Today We Mourn, Tomorrow We Think of Politics: Pakistani Bloggers
New America Media, News Analysis, Ketaki Gokhale Posted: Dec 28, 2007
Editor’s Note: The Pakistani blogsphere is not ready to beatify Benazir Bhutto into the Pakistani Aung San Suu Kyi like many in the West have done. But whether they supported her politics or not, they regard her assassination as a big step backward reports NAM contributor Ketaki Gokhale.
The frenzy over the assassination of Pakistani opposition party leader Benazir Bhutto has spilled over into the blogosphere, where emotions mirror the rising tides of violence in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi, but are tempered with a strong dose of pragmatism.
Blogs are popular among Pakistan's urban elite and the chattering classes appear to remain skeptical of Bhutto’s altruism, her feted return to Pakistan earlier this year, and her contributions as prime minister, a position she was elected to twice. They raised the issue of the corruption and money laundering charges brought by the Pakistani government against her and her husband – charges she said were politically motivated. But the general consensus among bloggers, however, is that her death represents a step backward for the country.
A post at Metroblogging Islamabad, a city-specific site featuring posts by handpicked regional bloggers, generated dozens of responses the day of Bhutto’s assassination. “I have never been a fan of Benazir Bhutto, rather I disagree with a lot of her policies,” one reader wrote, “but the way she has been killed is very saddening. It was quite shocking. May her soul rest in heaven.”
“This is a sad day for Pakistan,” poster Arzan Wadia observed. “Bhutto was not perfect, but at least she was for a democratic process. Democracy once again dies with her.”
Some bloggers grudgingly, and others enthusiastically, acknowledged Bhutto’s positive traits. “Although, I never liked PPP, she possessed street power across Pakistan for sure,” said one Metroblogging Islamabad visitor.
“I so appreciated her women oriented policies, which included plans to establish women’s police stations, courts, and women’s development banks,” wrote another mourner from Nigeria. “She was the symbol of modernity and freedom. Now that she’s gone, the truth is that her spirit of freedom just arose in many hearts and the battle just began.”
Many people commenting on Bhutto’s assassination claimed, chillingly, to have known that it was “only a matter of time” before it happened. Abhilash Ravishankar, a blogger from India, recounted the times he spent discussing Bhutto with his Pakistani colleagues when he worked in the Middle East. “Our discussions had ended with a mutual agreement that Bhutto will die any day this year,” he wrote.
Another commentator at Metroblogging Islamabad went so far as to say Bhutto should have curtailed her public appearances after an attempted assassination in October, where a series of bomb blasts meant to target Bhutto resulted in 136 deaths. “It was a wrong decision to go for a public meeting after the Karachi incident,” “Shaan” wrote. “No one can blame anyone for this except Benazir Bhutto herself.”
To many, Bhutto’s death has brought to the fore the senselessness of political violence. “I personally have never supported Ms. Benazir and her party,” wrote Mohammad Khan of Metroblogging Lahore. “But this, by all means, goes beyond the immediate politics of pretty much everything. It goes without saying that no one, and I mean no one—even for a moment—deserves to go this way, to die in such an unnatural manner and for such obnoxiously stupid reasons.”
Meanwhile, others are piqued by what they see as the Western media’s attempt to portray Bhutto as a martyr of democracy and modernity.
“The folks on NBC…are making it sound as if Bhutto was some brave liberal alternative to the Musharraf regime, swallowing hook, line, and sinker this narrative that Benazir Bhutto was some kind of Pakistani Aung San Suu Kyi,” wrote blogger Abu Muqawama.
A small minority of Pakistani bloggers was disturbed by the cynicism of the majority. “I am no fan of politics and no supporter of Benazir Bhutto, but what I can be proud of is that we had a female Muslim prime minister,” said one anonymous blogger, in response to Abu Muqawama’s post. “I am surprised at the insensitivity of your comments, and instead of feeling disgusted and angry about this assassination, you’re insulting a woman who gambled with her life to return to Pakistan and paid for it.”
A growing number of bloggers, over the course of the day of Bhutto’s assassination, began voicing concerns about potential violence and unrest in their streets. Metroblogging Karachi reported that the city was being shut down—offices were being closed, and people were rushing home to barricade themselves into safety before the protests began.
One poster said that he could hear gunfire outside his building. “The emergency was recently (at least on paper) removed, but from the outlook I smell martial law,” he lamented.
The blogger who runs “The Pakistani Spectator” said even as workers from her party were weeping outside Rawalpindi General Hospital where her body was, “in other areas of Rawalpindi like Faizabad, Saddar and Murree Road, an angry crowd is burning shops and vehicles and shouting slogans against the terrorists.”
Few, however, seem ready to tackle serious consideration of the long-term political repercussions of the assassination.
“I, like most Pakistanis, am still too numb with shock and grief to think coherently about what has happened or what the implications of this are for the country and for the world,” wrote Adil Najam of “All Things Pakistan.”
“But this I know: whether you agreed with her political positions or not, you cannot but be in shock. Even as I type these lines I am literally shaking…Today, in shock, I can think only of Benazir Bhutto the human being. Tomorrow, maybe, I will think of politics.”
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