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October 19, 2020

What this day 13 years ago triggered in political arena


October 19, 2020

ISLAMABAD: Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan after ending her eight-year long self-imposed foreign exile against severe warnings from the then president Pervez Musharraf about her security this day 13 years ago had paved the way for Nawaz Sharif's homecoming from Saudi Arabia.

He had been in Saudi Arabia in exile for the past seven years that started on Dec 10, 2000. While his return was somewhat smooth although Musharraf was strongly averse to it, Benazir Bhutto’s welcome cavalcade had come under a massive terrorist attack at Karsaz in Karachi, claiming more than 100 lives. She had narrowly escaped the strike.

However, some two months later, she was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack in Liaquat Bagh Rawalpindi on Dec 27, 2007 when she left the venue after addressing an election rally. The parliamentary polls were scheduled to be held after a few months. Following her cold-blooded murder, the stewardship Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) came in the hands of a non-Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, for the first time since its founding.

Before Benazir Bhutto’s arrival in Pakistan, Musharraf had bluntly warned her not to fly back as he would not be able to ensure her security and protection. She had ignored his caveats and had talked about the conspiracy beforehand to kill her.

As she landed back home, Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan just after over a month in November that year. It was stated that Saudi Arabia had allowed him to go back to Pakistan on the ground that Benazir Bhutto had returned and he could not be asked any more to stay away.

Because of her murder, she could not contest the elections held in 2008 although she had filed nomination papers. Her PPP had won the polls making Zardari the all-powerful president of Pakistan for the next five years. Nawaz Sharif did not vie for the elections. However, Shahbaz Sharif had jumped in the electoral field. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had formed the government in Punjab. After sometime, Shahbaz Sharif was disqualified on a technical ground, prompting the Zardari government to impose the governor’s rule, which was later lifted.

Less than a year earlier, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto had signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) in London vowing not to pull each other’s legs in the political field and bury the dirty past politics. The two sides had stuck to the CoD for some time but later both complained about its non-adherence by the other. It appeared as if a kind of an agreement existed providing that the moment she would come back, he would not be away from Pakistan.

When Benazir Bhutto had returned, she had been greeted by thousands of her followers at the Karachi airport. She had planned to pay homage to Quaid-e-Azam and address a rally at his mausoleum but couldn’t due to the terrorist hit. After the attack, she was immediately taken to the Bilawal House. Attempts by some government functionaries to persuade the PPP to shorten the route of the procession had proved to be fruitless.

Nawaz Sharif too had been received by a large number of his supporters, who pushed past police barricades into the Lahore airport, carrying the Sharif brothers on their shoulders.

After Benazir Bhutto’s return and before Nawaz Sharif’s homecoming, Musharraf had imposed a state of emergency and suspended and amended the Constitution in order to remove the then defiant chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and several other judges with the sole objective of getting re-elected as the president. He was in the most difficult situation since his 1999 takeover eight years back.

“I fear that if timely action is not taken, then God forbid there is a threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty; I cannot allow this country to commit suicide,” he had said.

At the time, Benazir Bhutto had accused Musharraf of imposing “mini-martial law” as she had come back to Pakistan from a brief visit to Dubai.

Subsequently, the entire Supreme Court had held the suspension of the Constitution and imposition of emergency as a constitutional violation. Musharraf was later tried by a special court on the high treason charge and awarded the death sentence.

Of the three dominant political characters of the critical days of 2018, Musharraf, who is not keeping a good health, is in Dubai; Nawaz Sharif is in London; and Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

The top leaders of the PML-N and PPP (obviously minus Nawaz Sharif and slain Benazir Bhutto), which had been staunchly opposed to each other and had been fighting elections against each other, were together at the public rally held in Karachi on Sunday. It was basically organised like previous years to mark the Karsaz tragedy, but was put under the umbrella of the multiparty opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), as part of its protest campaign. The perpetrators of the Karsaz catastrophe are still to be exposed and punished.