Friday, June 21, 2019
June 21, 1953, is the birthday of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the first woman prime minister of any Muslim state. Remembering her brings pain and sorrow of her loss but for me, it is also a reminder of her compassionate and beautiful personality. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto represented the Pakistan that was beautiful and with immense potential for development and success.
She set the highest benchmark for politics of integrity and set great examples with struggles for democracy. For this reason, her birthday is celebrated every year on June 21 and nationally and internationally, a tribute is paid to her in ceremonies that are organized across the world to remember her great contributions for this country.
One evening in the 70 Clifton, Shaheed BB received a phone call from Lahore. It was Khwaja Tariq Rahim informing her that dictator General Zia ul Haq’s plane has disappeared from the radar. When Shaheed BB insisted what this information implied, he replied that the long and dark story of General Zia’s rule in Pakistan has come to an end. After that moment, she received a flurry of related calls. About half an hour later, a friend of the Bhutto family and renowned journalist confirmed that the remains of the lost plane have been found near Bahawalpur and all its passengers including General Zia have been killed.
Outside 70 Clifton, party workers who were victims of baton charge, imprisonment, and unemployment at the hands of the autocratic regime, were emotionally charged. Some of them carried boxes of sweets. When Shaheed Benazir Bhutto learned about the festive mood outside 70 Clifton and that people were distributing sweets in joy and celebrations, she left her drawing room and went outside the gate. She said, “Our religion does not allow us to celebrate someone’s death.” Some of the workers replied, “But what he did to Shaheed Zulfikar Bhutto…” She stopped them right away and said, “We do not believe in politics of revenge.”
In her book, “Daughter of the East” Shaheed BB wrote about her concern for her close associates at the occasion of her return to Pakistan. The following excerpt displays her thoughtfulness and empathetic nature: “‘Naheed, Bashir, Dara. Stay close to me.’ I told those who had been warned that they would be arrested. It was ironic: my supporters crowded around me for my protection, and I kept them close to me for their protection. ‘We’re your security,’ members of the press said. But it was the crush of the people outside the airport who turned out to be our security. The immigration authorities were so anxious to get us away from the airport that they conducted their formalities on the plane, quickly stamping all our passports.”
Being a woman leading a political party in a conservative Muslim country, Shaheed BB had to make certain personal decisions in an effort not to alienate her people by staying within the societal norms. One day, while surrounded by her friends in the 70 Clifton, she asked my opinion on marriage and whether she should consider it for herself. I immediately replied in affirmative and said, “Yes, you must!” At that time, I did not know whom she was considering to marry but I expressed my opinion that for a female political leader, marriage is necessary to ensure safety in personal and political life and for desirable social status in the Pakistani culture. After July 1977, the Bhutto family had to face several tragedies including the hanging of Shaheed BB’s father, her brother Shahnawaz’s death, her mother’s illness, her brother Mir Murtaza’s exile and her own house arrests that did not give Shaheed BB enough time to ponder over her personal life. Compared to the wedding ceremonies of her siblings, Shaheed BB’s wedding was being held in much better circumstances and her family and friends were delighted to be able to join Shaheed BB on this memorable occasion. Shaheed BB displayed a great sense of generosity by including the people of Lyari to mark this personal milestone in her life. The ceremony was organized in PPPP’s political stronghold, Lyari’s biggest ground, Kakri Ground. That day, her guests and media from all around the world enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Lyari.
My relationship with the Bhutto family has always been honest and filled with sincerity. The reason why I continued to be a part of Shaheed BB’s journey is because my intentions have been pure and I have earned the family’s trust. After she became the Prime Minister, she offered me to work for her and I agreed to it. Like in the past, I started handling international media.
In the last week of December 1993, Shaheed BB went on an official visit to China and North Korea. In her second tenure, this was my first foreign tour with her. Just a day earlier, she had organized a lunch for my birthday in the Prime Minister House. The guest list included individuals who were close associates of both, Shaheed Bb and mine. I was greatly touched by the gesture that she had kept the tradition of celebrating my birthday even after becoming the Prime Minister. That day, I promised myself that I will remember her on her birthday for years to come, and even if she is no longer with us, I try to continue this tradition by sharing her precious memories with her people and with the new generation.
21 June 2019 is Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s sixty-sixth birthday. Her absence is felt today more than ever. The most befitting tribute to her on her birthday would be to reiterate our commitment to BB’s vision by supporting the new generation who is trying to continue her legacy despite the fact that their father, Mr. Zardari has been arrested and the children’s guardian Faryal Talpur is also under house arrest. Her children, Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Bakhtawar, and Asifa are the custodians of her legacy and they are all well-educated and capable individuals who will continue BB’s mission of serving the people and keeping aloft the flag of PPPP.
It was the longest day of the year 1953 when a leader of two worlds-Benazir Bhutto–was born in Pakistan carving for herself a unique niche unparalleled in the annals of humankind, casting a spell of glory on her people and the world at large by her leadership. Had she been alive she would have been leading Pakistan as a front rank country onto pastures new, playing a lead role in the comity of nations, respected and held in awe by others.
