Bisma: The death of a toddler and 'VIP culture' in Pakistan

The tragic death of a toddler has gripped Pakistan's social media conscience over the past 24 hours.

But this is also a story which has cut to the heart of the country's political conscience and raised questions about so-called VIP culture.

On Wednesday evening, as chairman of the Pakistan's People's Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto was visiting Karachi's Civil Hospital, so too was Bisma, a 10-month old child who needed urgent medical care.

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Image caption The incident sparked anger on social media
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is the scion of the politically powerful Bhutto family

The infant's father Mohammad Faisal Baloch, from Karachi's poorest Lyari district, alleged he couldn't gain entry for more than an hour because of the security protocol surrounding Mr Bhutto's visit.

"Doctors told me they could have saved her if she was brought in 10 minutes earlier," he told local media. Bisma was his only child and was suffering from respiratory problems.

The story has created a storm in Pakistan even though there are conflicting reports about whether it was the traffic jam caused by the visit, or a single security guard's decision not to let the family through, that caused the delay.

Much of the outrage is focused on the dilemmas of ordinary people trying to live their lives amid politicians with enormous security details, albeit politicians who may have cause for enhanced security - Bilawal's mother Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi in 2007.

"What if Bisma has died, Bhutto is alive, long live Bhutto" is one tweet which despondently reflects the anger people are pouring out on social media.

The PPP had been using the slogan "Bhutto is alive" to counter efforts by political rivals to weaken the party.

The news of Bisma's death put social media in Pakistan on fire. #Bisma, #RIPDemocrazy and #VIPCuture immediately started trending. Bilawal Bhutto also tweeted: "Anguished over Bisma's death. Am personally inquiring into this heart-breaking incident to ascertain what went wrong."

Such tragic controversies and the resultant inquiries are not new to Pakistani's elite, especially the PPP. In 2010, a woman had to give birth in an auto-rickshaw when the motorcade of the then president Asif Ali Zardari, who is also the PPP's co-chairman and Bilawal's father, blocked traffic in the city of Quetta.

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Image caption Bilawal is the only son of former President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007

The woman's brother Mohammad Yaseen had told media at that time: "We pleaded with the policemen as it was an emergency but they refused, citing orders that no one should be allowed to move until the president had passed."

Bisma's father has described a similar situation five years on.

Opposition parties such as Imran Khan's Tehrik Insaf all jumped on the chance to criticise the PPP, which rules Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.

A PTI leader, Naz Baloch, tweeted after meeting the bereaved family that Bisma's father refused a job offer from the PPP but asked for improvements to their local Lyari General hospital. Lyari ironically is a PPP stronghold, but has remained underdeveloped for too long, many feel.

Although the death of Bisma has been a catalyst for yet more criticism of Pakistan's so-called "VIP culture", ultimately what it may show is just how much development still needs to come to parts of Pakistan, given how easy it is for a toddler to quickly develop an illness which brings her right to the brink of death.

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