Pakistan: push for polls despite suicide bombing
An attack in Lahore, the first since Bhutto's assassination, raises fresh worries about security for Feb. 18 elections.
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"This explosion was a couple of minutes before the lawyers were to come out for a procession in front of the Lahore High Court. Had they come out, there would have been more casualties. So maybe this was meant to scare them as well," says Mr. Rizvi.Skip to next paragraph
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Lawyers in Pakistan, who have been protesting for more than nine months against Musharraf's sacking of the country's Supreme Court justice, have become a symbol of democracy that militants may also have wanted to target. The answer remains unclear, and no militant groups have yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Keeping the country on edge
But the intended message is clear, analysts say. The point of these attacks is to scare people away from the political process, from the public act of voting and listening to political campaigns, explains Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, Pakistan's former top antiterrorism official.
Mr. Sherpao, who is now running for a seat in the parliament, has himself twice been targeted by suicide bombers who struck as he was campaigning in public. In both cases, he narrowly escaped with his life, but dozens of bystanders were killed.
"What I think is that they didn't really want to attack me. If they wanted to get me, they easily could have. They wanted to attack the crowds. The same with Benazir Bhutto. What does a terrorist want? To terrorize people?" Sherpao said in a recent interview at his home in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, the region bordering Afghanistan where Pakistan's militants maintain their strongholds.
Others agreed that the latest attack appeared to be part of an attempt to destabilize the country. "This is a deliberate effort to show that there are problems everywhere. The terrorists are obviously spreading their attacks," says Shafqat Mahmood, a former senator and now a political analyst in Lahore.
But in spite of, or perhaps because of, the militants' suspected intent to keep the country on edge, the political process must move on, some analysts say. Even the prospect of more bloodshed and lopsided results is far more palatable, they say, than holding no elections at all.
"It will be very irresponsible to postpone the elections because if that is what the terrorists want, then we should not do it. The only way forward for us is through free and fair elections," says Mr. Mahmood.
• This story is a joint production of The Christian Science Monitor and Frontline/World.