Her dastardly assassination was yet another colossal tragedy like that of her father’s judicial murder by General ZiaulHaq that dealt an irreparable blow to Pakistan from which nation has yet to recover. It was a combination of an insatiable lust for power of President General Pervez Musharraf in cahoots with religious militants that led to the assassination of Pakistan’s most outstanding leader. Indeed, Benazir’s murder snatched from the people hope of a better future.
It was no insignificant coincidence that she was murdered at the same location where Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in a public meeting in 1951-a much similar act of conspirators to waylay democracy. It is said that as in the case of Liaquat’s, the plotters used Afghan Taliban killers for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. And not far away from this spot her father, prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was also judicially killed- by the Army chief General ZiaulHaq-known as the father of all religious bigotry, extremism, sectarianism, ethnicity, parochialism, who pitched one Muslim against another so that divided people could not challenge him in power.
Martyred Benazir Bhutto stood like a rock against Dictators General Zia and General Musharraf and others, returned home amidst plethora of threats to her life and in the struggle to retrieve democracy she finally nurtured the cause by giving her blood to it. Just after one year of her assassination democracy came back through elections and one thought that there would be no going back since we had seen through successful democratic transition, two elections and peaceful transfer of power.
Unfortunately resurgence of democracy against odds gave sleepless nights to the Establishment and it got involved in intrigues to subverting it. The entire tenure of PPPP was spent in defending itself against media vilification campaigns and intrigues to destabilise it. Short of doing everything to impede its success in government, the powers that be left no stone unturned to dislodge it. However, 18th Amendment came in the way of their machinations to defend the constitution and the issue of provincial autonomy.
Despite the fact that the previous government was considered to be on the same page, it too fell out of favour of the powers that be that wanted it to be pliable to its demands. A much too independent prime minister was not acceptable to them as such he was judicially shown the order and grounds created for bringing in their ‘ladla’ prime minister and a party that dance to the tunes played by the powers that be. New breed of political heirs to Zia and Musharraf have rendered all state institutions into mocking birds, ineffective, helpless and ridiculous though with lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Just look around at the state of affairs, government of the day has left no stone unturned to undermine judiciary and the bureaucracy. It has handed over the financial writ of the state to the three musketeers of IMF.
There should be a consensus among politicians to join hands to revive their commitment to the untold sacrifices rendered by martyred Bibi and the best tribute to Shaheed leader on her 66th birthday anniversary would be to unite, get up and do or die for saving democracy from the evil designs of powers that be
Much more alarming and lethal is the latest threat delivered by a senior leader of PTI Faisal Vawda regarding the need for mass elimination of political and human rights dissenters. Such dreadful scheme of things should be of profound concern for all democratic minded people. There should be a consensus among politicians to join hands to revive their commitment to the untold sacrifices rendered by martyred Bibi and the best tribute to Shaheed leader on her 66th birthday anniversary would be to unite, get up and do or die for saving democracy from the evil designs of powers that be. Have we done her any proud to her sacrifice in blood? Most certainly not! She dared to return home despite threats of the General in power and his rent-a-jihadi supporters that she would be eliminated the moment she steps onto Pakistani soil. She came back and took the plunge as she believed that it is only worthwhile to do or die for the cause that one believed in. She returned to singe military dictator’s beard in his den.
Whenever I sit down to write about her, I lose emotional control over myself. I remember her calling upon all those who cared for her and her Pakistan to save the country from going to dogs. I can recall her words- “did I and thousands of others sacrifice their lives, walked to gallows, faced long and torturous incarcerations at the hands of dictators usurping democratic rights of the people with their naked bayonets and lethal bullets – deserve to be pushed back into dark ages? It’s time for the nation to wake up from its deep slumber and save Pakistan from being submerged by a deluge- by getting tougher as challenges are enormous and our internal and external enemies too formidable. We have not only to revert Pakistan to the liberal, secular and democratic vision of the Quaid and martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but to protect our pristine Islam – a religion of peace-from the horde of suicidal terrorists.”
With threat of mass hangings of political dissenters around the corner, indeed, it is time for decisive actions. Her sacrifice in blood no doubt got us back democracy in 2008. However our march onward remains on roller-coaster. Current rulers have rendered Parliament toothless, weakened other institutions, the hydra-headed evil of corruption is the favourite tool of those usurping the power of the state rendering democratic applecart under threat of sudden disruption. People have been perforce divided. There is total polarisation and regional compartmentalisation of politics, weakening of national political parties by conjured shifting of loyalties at the behest of invisible forces-all put together do not sound good for democracy for which Benazir Bhutto struggled all her life.
Just when she was to return to Pakistan she was profoundly perturbed by the deplorable state of economy, menacing threat of terrorism, growing economic and political polarisation, the plight of the poor and lack of services to the have-nots. She was not hesitant to confess that problems faced by Pakistan were Herculean and to her, these could only be grappled by the wisdom of the collective leadership and best brains in the country within the framework of a strong democracy and truly federal and autonomous constitution. Instead of following this road map, incumbent rulers have by their contempt for the Parliament given enormous space to extra-constitutional forces just for the taking. It seems forces of Fascism would soon make a rapid headway. God Forbid!