Benazir Bhutto with Natasha Fatah
Editor: We are pleased to cross post this heart felt tribute to Benazir Bhutto by Pakistani-Canadian journalist, Natasha Fatah. This was first published on the CBC news site.
The day Benazir Bhutto was killed, is a day I will never forget. I was away from my family, the devastation was overwhelming and I couldn’t stop crying. She was a gift and was stolen from us. This is my love letter to her published on the CBC’s new site in 2007.
Pakistan loses its prodigal daughter
The loss of Benazir Bhutto serves as a massive blow to the potential for democracy and peace in Pakistan. But her death touches many on a personal and intimate level as well. We’ve known her for almost three decades, and watched her grow as major international force. And for many, including myself, her death was more than the loss of a political figure. It felt like the loss of a friend.
From the time I came to Canada as a young girl, Bhutto has been a presence in my life, sometimes even helping against the insults of schoolyard bullies. When school children called me a Paki, or said that Pakistan was backwards, or that Pakistanis were ugly and unsophisticated, all I had to do was point to Benazir Bhutto and that would shut them up. She was the first woman elected to the highest political post in a Muslim country, she was the youngest person to do so and she was often referred to, by the international press, as the most beautiful politician in the world. For a kid dealing with culture shock in suburban Ontario, Benazir Bhutto’s presence was a gift.
Many years later, I would find myself once again investing so much in the woman affectionately referred to as BB. Once again, she became an icon for so many Pakistanis who wanted a progressive and moderate Pakistan.
Over the past few years, the world has watched Pakistan deteriorate into a country of chaos, religious extremism and political corruption. We watched the U.S. continue to talk about the importance of democracy and yet continuously back a military dictator in Pakistan. We watched the spread of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda throughout such major cities as Islamabad and Lahore. And there seemed to be no end in sight. But when Bhutto said she would return after living in exile for eight years, it was a spark of hope for the moderates of Pakistan.
With the U.S. orchestrating her return and her alleged deal with President Musharraf, many criticized her for being an opportunist and a sell-out. But in an interview she gave earlier this year, she said that as long as the U.S. saw Musharraf as their man in the region, she had no choice but to make a deal with him. In conversations with her, she said that she wanted to bring free and fair elections to Pakistan, and she could not do that from an apartment in London or Dubai. She had to be with the people.
She could have refused and continued to stay abroad, enjoying a life of diplomatic engagements and university seminars where she would have been rewarded handsomely. But she chose the harder path. She chose to return to one of the most dangerous countries in the world.
Bhutto was not a stupid woman. She was fully aware of the dangers that awaited her in the country. Violence and threats were not new concepts in her life, and she knew all too well the price one pays for speaking out in Pakistan. Bhutto probably did have a sense of destiny about the whole matter. She lost her father, and both her brothers. She was jailed for years, and some of that time in the devastating solitary confinement cells of Pakistan. But her desires to see her country as a democratic society, and to be a part of that change, were stronger than her own concerns for safety.
Many criticized her for going out in public when she returned, because that not only put her in danger but also risked the lives of thousands of her supporters, many representing the poorest and weakest factions in the country. But Bhutto was a politician for the people. What good would it do to return to Pakistan and stay behind closed doors? She returned to win an election and no politician wins an election fairly by sitting at home. The failure to keep her safe was the fault of a defunct and completely corrupt military dictatorship, not of a woman who wanted to experience the freedom of returning to her homeland.
She was often criticized her for not doing enough for women during her time as leader of Pakistan, and it is said that Musharraf did more. But it’s easy to bulldoze changes at your whim when you’re a macho military dictator. It’s much tougher when you’re a young woman leading a democratic parliamentary process where much of the country doesn’t consider women as equal citizens under the law.
Unlike so many other Pakistani elite politicians, she was an incredibly approachable and charming person. This past summer, when I had the opportunity to meet her for an interview with the CBC, she arrived with no bodyguards, no security, no entourage of advisers, or press co-ordinators. It was just her and one good friend, who came for the company. This was the type of confident and genuine woman that could have once again led Pakistan.
There is much speculation about who killed her. Was it the Al-Qaeda? The Taliban? The government? Pakistan’s deadly intelligence agencies? Or a combination of all? We do not yet know.
But what we do know is that Bhutto died because of her bravery. Whether you liked her or not, whether you supported her party or not, ultimately, she was committed to her country. In her last moment she was peeking out of her vehicle to wave to her supporters at Thursday’s rally, and once again it was connection with the people that will be her enduring legacy. Unlike the cowards who hide behind masks and the guise of religious extremism, she died because she refused to hide.
As the suffering of this loss subsides, and as the haze clears, I hope that Bhutto’s death will not result in the death of democracy in Pakistan.