| A motorcyclist rides past a Benazir supporter during a protest in Karachi. (AFP)
Islamabad, Oct. 20: The bloody carnage in Karachi has once again plunged Pakistan into a political crisis, raised serious doubts whether parliamentary elections can be held in January and deepened the longstanding mistrust between President Pervez Musharraf and Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
The bombing may give Musharraf and the ruling PML-Q the excuse to postpone general elections that could bring Benazir to power. According to the Constitution, Musharraf has the powers to postpone the elections for up to 12 months.
The PML-Q has long been urging Musharraf to delay the polls so that Benazir’s popular support is whittled down.
Even if elections are held in January, public participation will be minimal in the wake of the bomb attack. Political rallies and demonstrations, public meetings and door-to-door campaigning by candidates are likely to be heavily curtailed with more violence likely to follow.
A car bomb today killed five people in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Under such circumstances the elections can only be a half-hearted affair, and the potential for the military to rig the elections as it did in 2002 will be significant.
Government spokespersons say Benazir acted recklessly and took unnecessary risks by insisting on leading a 32km slow-moving convoy from the airport to the centre of Karachi, especially after Musharraf had asked her to postpone her return.
Benazir clearly took a calculated risk that cost the lives of 140 people, but she had also put her own life on the line.
After eight years in exile, Benazir felt the need to make her political mark and show the army, the public and the global community that she still has a massive following.
For the US and Britain, which have led efforts to forge a power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Benazir and to hold free and fair polls, the blasts come as a severe blow.
Unlike Musharraf and the army who have prevaricated on the need to crack down hard on extremism, Benazir has been clear about the issue from the start.
It was hoped that Benazir’s safe arrival, her show of strength and her subsequent dialogue with the military would increase pressure on Musharraf to do the right thing.
Now that looks increasingly unlikely, as Benazir is forced to cordon herself off under tight security and refrain from touring the country as she had planned to do.
Pakistan police today released a photograph of the Karachi suicide bomber. “The age of the suspect is between 20 and 25 and he looks to be a Karachiite,” said a security official.