US News : Guards Who Died for Bhutto Are Mourned

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Guards Who Died for Bhutto Are Mourned

By PAISLEY DODDS | Associated Press Writer | October 23, 2007

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) -- Blotting tears with tattered and dusty head scarves, mothers of dozens of bodyguards killed protecting Benazir Bhutto cling to the belief that their sons died for Pakistan.

Their sons vanished in a blinding light without being able to say goodbye. Some mothers didn't know their sons had decided to protect Bhutto's return from exile until they saw their charred bodies.

"If I would have known what he was doing, I would have stopped him," said Sugra Bai Agria, whose 27-year-old son, Abdul, was among 136 people killed in last week's suicide bombing. "But his sacrifice won't be forgotten."

Abdul's third child - a girl - was born a few hours before the bomb attack. His two toddlers now climb on their fragile grandmother and await their father's return. Lost for words, she has told his children Abdul is on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The former prime minister had hundreds of unpaid guards from across Pakistan with her on the day of the bombing. A total of 50 died, 40 of them from Karachi's Lyari slum, a trash-strewn pit of misery where most people support Bhutto.

Power outages are common, water is scarce and most residents are underemployed in the grimy crime-ridden ghetto, yet the community willingly sent its sons to protect Bhutto.

More than anything, most in Lyari are loyal to the memory of Bhutto's father - Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a prime minister known for socialist policies that brought jobs, housing and health care to the poor, but who was hanged in 1979 by the military dictator who had forced him from power.

Some believe it is their obligation to support Bhutto out of respect for her father and what he and his political party did for the poor.

Wearing T-shirts with slogans that read "Janisaad," or "Loyal until Death," the guards kept crowds at bay with bamboo rods last week as Bhutto's bulletproof bus lurched toward the tomb of Pakistan's founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

As the convoy made its way through the crowded streets, a grenade exploded around midnight Thursday, jolting hundreds of guards into forming a human shield around her bus. Seconds later, a suicide bomber detonated a shrapnel-laden device. In addition to the dead, scores were wounded.

The guards' sacrifice for the 54-year-old Bhutto, who had fled the country in 1999 amid corruption charges, is one that can be hard to understand, except perhaps in Lyari, a place buzzing with flies and packed with idle laborers who often wait days for their next job.

"The people of Lyari are living in hell," said Sarbazi, a 34-year-old resident who uses one name. "Anyone who gives a glimmer of hope that things could change will be supported."

Fatalism reigns in these downtrodden parts of Pakistan, and the desire to feel part of something - anything outside the ordinary grind - often overrules logic and reason.

Rows of shopkeepers near an alley where workers dump wheelbarrows full of trash believe the garbage will disappear if Bhutto comes to power again.

"We are willing to lay down our lives for her because she will help the poor. I will do it again," said Abdul's brother, Rahim, 32, who was also one of Bhutto's guards and whose right foot was pierced by shrapnel.

He was standing next to the bus driver when the first blast went off. Stunned, he later found his younger brother's burned body in the hospital.

Bhutto said she received a tip that four suicide squads - Taliban and al-Qaida supporters - had been sent to kill her on her return.

Although the danger of her return to Pakistan was clear, it isn't known whether she passed her intelligence information on to anyone besides President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who approved extra police to accompany her convoy.

Dozens of police officers also were killed in last week's blast.

"The human shield around my truck bore the brunt," Bhutto said after the attack. "Their lives were not lost in vain. Their deaths will not be futile."

Relatives of the dead hope Bhutto will come to Lyari and give them money - two days after the attack, she visited the hospital and gave the wounded money in envelopes.

Amna Baluch said she begged her son Ibrahim, a 35-year-old plumber, not to guard Bhutto's procession.

"I knew the risk of something like this happening was too high," said Baluch, 55, surrounded by female relatives in a dark concrete room where they were weeping, grasping prayer beads and reading prayers for the dead from the Quran.

"I'm trying not to see his death as a loss and rather a sacrifice for the country. This was God's will for Pakistan."

Associated Press writer Ashraf Khan contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.