NYT : Hospitals Full of Victims and Solidarity With Bhutto

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hospitals Full of Victims and Solidarity With Bhutto

By CARLOTTA GALL | October 21, 2007

KARACHI, Pakistan, Oct. 20 — The wards of the city’s hospitals on Saturday were still full of survivors of Thursday’s bomb blasts on Benazir Bhutto’s procession from the airport — 540 were wounded, according to the official count — and even in their hospital beds they were still wearing their party’s colors: red, black and green armbands, baseball caps and identity cards.

In Ward 17 of the Jinnah Postgraduate Hospital, where some of the volunteers who served as security guards around Ms. Bhutto’s truck were taken, the mood was one of solidarity and defiance. Local party officials toured the wards, visiting the wounded and offering assistance. At one point, a shout of “Bhutto” went up.

“We were ready to sacrifice everything for Bhutto,” said Abdur Rauf, 23, a student leader from Ms. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party who had shrapnel injuries to his legs. “Even if I get a call from her now, I would go.”

He and a number of the injured around him were Janisars-e-Benazir, literally those who would lay down their lives for Benazir. They were the volunteers wearing white T-shirts who formed a human shield around Ms. Bhutto’s truck as it pushed through the crowds in this port city on Thursday.

Each had his own description of what happened, and in the chaos of the explosions — which killed at least 134 — few had a clear picture of what caused the explosions. But overwhelmingly, they believed that the government was to blame for the attacks, and few blamed Al Qaeda or other Islamist militant groups.

“Why were the street lights turned off at that time?” Mr. Rauf said. “It indicates a conspiracy of the government.”

He added that the deputy leader of the party, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, had been calling members of the government to get more street lights turned on, but that it did not happen.

He also complained that even though Ms. Bhutto had warned that suicide bombers were planning an attack on her, the government had provided only six or seven police cars to flank her bus. She should have been given more than the level of security that is given to the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, he said.

“You saw us with the T-shirts,” he went on. “We were not letting anyone through the cordon. The police should also have been careful.”

Muhammad Bashir Ahmed, 48, a painter whose face and hair were burned in the second, larger explosion, said those responsible could not be Muslim. “It was someone very evil,” he said.

Asked who he thought was behind the attack, he said, “If I had known who did it, would I have left them alone?”

Another of the janisars, who gave his name as Sherbaz, 27, kissed the picture of Ms. Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party who was executed by Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in 1979, on an identity card hanging round his neck. “I can lay down my life for this picture,” he said.

He said he doubted the picture of a dead man released by the government was really the suicide bomber. “They are trying to fool the people,” he said.

Such distrust of the government is widespread among members of the Pakistan Peoples Party and supporters of Ms. Bhutto. Many of them have been imprisoned or suffered repression or violence at the hands of the police through their years in opposition, especially during the 11 years of military dictatorship after Mr. Bhutto was executed.

The passion they feel for the party and its leader stems from the days of Mr. Bhutto, a charismatic leader who perhaps did more than any other politician to awaken a political conscience in the masses in Pakistan. His election slogan — “Food, clothing and shelter” — is repeated by party faithful today.

Supporters refuse to believe the allegations of corruption against Ms. Bhutto, saying the government has failed to make the charges stick.

The party’s popular national support and its traditional Socialist agenda threaten many in government and the security establishment, its supporters said.

“They were planning that Benazir would be killed,” said Mr. Rauf, the student leader. “They don’t want democracy. If there is democracy then only one party will rule and that will be the Peoples Party, and the common man will rule.”

His friend Faqir Zakir Hussein, 28, added, “She is the most popular politician and this is what the government does not like.”