Saturday, February 16, 2008

37 Dead As Suicide Bomber Attacks Pakistani Political Rally

More horrible violence racks Pakistan in the final days before Monday's parliamentary election, as Jane Perlez of the New York Times reports from Lahore.
A suicide bomber rammed a car into a campaign rally in the tribal areas on Saturday, killing 37 people and wounding at least 90 others.

The attack in Parachinar, a town in Kurram, occurred two days before parliamentary elections on Monday and was apparently intended to deter voters from participating, said Brig. Javed Cheema, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

“It’s the same people who have been carrying out attacks, whose purpose is to create confusion and chaos and stop the polling process,” Brigadier Cheema said. The government of President Pervez Musharraf has blamed a Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who is allied with Al Qaeda, for the steep rise in suicide attacks in the past year.

It seemed unlikely, however, that the attack on Saturday would have a significant effect on voter turnout because the tribal areas, which are semiautonomous and border Afghanistan, are considered remote and lawless by most Pakistanis.
Thus Perlez points out one aspect of the Interior Ministry's announcement that seems odd, but she doesn't mention the other: The government has no proof of anyone's complicity in anything.

She goes on to describe the scene of the attack:
The rally at Parachinar was organized by Syed Riaz Hussain, a candidate for the national Parliament who is affiliated with the Pakistan Peoples Party, the opposition party of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in December. After the rally, supporters of Mr. Hussain gathered on a roof for food, and others stayed on the roadside below in a large group, Brigadier Cheema said.

The suicide bomber, driving a car filled with explosives, attacked the group on the side of the road, the brigadier said. Kurram is known for sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, although Saturday’s attack was aimed at a political rally. According to one account, the people at the rally had emerged from a Shiite shrine and were on their way to the headquarters of Mr. Hussain when the bomber drove into the crowd.

Hours later, two people were killed and eight wounded in a suicide attack outside an army media center in the northwestern Swat Valley, Agence France-Presse said.

The Parachinar attack was the first violent incident in the immediate prelude to the election that pits President Musharraf’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, against two main opposition parties, the Peoples Party and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The first violent incident in the immediate prelude to the election but not the first violent attack of the campaign and likely not the last either, sad to say.
Mr. Musharraf was re-elected late last year to a five-year term as president, but the parliamentary elections are viewed by many as a referendum on his rule, which has been marred in the last year by an increasingly aggressive insurgency of Islamists, the killing of Ms. Bhutto and the imposition of emergency rule.
It's very interesting to see what details are left out of this report.

For instance, Jane Perlez gives no indication that Musharraf's "re-election" (last October 6) was even more "marred" than his "rule" has been. As we have discussed here many times, Musharraf's "re-election" was a tragic farce, the conduct of which violated three distinct laws. The Supreme Court of Pakistan was about to strike down the "result" of that "election" when Musharraf imposed emergency rule on November 3.

Musharraf said he was going after the terrorists, but one of his first moves was to sack the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and the eight other justices who refused to go along with the program. Those nine judges are still under house arrest, more than three months after the emergency was declared. These facts are well known to anyone who cares to learn.

So when the Americans send observers to monitor Monday's election, they are not really interested in democracy; if democracy were the goal, the US would have cut ties with Musharraf a long time ago. He did take power in a military coup, after all.

Oh, no. What the Americans are interested in is the appearance of democracy.
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who will be an election observer, said Friday before leaving Washington for Pakistan that the United States should cut military aid to Pakistan if the elections were substantially rigged.
Guess what, Joe? The election last October was substantially rigged -- illegal three times over. The president could only maintain his power by arresting the Supreme Court and keeping them still and quiet, so that's what he did.

The rule of law is still suspended and the honest judges are still under house arrest and bombers are ravaging the opposition and the government keeps blaming it on "extremists".

But the fact remains that extremists are barely represented in Pakistani parliaments and have very little to lose in this election. Musharraf, whose hold on power grows increasingly tenuous, has much more to lose, should the election go ahead as scheduled and in peace. And therefore it is very difficult to dismiss the claims of those who say Musharraf and/or his security forces have been behind all this violence.

The American collaborators in this farce have said nothing about any of this; if they had any principles (other than maintenance of power) they wouldn't be sending observers at all -- they'd be denouncing the horrific Pakistani-American farce that pretends to be democracy.