Not just the daughter, but “Star of the East”

It was interesting to read the following article by Pakistan’s former Ambassador to Krgyzstan, Mr. Nazar Abbas in the current issue of the Friday Times. It is a matter of surprise that on one hand our establishment just doesn’t stop talking about the concept of “Brotherly relations with Islamic Ummah” but steps are not taken to maintain the existing relationships. It was Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who established the relationship with Kyrgyzstan whereas it took 17 years for the next Prime Minister to visit the country. That too a PPP Prime Minister. By the way, to all the Bhutto and PPP haters, it was the Kyrgyz President, Askar Akayev who said while addressing MBB that “You are not just the Daughter of the East; you are The Star of the East” and that too after having read her book.

That is why we say “tum kitnay Bhutto maaro gay”?

Not just the Daughter, But Star of the East

Star of the East

By Nazar Abbas, Former Ambassador of Pakistan to Kyrgyzstan

Source: The Friday Times, April 1-7, 2011

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has just paid an official visit to the Kyrgyz Republic ’for the promotion of regional stability and peace besides strengthening bilateral relations in diverse fields.’ This was the second visit by any Prime Minister of Pakistan to Kyrgyzstan. The first was undertaken by the first woman Prime Minister of the Muslim world, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, in August 1995.

Kyrgyzstan attracted world attention last year when ethnic conflict flared up and caused a lot of bloodletting in the south of the country. We in Pakistan are quite familiar with Central Asia as a whole but of all the five ‘Stans’ Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan –- the last one is the least known. Yet Kyrgyzstan, although not our next door neighbour, is very close to Pakistan in geographical as well as other ways. It takes just an hour and a half to fly from Islamabad to Osh, the second largest city in the south of Kyrgyzstan, the scene of last year’s widely reported bout of ethnic violence.

The Central Asian Republics achieved their independence without any struggle because they became independent as a consequence of the demise of communism and the breakup of the USSR. Unlike Pakistan, where the long struggle for independence was led by great political leaders, the Central Asian Republics do not have any ‘Fathers of the Nation’. But all independent countries have leaders, some of whom are more revered than others. In the postcolonial period every country that achieved independence created or adopted a standard set of symbols to declare their distinct identities: national flags, anthems, days, poets, even national flowers and animals. The situation of the Central Asian Republics (CARs) was markedly different, as these countries already existed (as Soviet Socialist Republics) with full-fledged government structures, capitals, flags, etc. And they did not have to struggle for independence; rather independence descended upon them. At night the people slept as the subjects of Communist Soviet Socialist Republics. They woke up in the morning as citizens of independent, sovereign states, free from the shackles of godless Communism and of Russian overlordship. Hardly anything changed on the ground. Yesterday’s Communist Presidents became today’s democratic liberal leaders without having to relinquish their offices. The international community lost no time in recognising the newly independent Republics and establishing diplomatic relations with them.

Kyrgyzstan became independent on August 31, 1991. A few months earlier, in February of that year, the name of the capital Frunze was changed to its old name Bishkek. Mr Askar Akayev, a highly qualified academician heading the Academy of Sciences, who was elected President by the Kirghiz Supreme Soviet on 27 October 1990, continued as President of the independent Kyrgyz Republic. For their national hero the Kyrgyz decided to resurrect the memory of the legendary figure Manas, a personality of a thousand years ago who has by now assumed a mythical aura. Manas is not just the name of a historical figure but is also the title of the collection of poetry written about the times and personalities associated with the hero. The Manas epic, comprising over a million lines of poetry, written by several poets over the centuries, is the longest in the world longer even than the Iliad and Mahabharata. In 1995 Kyrgyzstan, now officially called the Kyrgyz Republic, decided to celebrate the Manas millennium with the support and sponsorship of UNESCO. This was to be a mega event and the celebrations were planned for several days. The heads of states of the neighbouring Central Asian Republics were invited to attend.

A few months prior to the event, President Askar Akayev happened to meet the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in another country. He not only invited her to the Manas Millinneum celebrations but requested her to inaugurate the celebrations and be the chief guest. Benazir Bhutto accepted the invitation. The Kyrgyz President then suggested that Pakistan should open its embassy in his country because this was the only country of Central Asia where Pakistan did not have a resident diplomatic mission. Mohtarma agreed to establish an embassy in Bishkek.

I was then serving as Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan in Australia, and was soon made the first ambassador of Pakistan to the Kyrgyz Republic. I was asked to proceed to Bishkek immediately, establish the mission and be in position before the arrival of the Prime Minister. I reached Bishkek fifteen days before her scheduled arrival. The embassy was established in the prominent Dostuk hotel. President Askar Akayev was out of the capital, one reason being the death of his brother; I could therefore present my credentials to him only an hour and a half before the arrival of the Prime Minister at Bishkek’s Manas airport. President Akayev proceeded to the airport immediately after receiving my credentials and I too headed for the airport; both of us received the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto was given a very warm welcome by the government and the people of Kyrgyzstan. An honorary doctorate degree was conferred on her by the National University. Speaking at the occasion, President Akayev paid rich tributes to Benazir and addressing her said: “You are not just the Daughter of the East; you are The Star of the East.” (A few days before the Prime Minister’s arrival President Akayev sent me a message asking if I could get him a copy of the book ‘Daughter of the East’. I had a copy of the book which I sent him along with a copy of the Russian translation.) Benazir Bhutto inaugurated the Manas celebrations by unveiling the statues of famous bards and poets who over the centuries had contributed to the Manas epic.

A visit to Osh, the second largest city of Kyrgyzstan in the Farghana valley, was not originally included in the Prime Minister’s program, but she agreed to it at the persistent request of the Kyrgyz president. He wished her to see the mosque built on top of the rugged hill by Zaheer-ud-Din Babar (pronounced ‘Ba-bur’ in the areas where he was born and spent his early life) when he was 14 years old. This is a famous site now; one has to walk half an hour up the difficult stony trail to reach it. It was not an easy task even for sturdy, experienced hikers to undertake, but Mohtarma did it and walked ahead of all the members of her entourage and a large number of the hosts, including the Kyrgyz Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov and some of his cabinet members and members of the Jogorku Kenesh or parliament.

She was also shown the archaeological-cultural museum on the way. In the one-room mosque built by Babur on top of the hill in the Farghana valley, Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto offered prayers and gave 200 dollars to the caretaker and asked him to sacrifice a goat in her name and give it to the poor. The walk back down the hill to the base was by a different route and again Mohtarma was in the lead. There was a big crowd to greet her, most of them women and children, singing and dancing to the drum beats. She was offered the traditional bread and salt. Snacks were served for everybody. Then seven young Kyrgyz girls, all named Benazir after her, were brought to meet her. She was pleased to see them and gave them gifts. Among the seven girls was a daughter of the Vice Prime Minister. Benazir was informed that whereas Indira (Gandhi) used to be a popular name for the girls during the Soviet era (it had concluded only a few years earlier), Benazir (Bhutto) was now its most popular successor. The Pakistani Prime Minister’s highly successful official visit to the Kyrgyz Republic, during which some agreements were also signed, ended in Osh from where her plane flew directly back to Islamabad.



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