They're tearing down Rawalpindi Central Jail.
Where the gallows stood for more than a century, there now is just a deep hole in the ground, a nondescript marker for the device of dictatorship that unceremoniously dispatched former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto just after 3 a.m. on April 4, 1979.
On the site of the dank death row jailhouse that was the final home for Bhutto and hundreds of others, scavengers now hunt for bricks and scrap, and goats graze lazily in the winter sun.
In recent months, bulldozers also have cleared the flogging field where tens of thousands of lashes were administered under sentences doled out by Pakistan's late military ruler, President Zia ul-Haq, in his own version of Islamic law, for offenses ranging from theft to rebellion.
Mohammad Raffiq remembers it all. An aging laborer who has lived beside the sprawling jail complex as long as he can remember, Raffiq smiles now as he and his sons visit the grounds to gather grass for their buffaloes.
"I wept the night Mr. Bhutto was hanged," recalled Raffiq, as his sons filled their handcart one morning last week. "But now, I feel only joy. Bhutto lives again. Again, it is good."
The razing of Rawalpindi Central Jail is a metaphor for Pakistan's most extraordinary year since it was carved out of the Indian subcontinent as a separate Islamic state in 1947.
The prison's destruction began Aug. 14, just three days before Zia and 10 of the top generals who were key backers during his 11 years of military rule died in a still-mysterious plane crash in a remote corner of the Pakistani desert.
During the three months after 100 million Pakistanis had buried their leader with a mixture of relief, elation and sorrow, the bulldozers worked feverishly at the Central Jail, as Benazir Bhutto, the 35-year-old daughter of the most famous man ever hanged from the Rawalpindi gallows, rode a popular wave to wrest power from the regime that ended her father's checkered life and career.
And now, after Pakistan's most democratic and peaceful elections ever have thrust Bhutto to the brink of her father's old office, the workers at Rawalpindi Central Jail are about to finish the job--tearing down the 20-foot concrete prison wall that shielded the regime's secrets from public view for more than a decade.
"It is definitely the end of an era and the start of a new one," said Pakistan's interim justice minister, Wasim Sajjad, who has been instrumental in steering his nation through its ongoing "experiment in democracy."
"Let us just hope that elections and the other institutions we have now created for a peaceful transition of power will become a part of the routine of the country.
"There are still so many problems facing us."
Leaders Stress Challenges
Indeed, as the vestiges of martial law and dictatorship gradually disappear from Pakistan's political landscape, independent analysts, political observers and even the nation's newly enlightened military leadership are stressing the challenges ahead on Pakistan's path to democracy.
When Benazir Bhutto is installed as the nation's fourth elected prime minister, an event expected to take place in early December, her new government will face a staggering array of international and domestic crises, ranging from a near-bankrupt economy and a critical war on its border to rising street crime and heroin addiction.
Politically, she will face stiff checks and balances. Her Pakistan People's Party is the largest bloc in the more powerful lower house, the National Assembly. But members of Zia's regime will continue to control the Senate, as well as the regional government in Punjab, the country's most populous and prosperous province.
"It will be good, and very healthy, in a way," said Sajjad, who will remain one of the Senate's most powerful members opposing Bhutto's party. "Our role will be to put the brakes on and not have any revolutionary changes. There will be no opposition just for the sake of opposition."
Must Placate Military
But independent analysts said that the complex political situation also will tie the hands of the new government. To survive, Bhutto must placate the nation's powerful, 670,000-member armed forces, which has run Pakistan for most of its 41 years under a series of martial-law regimes.
"Benazir already is very conscious that the military is lurking there in the background," said one senior Western diplomat in Islamabad. "She has to be careful now how she plays things. She simply cannot do things that alienate the military because the military can take over any time they want."
Bhutto also will be faced with one of the world's longest and most complex conflicts--the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, in which Pakistan has played a pivotal role by supporting Muslim guerrillas fighting the Kabul government and its Soviet ally.
Under agreements signed in Geneva last April, the Soviet Union has pledged to withdraw all of its occupation troops from Afghanistan--100,300 soldiers before the pullout began, according to Moscow--by Feb. 15, after a nine-year conflict that has left 1 million dead and an estimated 5 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran.
Pledges to Hold Course
In a series of recent interviews, Bhutto has pledged not to veer from the course that Zia charted on the war.
"We don't want to reopen that issue," Bhutto said. "We think the Afghan situation is in its final stages . . . and it's best to continue whatever the previous administration was doing."
Even if the 3.2 million refugees living in hundreds of Pakistani refugee camps do return to their Afghan villages, the war has left Pakistan and its next leader with a list of domestic problems that are far more difficult to erase than the aging brick walls and iron gallows of Rawalpindi Central Jail.
