One element that is difficult for many of us in the West to factor in, when thinking about Pakistan, is that there is always chaos, violence, and turmoil in Pakistan. Like other countries where this is a fact of life, people learn to deal with it and move on.
I remember living in Karachi while it was in the middle of a veritable civil war. Life went on: my Dad went to work, we kids went to school, we visited our relatives all around Karachi, we went out for dinner. The civil war didn’t stop us.
When Musharraf declared emergency rule, the country shut down for a few days but then things went on as usual. I remember my mother talking with a relative in Karachi, asking about the riots and violence, and the relative asked, “What riots? Everything’s fine.” Pakistanis learn to file such aspects away and continue to live their lives.
So when Benazir is assassinated and we get into a panic of the impending chaos and civil war in Pakistan, what we should really do is realize that this is simply a temporary upsurge in the perpetual chaos in Pakistan. Sure, it will affect things, but a few weeks from now people will learn to move on, and things will go on until the next major event.
When we lived in Pakistan, we would make fun of our friends and relatives in America who would call us asking about our safety when things got bad. “Bah,” we thought, “this is usual. Nothing special or out of the ordinary. Why are they making such a big deal? What funny Americans.” (These friends and relatives all were born in Pakistan and were living in America, so they should have known better.) And now that we’re here, we fall into the same trap. “Oh, how chaotic it must be!” In the meanwhile our relatives and friends there shrug their shoulders and go to work or the night’s dinner party.
I remembered when Zia-ul-Haq was assassinated. That was chaos. And shock. Benazir’s assassination, even though she was not prime minister at the time, brought the same shock to me. Except Zia-ul-Haq’s assassination was a complete surprise whereas Benazir’s was somewhat expected. The problem is how this changes the political equations and situations and potentialities: things have changed from bad to worse. But the inevitable chaos was inevitable. Deal.
I kept telling Dad he should wait until after the elections before going to Pakistan to deal with some business concerns. (Dad hasn’t gone yet because of more pressing business concerns here.) I reasoned that there is always violence or unrest in the period leading up to elections. Once the country learns to live with the results and calms down, things go on as usual. Mom later chided me: there’s always chaos, elections or no, and things go on. So, yes, for the next few days the country will be paralyzed. And how the country reacts will determine whether Musharraf or Kayani will have to step in and secure control. Otherwise, it’s the relative stability until the next big thing.
And there is always a next big thing.