PPP’s ‘jiala’ narrates his ordeal


By Naimat Khan

KARACHI: As supporters of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) gathered at a Karachi monument on Friday to commemorate a fatal 2007 bombing that had targeted former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, a loyal young guard left partly paralyzed by the blast 12 years ago lay in his home and remembered the night that had almost ended his life.
After midnight on Oct. 18, 2007, Bhutto’s huge homecoming motorcade was attacked in the urban neighbourhood of Karsaz in Karachi, after the popular PPP leader returned to Pakistan following an eight year self-imposed exile. Two bombs went off in the heart of the packed crowd, and resulted in the deaths of at least 159 people, leaving 500 injured, though Bhutto survived. Two months later, she was assassinated in another attack.

“The first blast occurred at around midnight… just a few minutes after the streetlights switched off. I was unhurt so I moved closer to the truck that was carrying my leader,” Irshad Hussain, who was 20 years old at the time of the attack, told Arab News from his home in Pehlwan Goth, an impoverished slum neighbourhood just 10 km away from Karsaz, where Bhutto’s son and chairman of the PPP, Bilawal, was scheduled to make a speech on the anniversary of the attack on Friday.

“Suddenly, another blast occurred and I was flying through the air,” he said.
“I fell unconscious, but the moment I opened my eyes, I saw Benazir Bhutto in front of me in the hospital. It was six in the morning,” Hussain said. “She told me she would not leave her workers alone.”
In 2007, Hussain was part of a young team of unarmed loyalists tasked with Bhutto’s unofficial protection during public gatherings as ‘Janisar-e-Benazir,’ a term coined that year in anticipation of her homecoming. The Janisar were to keep a look out for suspicious activity and individuals, and keep people away from approaching Bhutto’s vehicle.

“When there is a blast, everyone runs the other way to save themselves. But during the Karsaz twin blasts, after the first bomb, people ran toward the truck to make sure their leader was unharmed,” said Asif Rahi, a former PPP Janisar who survived the 2007 bombing because he had left his post to check on his family, 500 yards away from Bhutto’s truck.

“People ran to protect her and led their own lives into danger,” he said.
As he ran toward Bhutto’s truck, the second blast struck and almost completely destroyed Hussain’s spinal cord, leaving him unable to walk or sit, despite an expensive surgery in China sponsored by the provincial government in Sindh, which is PPP’s home-ground.
For years afterwards, Hussain received a monthly allowance of Rs. 25,000 ($160) from the party, but the money stopped coming two years ago.
“Had she (Benazir) been alive today, I would be in a better condition. Maybe I would be at the Karsaz monument this evening, chanting slogans for Bilawal,” Hussain said, and then pointed to his three children, who he said had received their final notices of expulsion from school over non-payment of the last six month fee.
Three years ago, his wife died, a woman who supported him, Hussain said, during the hardest days of his life.

“She stood by me in all these difficult years,” he said. “But I failed to provide her with timely treatment.”
His inability to save the two women who meant most to him- Bhutto and his wife- is something Hussain said he will forever regret. As for his debilitating injury, he has no regrets at all.
In 2007, on the night of the blast, his parents had tried to stop Hussain from heading out to receive Bhutto due to grave security threats, but he had refused to listen.
“Today, when my life is almost lost, I don’t feel any regrets. I got injured for the party my leader sacrificed her life for,” he said.
But the party, he added, with a hint of sadness, had started to forget him.
“The PPP leaders don’t allow me to meet Bilawal. I was and always will be a Jiala,” he said, referring to a term used for PPP loyalists. Even if the party has left me alone, I could never leave it,” he vowed. (Article courtesy Arab News)