Benazir Bhutto: a symbol of resistance

December 27 will haunt Pakistan forever. On this day four years ago, our country lost one of its best leaders: Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, twice elected prime minister of Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto was not an ordinary leader. She was the head of Pakistan’s biggest political party — the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — with roots in all provinces, and represented the moderate democratic face of Pakistan. In an e-mail sent to her friend Mark Siegel, Ms Bhutto wrote that she would hold General Musharraf responsible if anything happens to her, apart from the names she sent in a letter to Musharraf (former IB chief Brigadier (retd) Ijaz Shah, PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Arbab Ghulam Rahim and former ISI chief General Hamid Gul). What happened to those names, nobody knows in the hustle bustle of power politics. Despite the PPP being in power, even her purported assassins have not been meted out a modicum of punishment. Those few who have been arrested in her murder case may have been involved in the actual assassination but they were certainly not the masterminds. In a tragic twist of fate, one of the nominees, Pervaiz Elahi, was let off the hook to the extent of becoming a senior minister when the PPP-led coalition government was in trouble. Interior Minister Rehman Malik claimed that General Musharraf would soon be declared a proclaimed offender in the BB murder case but so far the retired military man is enjoying a luxurious life outside the country. The government must bring closure to the case. The murderers of such a big leader, who was a repository of the hopes of a democratic, liberal and progressive Pakistan and loved by millions, cannot be allowed to escape punishment. Ms Bhutto brought about a sea change in the political class during her years of exile and even convinced her main rival, Mian Nawaz Sharif, to sign the Charter of Democracy that clearly points at the real threat to democracy, i.e. the military establishment.

The judiciary, too, has a lot to answer for regarding its past behaviour when it legitimised military dictatorships. Thankfully, with the restoration of an independent judiciary, the notorious doctrine of necessity has been buried forever. The judiciary cannot afford to validate a coup or unconstitutional move again because the climate has changed and it will not be spared either. It is indeed welcome that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has consistently said that a coup will be unacceptable. Our history is replete with mistakes. After the 80s, the Left collapsed in Pakistan. With its collapse came the decline of political consciousness, which was partly a consequence of the Left’s collapse and partly due to the machinations of the establishment to confuse the intelligentsia. When General Musharraf ousted a democratically elected government in October 1999 through a military coup, by and large the liberal intelligentsia leapt lemming-like into his lap, honourable exceptions aside. It took eight years for the intelligentsia to understand the point of the dissident perception. Judging by our history, a military dictatorship is a disaster waiting to happen. The opportunism shown by our intelligentsia left a very profound and negative impact on society. They should never make the same mistake again by abandoning principles. Today, the country needs them more than ever to further the ideas that Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto propagated.

In Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan lost a leader with great political acumen and commitment to its people. Even if one disagrees with some of the policies she adopted during her two terms as premier, the manner in which the establishment hamstrung both her governments is there for all to see. Those who are vicious enough to demonise Ms Bhutto even in her death should remember that she gave her life for democracy in Pakistan. Let us honour a great woman leader by continuing with the tradition of democracy instead of supporting the very forces that took Shaheed BB away from us.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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