Benazir Bhutto: a symbol of hope
By Sharmila Faruqui
‘The forces of moderation and democracy must, and will, prevail against extremism and dictatorship. I will not be intimidated. I will step out on the tarmac in Karachi not to complete journey, but to begin one’ (Benazir Bhutto)
Time has come to pay a tribute to the inimitable combination of courage, charisma and defiance. On 27th of December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was martyred while she was leading a political rally in Rawalpindi. One is unable to reconcile with the fact that Benazir Bhutto is no more, but the reality, however nightmarish cannot be blotted out of one’s mind. It cannot be wished away. Our days of mourning are going to be long, hard and bitter. For long we will remain mired in her memories and her struggle for the revival of democracy in Pakistan. She lived for the poor and died for the poor. Benazir Bhutto epitomised courage and courted death because she said it was important for her to reclaim the political space lost to the extremists by the policies of the Musharraf regime. She was a woman swimming against the tide of obscurantism. She died because she represented the aspirations of millions of her countrymen. In her death, Pakistan has been robbed of the jewel in its crown. It is a tribute to a politician who kept her father’s political legacy alive. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had championed the popular cause and had given a sense of dignity to the common man in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto did the same.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is a party of the die-hards. It has always stood against the dictators who robbed the people of their basic right to rule themselves. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was martyred because he championed the cause of the common man. Benazir Bhutto followed in his footsteps. She challenged the demons of darkness in Pakistan and was the most potent rallying point to combine the forces of Islam and modernism. On her return, she was mobilising a new politically credible resistance to primitivism.
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October 2007, after nine years of exile, hopeful that she could be a catalyst for change. Upon a tumultuous reception, she survived a suicide bomb attack that killed nearly two hundred PPP’s stalwarts. But she continued to forge ahead, with more courage and conviction than ever, since she knew that time was running out for the future of her nation. While briefing the media after the attack, she said that it was not an attack on her, but an attack on democracy, and the unity and integrity of Pakistan.
Benazir was martyred on December 27, 2007, while she was leading a mammoth political rally in Rawalpindi. All hopes of the extremists to bury her ideals with her physical obliteration have been smashed by her followers, who have vowed to continue the struggle spearheaded by her for democracy and rule of law in Pakistan. When audiences around the globe hear Benazir Bhutto’s dramatic story of democracy and deposal, they are awed by the tireless strength with which she struggled to bring freedom to the people of her country. Benazir Bhutto is a living icon of the battle for democracy, and stands with only a handful of female executive leaders who have shaped the global events of the last century. During her terms of office, she was faced with an enormous challenge: how to effectively govern a poor, politically factitious and ethnically diverse nation. Benazir Bhutto moved swiftly to restore civil liberties and political freedom, suspended under military rule.
Benazir Bhutto was demonised by the civil-military oligarchy that has virtually run Pakistan since 1958. But she retained a hard core of popular support, and her social-democratic PPP is widely regarded as Pakistan’s largest political party. Benazir Bhutto had the combination of political brilliance, charisma, popular support and international recognition. In 2007, despite the threat of extremists and the hostile government, Benazir decided to return to her homeland.
While commenting on her return, Benazir Bhutto said, “Some people may not understand why I left a comfortable life and faced these threats. So many people have sacrificed much for so many things, so many died and so many see me as the hope of liberty. Now I cannot run away from the battle. Dr Martin Luther King’s phrase comes to my mind: “Our lives end when we keep our silence on important issues”. And I confide myself to my own people by my belief in God.”
President Asif Ali Zardari has followed in her footsteps to accomplish her ideals.
Zardari believes in democracy, freedom and openness not as a slogan but as a way of life. After Benazir’s death, Zardari remains the most potent Pakistani voice for liberalism, tolerance and change. President Zardari’s three years in office are marked by the accomplishment of Benazir’s mission and ideals. Using his political vision, Zardari has embarked upon a conciliatory approach towards his political opponents to get their support on important national issues. Benazir Bhutto is no more but her ideals are the guiding principles of the people’s government. Hundreds of thousands of PPP workers are ready to sacrifice their lives for the accomplishment of Benazir’s ideals. Pakistan can avenge Benazir’s martyrdom by adhering to the democratic path that has always been the hallmark of the PPP’s political culture.
The writer is adviser to Sindh chief minister on Media