Daya Varma and Vinod Mubayi Benazir Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007. She was greeted by an unprecedented mass of over 200,000 people, who had come to Karachi from all parts of Pakistan.  All other political considerations aside, the very fact that so many people welcomed her is in itself very significant. The fact that the majority of Pakistanis welcoming Bhutto were ordinary people, workers, peasants, laborers and unemployed lends credence to her claim to political leadership in Pakistan. Not too many leaders in South Asia can elicit such a response at this point in time. The fact that the other prominent Pakistani politician in exile, Nawaz Sharif, when he returned to Pakistan, failed to attract anything close to the magnitude of the crowd that welcomed Benazir is testimony to the relative popularity of the two leaders.  Even though Nawaz Sharif was refused entry into Pakistan by the government and unceremoniously put back on a flight to Saudi Arabia, the protests by his supporters against the treatment he received were of a perfunctory nature.However, the dastardly suicide bombing that reportedly killed almost 150 of her supporters and came close to killing Benazir herself is evidence of the extremely fluid and uncertain nature of politics in Pakistan.   Benazir has blamed elements in the government for the bombing who she said were aligned with the fundamentalists. To what extent that is true is a matter of speculation, but there can be no doubt that this action of the jihadist groups inside Pakistan has grave and ominous implications for Pakistan’s polity in the days ahead. Obviously the fundamentalists and antidemocratic forces are incensed at Bhutto because her return to Pakistan, which presupposed the withdrawal of numerous corruption charges against her, were widely advertised as being orchestrated by the U.S., which played the role of broker in the deal between Bhutto and Musharraf. Anti-U.S. feelings run high in Pakistan and it is clear that Bhutto will continue to be a target of assassination plots in the future also.  How this will impact the coming election, and whether and with what legitimacy a free and fair election can be conducted at all in a climate of uncontrolled and perhaps uncontrollable violence remains to be seen.Some of the prominent defenders of human rights and democracy in Pakistan are critical of her pact with military ruler Pervez Musharraf. They certainly have a point. Perhaps Benazir’s deal with General Musharraf gave life support to the latter. But it is not likely that by her return she has contributed to continuation of a military dictatorship in Pakistan. Compromise is a part of politics. It is also likely that her return could pave the way for a more stable and more democratic government and a lessening of the Army’s stranglehold over Pakistani politics. Other roads to reform may have been cleaner but they may also have been unattainable in the given circumstances. Benazir Bhutto needs and deserves the support of all democratic sections of Pakistani politics, if for no other reason then for the fact that all the worst elements of Pakistan are unitedly trying to eliminate her.

Top - Home