Perhaps nowhere were those troubles placed in sharper focus than in the Indus Gallery in Karachi, where an exhibit by artist A. R. Nagori sought to document Zia's legacy in a series of 26 angry paintings.
Letters Record Forces
In those images, Nagori said, he used the letters of the English alphabet to record "the brute forces that now rule our daily lives.
"We used to teach our children, 'A is for apple, B is for boy,' but our society has become an evil place. Our masses are illiterate, and they are living in fear."
In Nagori's new alphabet, tailor made, he said, for his deeply troubled nation, "A is for army, C is for crime, H is for heroin and K is for Kalashnikov," the Soviet-designed AK-47 assault rifle that now can be found throughout the Pakistani countryside.
Most of those rifles were diverted into the Pakistani market from a $2-billion weapons pipeline set up by the CIA to arm the moujahedeen , Afghanistan's anti-Communist Islamic rebels who are largely responsible for Moscow's decision to extricate its troops.
The Afghan war also introduced heroin into Pakistan. Before the war, the opium and refined heroin--one of Afghanistan's traditional cash crops--went to markets in Europe and America by land, through Iran and Turkey. When the Soviet troops invaded in 1979, those routes switched to Pakistan.
670,000 Heroin Addicts
As a result, Pakistan, which had not a single recorded heroin addict in 1980, now has more than 670,000, the world's second-largest population of addicts after Iran. And for most, there is little hope in sight.
At a heroin clinic set up by Karachi's prominent humanitarian, Abdul Sattar Edhi, doctors said at least 80% of their patients return to heroin after they leave, largely because they go back to the daily reality of poverty, unemployment and despair.
Ismail, a Karachi donkey cart driver who said he had been in Edhi's clinic 10 times in two years, said, "My mother once told me, 'It's better if someone just kills you.' Maybe she is right. Everywhere in Karachi, you can buy heroin, and everywhere people are taking it."
During a press conference at her comfortable home not far from the neighborhood where Ismail drives his ancient cart, Bhutto recently told reporters, "We would like to see not only the dawn of democracy in our country, but also the assertion of a Pakistani spirit . . . a new era of unity and identity for the Pakistani."
But social critics like artist Nagori see that as a monumental task--a fundamental and long-delayed recognition by Pakistanis of the distinctiveness of their nation.
'See No Bright Future'
"We created this country to improve our lot," he said recently at the art gallery, surrounded by his images of violence, death and hopelessness. "We sacrificed hundreds of thousands of lives for a better future, and I still see no bright future for us. We are Muslims, yes, but what have we become as a nation, as a people?
"We are nowhere. We are like a kite flying nowhere with no one holding the string."
Pakistan also is deeply divided after a succession of governments--among them that of Bhutto's father--exploited the linguistic and ethnic differences among the country's four provinces and used them as pawns in struggles to stay in power, analysts said.
The battle between native Sindis in Pakistan's southeastern province and Urdu-speaking immigrants from India, who call themselves Mohajirs, escalated sharply this year, leaving more than 300 dead in October alone.
Punjabis Fear for Jobs
Punjabis, who predominated in positions of power during the Zia government, now fear disfranchisement under Bhutto, who is a Sindi. And in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier, both key Afghan border provinces where similar bitterness prevails, deeply divided political parties will be running their governments in fragile coalitions.
Bhutto insists that she and her People's Party are the only forces with sufficiently broad popular support to bring unity to Pakistan. But critics say Bhutto and the majority of her party members lack the experience to balance the powerful forces around her.
Justice Minister Sajjad, though, is among those who believe Bhutto will succeed. Although he personally is identified with the Zia regime, Sajjad said: "It's going to be a tough test--a difficult job. But I'm sure she will be able to handle it.
"There is a lack of experience. In the initial period, they'll have to rely on the bureaucracy, which is still very strong in Pakistan. Unlike her father, who already had 12 years in government, she does not have the experience. But I do think she has the ability and the education to handle the responsibilities of the office."
In a nation that has spent so long under martial law, though, Bhutto is keenly aware of what is likely to be her most difficult short-term challenge.
"People do have a lot of heightened expectations, because they have been through so much," Bhutto told The Times at the height of her election campaign this month. "When we do come to power, it will be difficult to please everyone and sort out all of these messes all at once."
And she noted several times during her campaign the deep polarization in a society where a handful of rich and powerful have dictated to the largely impoverished and illiterate masses.
"Our message all along has been very simple," she said. "Let us bury the past. Let us bury the slogans of the past. Let us enter the 21st Century."
But even amid the rubble of the old Rawalpindi Central Jail, there are signs of the depth of that lingering polarization--angry signs as difficult to bury as the problems facing the Pakistani nation.
Inside an ancient, Mogul Era well, which is the only structure still standing in the prison compound, are scrawled graffiti saying, "Zia smokes heroin" and "Zia is a dog."