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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

1: On the Campaign Trail in Pakistan -

from: Nicholas Schmidle

"Benazir Didn't Just Belong to the PPP"

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Pakistanis were scheduled to go to the polls Jan. 8 to choose a new parliament, but the election schedule was adjusted following the Dec. 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. In December and January, Nicholas Schmidle spent several weeks traveling throughout the country to report on the campaign. Though the elections have been postponed until Feb. 18, his dispatches paint a colorful and much-needed portrait of a country increasingly well-covered in the mainstream press, but too often simplified by stereotypes.

Syed Hafeezuddin (left) tries to win over voters  Click image to expand.

KARACHI, Pakistan—I arrived in Karachi on New Year's Eve, just as the seaside metropolis was limping back to normal after four days of rioting and looting in the aftermath of the Dec. 27 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The day felt like the first after a blizzard, but instead of snowdrifts blocking driveways, burnt-out vehicles littered the road. More than 900 cars, buses, and trucks were torched in Karachi alone. Shocked by the violence, investors panicked, and when the Karachi Stock Exchange opened Monday morning, it was down almost 5 percent. Long lines of cars streamed out of gas stations, where pumps had been closed for days. Shopkeepers tentatively opened up, keeping their metal shutters halfway down in case they needed to close in a hurry. Then, around lunchtime, a rumor spread through the city that a top politician from Bhutto's rival party in Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement, had been assassinated. The already spooked city of 15 million immediately withdrew back into its shell. Gas stations and stores shut down early in anticipation of more violence. Normalcy would have to wait another day. (The rumors proved false.)

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