Benazir Bhutto: ‘tis tough to say goodbye

December 27, 2007 is a day that will haunt the people of Pakistan forever. On that fateful day, the country lost a great leader to a faceless assassin. Benazir Bhutto, scion of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was assassinated three years ago in Rawalpindi. It was not just the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that lost its leader; the whole nation and people around the world mourned at having lost a woman of Ms Bhutto’s stature. She is the only person in the country’s history who is known as a shaheed (martyr) by all and sundry. Ms Bhutto’s life reads like a Greek tragedy. At a very young age, she lost her father to a military dictator’s cruelty. For six years she remained imprisoned – in jail or under house arrest. Finally she went into exile in 1984 and ran the party from England. Her 27-year old brother, Shahnawaz Bhutto, died under mysterious circumstances in exile in Paris. Her other brother, Murtaza Bhutto, was also murdered a few years later in Karachi.

Ms Bhutto came back to Pakistan in 1986 while General Ziaul Haq was still in power. She was received by the masses with much fanfare. Ms Bhutto was a pragmatic leader who was aware that without a nod from the country’s powerful military establishment, her party could not make a comeback. Thus, she had to make compromises with the establishment – those responsible for her father’s death. Benazir Bhutto had to take this painful step for the future of democracy in Pakistan. She became the first female prime minister of Pakistan in 1988. From 1988 to 1999, Pakistan witnessed a political game of ‘musical chairs’ between Ms Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif. Ms Bhutto’s first government was dismissed after 20 months on charges of corruption. She became the prime minister again in 1993 but once again her government was removed on corruption charges. She went into self-exile after that and ran the PPP from abroad. Those who criticise her for not doing enough during her two tenures should be reminded that Ms Bhutto’s hands were tied considerably because the agenda was primarily being dictated by the military establishment. Under such circumstances, no democratic government can function properly. In a twist of fate, Ms Bhutto had to make a compromise with another military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, in order to return to Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto returned amidst death threats. She risked her life just to bring back democracy to her homeland. In an article titled ‘When I return to Pakistan’ (The Washington Post, September 20, 2007), Ms Bhutto wrote: “I am returning to Pakistan on October 18 to bring change to my country. Pakistan’s future viability, stability and security lie in empowering its people and building political institutions. My goal is to prove that the fundamental battle for the hearts and minds of a generation can be accomplished only under democracy.” It was because of Ms Bhutto’s agreement with Musharraf that Mian Nawaz Sharif was allowed to return as well. It seems as if her ‘deal’ with Musharraf began to unravel as soon as she landed in Karachi and was received by millions of people. The power of the masses brought fear into the hearts of those who masterminded her assassination. Ms Bhutto survived a terror attack on October 18 but she could not defeat death on December 27 when another attempt was made on her life. Her killers have still not been brought to justice.

It is a travesty of fate that even though Ms Bhutto’s party is in power and her widower the president of Pakistan, there is no closure regarding her assassination. Those men who have been caught are not the masterminds of BB’s murder plot. It would be a disservice to Ms Bhutto if the PPP is unable to bring the real culprits to book as soon as possible. Today is Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s third death anniversary but it is still hard to say goodbye to a woman who fought for the democratic rights of her people. Mohtarma, you will forever remain alive in billions of hearts.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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