Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s legacy – by Farahnaz Ispahani

The second anniversary of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination coincides with the observance of Ashura, the annual reminder to the Muslims of the ultimate sacrifice of the holy prophet’s grandson Imam Hussain (RA) in the desert of Karbala. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was inspired by the great tragedy that has been inspiring the Muslims throughout the history to put principle before self and to oppose tyranny. As the Muslims mourn and pray in memory of the great martyrdom of Islam’s first century, many of us recall Mohtarma Bhutto’s frequent references to the sacrifices of Bibi Zainab (Razi Allah Ta’ala Anha) and other great and noble women of Karbala in particular and of Islamic history in general.

Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was one of the most extraordinary women in the modern Muslim history. In the footsteps of the women in early Islamic history, Mohtarma also dramatically influenced the course of the Islamic society and inspired the community of the believers all over the world. For me, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was far more than an iconic leader, far more than a symbol of boundless opportunity and hope for women. She was a personal inspiration whom I miss so deeply that even writing this essay brings tears to my eyes.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto was intellectually unequalled, brave beyond description, and so dedicated to her people and to her country that she sacrificed her personal happiness and ultimately her life fighting for the principles of democracy, economic development and human rights that defined her and inspired her followers. She taught many Pakistani women including me, by action and by mentoring, to reject glass ceilings or any barriers to full participation in our religion, our society, our family and in the politics of our country. She went before the US Congress in 1989, and in a speech shown live on television in Pakistan and around the world, told the women of America, the women of our homeland, and indeed women all over the planet, “Yes We Can.” Long before Barack Obama adopted this slogan as the message of his presidential campaign, Benazir Bhutto created it, proselytised it and lived it.

The first woman ever elected head of government of a Muslim state, and the youngest chief executive in the world during her first government, Mohtarma was perhaps the most recognised woman on the earth, a household name and inspiration to billions of women on all the continents. She was young, she was beautiful, and she was spectacularly educated and wealthy. She could have lived a happy and comfortable life anywhere in the world, surrounded by the people and family she loved and doing the professional work she always longed for. But that, as she said, was not her destiny. In her autobiography, Daughter of the East, she begins by saying, “I didn’t chose this life; it chose me.” Never once through her fight for democracy against dictatorship, nor as prime minister in her two governments, nor in her heroic role as leader of the opposition, did she ever complain, feel sorry for herself or be bitter.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto thought self-pity was wasted energy and a distraction from the important agenda before our nation. She never accepted the status quo and was always challenging us with ideas, demanding new approaches and experimentation, looking for models abroad that could be applied to the Pakistani economy, polity and society. She took on the militant extremists who had attempted to hijack our cherished religion. She denounced them, using the words of the Holy Book itself, to rebut their arguments about democracy, about tolerance, about women’s rights and about technology and modernity.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto never cried for herself, for the trials that she and her family were put through by dictators and despots who sought to destroy her as a symbol of Pakistan’s democratic struggle. Because she was so cherished by her people, her political enemies often sought to discredit her by attacking her family and friends. That pained her and angered her because she was a woman fully able and capable and willing of fighting her own battles. And in the end, in her very last speech, in her last words on that last black day, she prophesised to our nation, “We will bury our dead, but there will be a Bhutto in every alley.” This was a way of telling all of us, in her unique way, that the force of democracy, equality and modernity will ultimately prevail in Pakistan. She rose up to remind us that justice cannot forever be denied. She said, “Despite everything that has happened, time, justice and the force of history are on our side.” In her memory, we must prove that true.

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Member of the National Assembly and a spokesperson for the Co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

2 responses to “Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s legacy – by Farahnaz Ispahani”

  1. Why is everyone mum about the Bhutto killer?

    Sunday, December 27, 2009
    By By Amir Mir

    LAHORE: Two years down the road since Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, her murder mystery remains unresolved despite President Zardari’s significant public statements like “she talks about her murderers from her grave” and that “I know her assassins and will reveal their identity at the right time”.

    Addressing his first press conference after the murder, Asif Zardari made public Bhutto’s October, 20 2007 email to Wolf Blitzer, a staffer of the CNN which mentioned the name of her would-be assassin. “The said e-mail should be treated as Bhutto’s dying declaration. She talks about her murderers from her grave and it is up to the world to listen to the echoes”, Zardari said.

    Bhutto wrote to Wolf Blitzer in her e-mail: “If it is God’s will, nothing will happen to me. However, if anything happened to me, I would hold Pervez Musharraf responsible”. Blitzer received the e-mail on October 26 from Mark Siegel, a friend and long-time Washington spokesman for Benazir Bhutto. That was eight days after she narrowly escaped an attempt on her life in Karachi. Bhutto wrote to Wolf: “I have been made to feel insecure by Musharraf’s minions”.

