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Amid days of rage, Karachi struggles to find some normalcy

The ancestral village to Benazir Bhutto’s hometown is one long road of ruin.

The ancestral village to Benazir Bhutto’s hometown is one long road of ruin. Along a stretch of 200 miles lie twisted hulks of tractor-trailers, casualties of the riots that broke out after Bhutto’s assassination on 27 Decmber, 2007.

On New Year’s Eve, a consignment of pickup trucks that the United States had bought for Pakistani law enforcement officials fighting militants had been picked clean; brakes, steering wheels, batteries had been carted away.

The truck drivers, ethnic Pashtuns waited in vain for rescue here in the southern ethnic Sindhi heartland. One of them had his left ear caked with blood; the mobs had pelted him with stones and then burned his coal truck, costing him his only source of income.

“You don’t know what the next day is going to bring,” is how Sheena Hadi, 27, put it on New Year’s morning here in Karachi. “We are in a gray area right now.”

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While shops in Karachi, the city worst hit by the post-assassination violence, had been shuttered since Thursday evening.

But as 2008 dawned, shops and restaurants opened, Seema Ahmed stepped out to do what she had never done in her 40 years in Karachi: stock up on food grains, in the event of another upheaval. Munizeh Sanai, a radio disc jockey, made sure to wear flat shoes in case she had to make a run for her life. And the family of Shoaib Umer, stranded here after its train home to Lahore was canceled Monday, spent the afternoon at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Hasan Zaidi, 38, a filmmaker, said he did not know when he could start shooting his picture. “It’s a thriller, actually, but maybe it should’ve been a farce,” he said. Already, he had postponed a film festival that he organizes in November every year.

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Down the street, in a cafe that had opened for the first time in four days, a pair of entrepreneurs, laptops open, were busy at work on a marketing plan for an anti-littering campaign in Karachi. It was a strange enterprise at a time when the city was littered with hollowed, charred cars.

But Tooba Zarif Husain, 26, and Salman Yaqoob Raja, 25, were unbowed. They said they hoped things would return to normal in a few months, once the elections were over. Theirs were rare voices of confidence in the ability of President Pervez Musharraf.

“It is the history of Karachi that things go up and down, but people have a short memory,” Raja said brightly. “They forget and get on with their lives.”

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By mid-afternoon, in the buzzing aisles of a supermarket called Agha, Bushra Zaidi was filling her cart with ingredients for enchiladas and Waldorf salad.

In the same aisle, Sherry Rehman, a spokeswoman for Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, was stocking up on rations to take back to Naudero, where senior party officials have huddled in Bhutto’s country house since her death.

The party’s central executive committee was to meet Wednesday evening in Naudero to discuss how to proceed on elections. It had pressed for holding the balloting next Tuesday, as scheduled, but government officials said the elections would be postponed till February. A new date is expected to be announced Wednesday.

First published on: 02-01-2008 at 11:38:39 pm
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