Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#HappyBirthdaySMBB - Benazir Bhutto’s unfinished agenda

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

In 1953, on the longest day of the year, Pakistan’s most dynamic leader, Benazir Bhutto, was born.
Had Bhutto been alive today she would have been 64-years-old. Had she been alive today she would have been leading Pakistan as a front rank country onto new pastures, playing a lead role in the comity of nations. Her assassination was yet another colossal tragedy like that of her father’s judicial murder that dealt an irreparable blow to Pakistan.
It was no insignificant coincidence that Benazir Bhutto was murdered at the same location where Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was shot by an Afghan during a public gathering in 1951. Bhutto’s assassins also, allegedly, came from Afghanistan, hired from the Afghan Taliban. And not far from where Bhutto breathe her last is the Rawalpindi jail where her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was executed on April 4, 1979.
The murder of the father, and then his daughter, snatched from Pakistan the hope of a better future.
The curse of Gen. Zia ul Haq continues to this day. It has manifested itself in all walks of life in the country. His political heirs have rendered all state institutions into mocking birds - ineffective, helpless and ridiculous though with a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Just look around at the state of affairs. The government of the day has left no stone unturned to undermine the judiciary, as reflected in the diatribe unleashed by Senator Nehal Hashmi against sitting judges.
When the elected rulers are likened to Godfathers and their state management as that of a Sicilian mafia, then there should be no doubt that there is something terribly rotten in the state of Denmark.
Today, on her 64th birthday, I wonder if we have done enough to preserve Benazir Bhutto’s legacy. Had she been alive would she approve of the direction we are headed in? She was brave. We are not. She returned despite open threats from a military dictator. She took the plunge for us, for this country. She returned home and died for her cause.
This was a difficult piece to write. The memories are still raw and too painful. I can still hear her calling out to us to save Pakistan, “Did I, and thousands of others, who sacrificed their lives, walked to the gallows, faced long and torturous incarcerations at the hands of dictators, deserve to see this country pushed back into the dark ages?” she would say. “It is time for the nation to wake up from its deep slumber and save Pakistan from becoming a deluge. It is our responsibility to revert the country to the liberal, secular and democratic vision of the Quaid and martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.”
Indeed, it is time for decisive action. Her sacrifice brought back democracy in 2008. But from thereon, our march to true development remains patchy.
Our incumbent rulers have rendered the parliament toothless and weakened government institutions.
Before she packed up to return to Pakistan, Bhutto was profoundly perturbed by the state of the economy, the menacing threat of Talibanisation and the plight of the poor. She did not shy away from confessing that the problems faced by Pakistan were herculean. The best way to tackle them, she suggested was with a collective leadership using the best brains in the country, within the framework of a strong democracy.
Benazir Bhutto had a grasp of the multifaceted global and domestic problems, including terrorism. She was a workaholic. Serve no one, but the people, was her motto. Empowerment of the less privileged – men and women, children and minorities - was her life-long mission.
If the current ruling party were to heed her advise, they should go after the forces of bigotry hiding in their closets and punish extremist like Maulana Abdul Aziz and Hafiz Saeed. Surrendering to them would be like surrendering to the Talibanisation of Pakistan. They must read and understand what Benazir Bhutto wrote in her last book, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West. In it she noted that the Taliban had, “twisted the values of a great and noble religion and potentially set the hopes and dreams of a better life for Muslims back by a generation." Muslims, she believed, “became (al-Qaeda's) victims too.” She regretted that Islam's egalitarian traditions were constantly hijacked by the despotic Muslim rulers/dictators who reduced religion to a tool to consolidate their hold on power. Her observations are a manifestation of the real spirit of Islam as reflected in the concept of Ijtehad.

As a befitting tribute to her, we need to reiterate the Holy Quran's message of peace and tolerance and not let it drown in a sea of extremism.

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