    On October 19, 2007, a day after the Karsaz suicide bombing on her welcome procession, Benazir disclosed at a press conference that she had informed Musharraf in a confidential letter, written on 16 October, 2007 that three senior officials of his government were planning to assassinate her upon her return. “However, I had further made it clear to Musharraf that I won’t blame (the) Taliban or al-Qaeda if I am attacked, but I will name my enemies in the Pakistani military establishment,” she told journalists. Although Benazir did not publicly name the three persons, PPP circles later told the media that they were the then director general Intelligence Bureau, Brigadier (retd) Ejaz Hussain Shah, chief minister Punjab Pervaiz Elahi and chief minister Sindh Arbab Ghulam Rahim. While concluding the letter, she reportedly asserted that her life was in great danger, particularly from Ejaz Shah.

    Significantly, on December 30, 2007, two days after Benazir’s murder, a visibly furious Asif Zardari had accused [at a press conference in Naudero] the PML-Q leadership of his wife’s murder besides describing the party as “Qatil League”. Hitting back in the same tone the same evening (on December 30, 2007), Pervaiz Elahi had charged Zardari for Bhutto’s murder, saying: “Who has benefited the most from the assassination? Zardari, and only Zardari. Check the authenticity of Benazir’s will. Find out the amount for which she was insured.” By that time, Zardari had already been elected as the Co-chairman of the PPP.

    On October 18, 2008, on the first anniversary of the terrorist attack made on Bhutto’s procession, the Karachi Police finally lodged a second FIR of the Karsaz attacks on the basis of her letter, naming three persons as those who could be involved in her assassination. National newspapers reported on October 20, 2008 that those named in the second were Pervez Elahi, Ejaz Shah and Hameed Gul. Confirming the lodging of the second FIR, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said Bhutto’s own attempts to lodge a second FIR of the Karsaz tragedy were foiled by the PML-Q government. The same day, Qaim Ali Shah declared in Karachi that the three persons nominated by Benazir Bhutto would be arrested soon for interrogations.

    However, no such arrests were made. Ten days later, Pervaiz Elahi claimed in an exclusive interview with The News on November 1, 2008 that the Presidency had stopped the Sindh government from implicating him in the Benazir murder case. Elahi revealed that following the registration of a second FIR in the Karsaz case, he and his first cousin Ch Shujaat Hussain went to see Asif Zardari’s close aide, Qayyum Soomro, who had delivered their message to the president. “After our meeting with Soomro during which we protested on the issue, [Sindh Home Minister] Dr Zulfiqar Mirza was told by the Presidency not to talk about the case any more”. Elahi’s claim eventually proved to be true given the fact that after the initial outburst against the PML-Q leaders, not only Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah fell silent but the rest of the PPP leaders also adopted a mysterious mum.

    But almost two months later, while speaking on the first anniversary of Bhutto, President Zardari claimed on December 27, 2008 that he knew her killers and would reveal their identity at the right time. Six months later, on July 6, 2009, Zardari blamed Musharraf for the Bhutto murder, saying she died by a bullet and not by the bomb that a Scotland Yard report identified as the cause. “I wish Musharraf had looked after my wife as I can look after myself,” Asif Zardari told British newspaper The Telegraph in an interview.

    Almost five weeks later, on September 15, Zardari conceded at a dinner meeting with senior newsmen that foreign powers with interest in the South Asian region had guaranteed a safe exit to his predecessor, and he too had been party to the deal that was struck at the time of Musharraf’s resignation in 2008. A belated denial by the presidential spokesman came two days later.

    In November 2009, Musharraf was finally made to appear before the UN inquiry commission, taking a U-turn on his earlier stance that any outside agency has no legal ground to question him. Following his refusal to be interviewed, the UN commission had actually warned Musharraf his name would be passed on to the UN Secretary General as the one not cooperating with the commission. He was finally interviewed by the UN commission in Philadelphia on October 27, 2009.

    On December 10, 2009, the Lahore High Court decided to precede ex-parte against Musharraf on a petition seeking registration of a criminal case against him and others for allegedly plotting the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. On 14 December 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that he was extending the mandate of the UN commission investigating the Bhutto murder by another three months as sought by its chairman who wanted more time to complete its work. The commission was mandated to submit its report to the UN secretary general by 31 December 2009 amidst strong apprehensions that like all infamous assassination cases the people of Pakistan have witnessed, the mastermind in the Bhutto murder case will too remain a shadowy figure on whose role people will only speculate about in whispers.

  2. Talk about a puff piece. Not a word about the corruption that existed and flourished during her rule!