By Senator Rehman Malik
I happened to see Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto for the first time when I was posted in Karachi in 1978 post-1977 coup at Karachi airport. I remained posted in Karachi during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government where I had ample chances to interact with senior leaders of PPP and close aides of ZAB, which included Hafeez Pirzada, Sattar Gabol, Qasim Patel, Pyar Ali Allana, Jam Sadiq, Hafeez Cheema, Habib Ullah, and Mustafa Jatoi. It was a great experience to work in this tenure of PPP.
Unfortunately, when ZAB became a victim of ‘judicial murder’ in the dictatorial regime of Ziaul Haq, most of the above mentioned close political aides switched their loyalties and left him. None of them was found leading resistance movement against the hanging of ZAB consequent to a controversial hearing of his case. The judicial murder of ZAB caused serious political damaged to his party, which took it decades to recover from the loss. Zia regime terrorised the PPP workers and leaders and hence mid-level leadership went into hiding.
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (Pinky as her father would affectionately call her) decided to struggle to save her papa. However, she was locked and her voice was suppressed behind high walls of Sukkur jail. Sometimes authorities would put her under house arrests to not let her carry out the struggle.
She once confided in me during an informal discussion that sometimes the food supply would not be allowed to enter the sub-jail and she had to cook the available piece of fish with lime and salt under sun heat using her bit of knowledge of cooking. Her locking up in jail and continuous persecution caused her loss of hearing of one ear but she was not allowed the treatment in time. Indeed, it was not easy to bear the heat of June and July in the shabby rooms of Pakistani jails. She continued her struggle but could not save her Papa from the powerful jaws of Gen Zia duly backed by a world power, which had claimed to teach a lesson to her Papa who declined to bow before their wish to roll back the nuclear development. The tree of nuclear planted by him not only survived but born fruit in the form of nuclear bomb and Pakistan became the first Islamic nuclear power. ZAB made it possible with sacrificing himself. He would, however, live forever in the minds and hearts of Pakistani nation. Pinky of Papa decided to take the responsibility of carrying the unfinished mission of ZAB. She started her campaign fearlessly and emerged a true leader of the people. She acted very maturely and played her political cards very wisely and free of mistakes. She went in exile as strategy and Zia regime continued chasing her and her brothers abroad. Eventually, Shah Nawaz Bhutto was killed through the influence of a world power. It was fact Gen Zia was too scared of determined Shah Nawaz Bhutto.
I investigated this matter post-murder in Cannes under the instructions of PM Benazir Bhutto. It was a tragic and heart-hitting moment when I briefed both Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Begum Sahiba in the PM House. I am unable to express the feelings of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as sister and Begum Sahiba as a mother how they were hurt while listening to the details of the investigation. The murder of her brother was yet another price for preservation and restoration of democracy in the country after hanging of his great father. The enemies of Bhutto made another hit by killing her elder brother, as planned murder and mystery of suicidal of SHO Mr Haq Nawaz Sial were not yet resolved. It is evident that killing of Murtaza Bhutto was part of a larger plan to oust her government. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto continued to face tragedies all her life including the torture of her mother at Karachi airport by the police, which resulted in the memory loss of her mother. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto continued to look after her mother under all odd circumstances till her death.
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto always displayed bravery and did not succumb to the pressure of dictators as she continued to rise and rise and the world witnessed her rise when she landed in Lahore and millions of people received her at Lahore airport.
Like her father, during her second exile period, her 17 MNAs ditched her and sided with the dictator to join his government. One day prior to their change of hearts, all of them had a lunch with her and assured her of their loyalties but on very next day, they decided to leave her and join the establishment. I saw her very gloomy on that day and she used words for them, which I would not like to repeat.
She continued to face the cases where her own party men had become the most powerful ministers in the cabinet of Gen Musharraf.
She was a God fearing person and woman of character and she earned respect internationally. She emerged as a leader of the leaders. I remember when we were in Bangkok upon the invitation of Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, the then PM of Thailand and her speech was on the last day of the conference and many heads of the states had delayed their flights just to listen to her speech and she made a historic speech on democracy. While in exile she was always on the move and always projected Pakistan in a positive light but continued to struggle against the dictator. It was her thought that the mainstream political parties must work together rather against each other to strengthen democracy in the country, which ultimately culminated in the signing of Charter of Democracy (CoD) in 2006 between PPP and PML/N. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif signed the CoD at my residence in London.
She did manage to oust dictator but in the struggle, she lost her life and on return from exile, Mian Nawaz Sharif forgot all the things he had committed in CoD as he was the first to lead anti- PPP campaign. She was born for Pakistan and democracy and she lost her life for Pakistan and democracy.
I had served with her as head of FIA and then assisted her while in exile and acted as her lead representative in almost all political dialogues with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, MQM and world leaders. It was a great experience to work under her guidance and she used to believe in flawless jobs.
I noticed a great level of creativity in Aseefa Bhutto Zardari and I am quoting an incident hereby:
It was mid-June when Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had left for her lecture in the USA. All three children Bakhtawar, Bilawal and Aseefa stayed behind in their London flat with maid Sita. It was just before midnight of 20th that I got a call on my mobile by Aseefa saying: “Uncle I want to give birthday surprise to mum when she returns at 6.00 am in the morning and I need to decorate the house with something special to greet her.” I got it arranged pooling my efforts to convert the flat into truly welcoming atmosphere with all kind of fancy decoration. I went to receive Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto from terminal 4 of the airport in the morning and I was supposed to tell her that a birthday surprise was waiting for her at home arranged by Aseefa. The flight landed and I drove her to the flat, which was at the fourth floor. She entered and the greeting chanting of happy birthday to Mama by Aseefa and her bother Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and sister Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari welcomed her, which was very pleasant scene. She had deep love and affection for Aseefa and said that she knew that it would surely be Aseefa’s idea to greet her with warmth. I am witness to the love she had for her children.
The cruel game of politics and anti-Bhutto sentiments have snatched away a loving mother from the kids and her family is paying a heavy price to hold the flag of PPP and the mission of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto high. The family will never able to get the love and care of their mother and nothing can companionate the missing love of their mother. She was a great wife too who always used to pray for Asif Sahib and always used to recite Quranic verses on the telephone and pray for him.
She has gone through long duration of victimization especially when she and Mr Asif Ali Zardari were convicted under the direct instructions of the then PM Nawaz Sharif and Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Rashid Aziz. We received the conversation duly tapped by an official of the IB and entire planning and it was made public under the directions of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. It is now history how we got the shameful judgement overturned from the Supreme Court. But this is a separate story and needs a detailed account. This story has already appeared in Sunday Times, UK, exposing all the characters.
She used to pursue the trial of her cases in the court along with Mr Asif Ali Zardari. The trials further strengthened the bond of love between the couple. The children missed a part of their life without their father while they were growing, as he was put behind the bars. The story of Bhutto family is a tragedy but worth celebrating. The family was victimised because the family rendered unmatched services and a voice to the masses. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, you must be proud of your children. I wish you could see the young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whom we drove once to Oxford, is a grown-up young man and leading the party. I remember you teaching him and I wish to see him the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I have great confidence in Bilawal Bhutto to carry the nation through the numerous challenges with his two sisters to his aide who are equally capable.
I firmly believe that had she been not victimized she would not have left the county and she would have alive today.
Although she has left us forever, however, her memories will always remain in our hearts as well as her political legacy and wisdom which will keep inspiring the masses and especially workers of PPP. She fought against two dictators and she defeated both of them and she continued to advocate for democracy till her last breath.
Let us pray May God bless her soul in peace.