile journey from the airport. But she insisted it go ahead.
"The attack was on what I represent. It was an attack on democracy," she said.
"I know that some people will think it was naive, but I think it was the right decision, because as I said, if you fight for something you believe in, a cause you believe in, you have to be ready to pay the price."
Ghinwa Bhutto is the estranged sister-in-law of Ms Bhutto, who she blames for her husband's murder 11 years ago.
"I think she has invited trouble herself," she says.
"She has always thrived on this victimisation complex. She always loves to be the victim and whatever happens to anybody, at the end she is a victim."
Bhutto family feuds are often likened to farce or soap opera, but what Ghinwa Bhutto says echoes a common criticism of Ms Bhutto's decision to carry on with the parade. Critics say she has a feudal atttitude to her followers, which saw her travelling in a bullet-proof vehicle while they thronged the streets - an easy target for terrorist attack.
Politics in Pakistan is about passion and devotion. Rowdy devotees demand to be up close and personal with leaders, and leaders like Ms Bhutto like to oblige. Protecting them is a law and order nightmare.
"Preventing a suicide attack, that is the most difficult thing for any law enforcement agency, Pakistani or anyone in the world," Azhar Farooqi, Karachi's police chief, says.
"We can do so much, nothing beyond, and especially the only thing one can do is to isolate the target and to minimise the exposure.
"If we were to carry our security exclusively, and there were no political compulsions, we would isolate her, isolate her from people, or people who are not security cleared."
He says it would be "very difficult" to ensure Ms Bhutto's safety on the streets of Karachi.
"There are two opposing things - the threat from a suicide attack and politics as it goes in Pakistan. Because in the Western world, politicking normally goes through the media, through electronic media, but in our country it is one-on-one contact with the people. So, it's very difficult."
Suicide bombings have increased dramatically in Pakistan since the September 11 attacks in the US. Assassins have been trying to kill President Pervez Musharraf for lining up against the United States against militancy. Ms Bhutto has the same enemies.
"We believe democracy alone can save Pakistan from disintegration and a militant takeover, then we are prepared to risk our lives and we are prepared to risk our liberty," she says.
"But we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants."
Her estranged sister-in-law, Ghinwa Bhutto, says Ms Bhutto could be inviting attack.
"Those people whom she threatened she's going to attack, are going to attack pre-emptively," she warns.
Is she saying Ms Bhutto is a legitimate target for terrorists?
"I disagree with suicide bombing, but I don't condemn it. Because I understand why they do it, because they don't have a forum to speak. Yes, I think she has made herself a legitimate target for those people."
It's a view that will surely offend, but in Pakistan, logic is no match against people prepared to kill for a cause.