Icon of democracy
By Sharmila Faruqi
“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
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto is the inimitable combination of courage, charisma and defiance. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s first, born on June 21, 1953, she was martyred while leading a 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 washed 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. A charismatic leader, she 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. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had championed the popular cause and had given a sense of dignity to the common man in Pakistan. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto did the same.
Pakistan People’s Party 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. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was martyred because he championed the cause of the common man. Shaheed 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 200 PPP 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 Bhutto challenged the forces of dictatorship and extremism. The restoration of democracy and ridding the country of the clutches of dictatorship were her articles of faith. She was the hope of masses, the downtrodden and the marginalised. 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. Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir’s husband and the president of Pakistan, has followed in her footsteps to accomplish her ideals. 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 the military rule.
Benazir Bhutto did great things to her country. She had a very strong determination, as it can be seen in her life and her decisions. 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 Pakistan People’s Party is widely regarded as Pakistan’s largest political party. Benazir Bhutto had the combination of political brilliance, charisma, popular support and international recognition. In the democratisation process of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto has played a huge role. She saved her people from the military and brought much advancement in their lives. She was a courageous lady. 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.”
Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir’s husband and now the president of Pakistan has followed in her footsteps to accomplish her ideals. Although Benazir Bhutto did not live to see these developments, the party she led and the causes she championed are in the ascendant, and her spirit pervades the political life of contemporary Pakistan. Zardari has an unshakable belief that Pakistan should embrace the modern world with the same confidence and courage that Shaheed Mohtarma had. Zardari believes in democracy, freedom and openness not as a slogan but as a way of life.
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 killing by sticking to the democratic path that always had been the hallmark of the PPP’s political culture.
The writer is the special assistant to the Sindh chief minister for media, and the Information Secretary of PPP Women’s Wing in Sindh