Remembering Benazir Bhutto – An eyewitness account of Conditions in Balochistan after her assassination

She walked with us bare foot during her last visit of Balochistan

by: Khalid Hashmani

Washington D.C.—The “Justice and Democracy in Pakistan” forum organized an event to meet renowned writer and analyst Jawaid Bhutto, who was visiting Pakistan, when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. The event was held on Saturday, June 7, 2008 at a local restaurant.

Jawaid Bhutto obtained his Master’s degree from Belgrade-based Sofia University and has taught at the International Relations department of Sindh University for several years. He began by saying that his primary purpose to visit small towns and villages of Sindh and Balochistan was to recognize the changes that may have occurred in him on account of living in the Western world for the past eight years, away from his homeland.

On the dreadful day of December 27, 2007, Jawaid Bhutto was visiting Dr. Abdullah Jan, who is the Dean of Balochi Literature at the Balochistan University in Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan. They had just exchanged pleasantries for few minutes, when a few persons knocked the door of Dr. Jan’s house and informed him about the sad news that Benazir Bhutto, who was the last hope of millions of people of Pakistanis had been assassinated. Within few minutes of receiving the news, the electricity went off, shutting down television that they had just turned on. They switched to a battery-operated radio, but for some reason, that too was not giving any details as to what was happening in Pakistan. Soon, they learnt that there were no taxis, rickshaws, or other modes of transportation playing on city roads were closed and that angry mourners had shutdown everything in Quetta.

Jawaid ended up staying at Dr. Jan’s residence for three days before he could venture out and get to his hotel. During those three days, local Baloch visited Dr. Jan several times but all the news they brought was based on heresy. At the hotel, Jawaid soon learnt that there were no trains going to Sindh and other parts of Pakistan. There were no petrol stations that were open for other form of land transportation and the airport was closed. He was stranded in Quetta for ten days when a friend offered to drive him to Shikarpur, Sindh (about 200 miles away).

Trains that had left Quetta few hours earlier were forced to return back to Quetta. The trains that had left earlier got stranded in various cities and towns in Sindh and Balochistan. In acts similar to 1987, people had removed tracks in many places with bare hands.

They traveled on one of a major highway, which is normally heavily traveled. They were immediately taken back by the emptiness of the road as they seldom saw any other vehicle on the road. While trailing, they saw many burned gas stations, government buildings, railway stations, and police stations. Soon they made a stop at “Dera Allahyar”, which many people know as “Teople Dera” for “Temple Dera”. Upon reaching the town they went to the house of a non-political and traditional tribal elder man, who was a distant family relative of his friend who was driving him to Shikarpur. The elder said that in spite of him wanting to stop the destruction of property, he could not do much as he found his own sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces were participating in the carnage. The people of the area were extremely angry at the loss of Benazir Bhutto and felt that the country had become too cruel and not worth saving.

As they traveled through another town “Bhag”, they observed the similar expressions of grief and resulting anger in form of the destroyed, trucks, trailers, buildings and railway stations. Some people they met in Bhag were crying and reciting the stories about Benazir Bhutto’s recent visit to their town, just few days ago. They pointed out the spot, where she had addressed the people of town from a truck.

Everywhere, as he traveled from Quetta to Shikarpur, the only topics that people were talking about whether the Pakistan would survive after Benazir’s assassination and who killed her and who was behind her killing. The opinions were diverse but there was a consensus on one thing that … and General Musharaaf were behind her killing as they would be the primary beneficiaries of her death. No one was blaming religious elements as not a single mulla or madrassa was attacked. Some political pundits and commentators blamed Al-Quaida or Taliban for her assassination. But no one at least in rural Sindh and Balochistan bought that theory. Even today, many blame … and cite the swiftness of authorities to clean the crime scene as an evidence of their involvement.

In response to a question, Jawaid Bhutto said he did not meet any one who indicated suspicion in Asif Zardari but he observed that political enemies of Benazir Bhutto had started maligning Zardari.

Much of the damage to government offices, railway tracks and gas stations was done by unemployed youth. It was neither instigated by PPP nor by intelligence services but was simply a reaction of exploited people, who have suffered a lot. The young persons in rural Sindh are very angry and frustrated with high poverty levels in their areas and had hoped that Benazir would do something to alleviate poverty in their areas. 43,000 people were arrested – most of them unemployed youth.

What was amazing that in spite of the spontaneous nature of their actions, protestors were very careful not to harm other people. Many from many adjacent villages brought bread, milk, and other food items and served meals to the stranded travelers. For three days, while train service remained suspended, people took care of those impacted by the suspension in travel. Not a single person appeared before the Human Rights Commission (HRCP) saying that any intentional harm was done to human life.

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