For me she is still around. Always be. Though conspirators against democracy, opposed to empowerment of the less privileged, perpetrators of obscurantism, extremism, bigotry, interfaith conflicts and doomsayers of the clash of civilisations had thought that by physically eliminating Benazir Bhutto they had changed the course of history in favour of their evil anti-democratic designs.
Now when I look back and join millions in remembering her on her 66th birthday anniversary (born June 21, 1953) I feel how wrong her adversaries were. Despite Praetorian machinations martyred Bibi—after a long struggle- turned the tide in giving birth to a new democratic order.
Her life was put to an end when Pakistan needed her most for its democracy to survive. And this was the reason that she shrugged aside the threats of death that were conveyed to her through various channels—by those who saw in her return to Pakistan an end to their dirty games. Their warnings to her were clear—Pakistan had space for only one – either her or the Praetorian dictator. Her participation in elections would have meant defeat to them. She preferred to do and die for Pakistan rather than surrender to fatal intimidations of her enemies.
Benazir Bhutto was perhaps the most outstanding leader of her time-nay all chimes. And she must be having some rare qualities of leadership that she figures as one of the 21 extra-ordinary women—all thorough to present twenty first century—to find a coveted place in famous journalist/BBC broadcaster Jenni Murray’s “A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 21 WOMEN”.
Indeed, like of her is not likely to be born again. She carved for herself a unique niche in the annals of human kind not on the basis of her dynastic roots in glory but her long struggle against military dictatorship and forces of oppression—like of which is not likely to be seen again. How enormous a threat she was to anti-democratic forces that despite being popularly elected Prime Minister twice as well as first among Muslim women in the Islamic world–she was not allowed by the Establishment to complete her tenures. And before she could step in a third time she was eliminated.
Despite odds against her Awami poet Habib Jalib’s ‘Nihati Larki’ (Lonely un armed girl) Benazir’s life shortened by a dictator was inspirational for the masses igniting in them a hope for a better tomorrow under democracy and an equitable social order. After the judicial murder of her iconic father by General Ziaul Haq and later coup by General Pervez Musharraf –she inspired the hope by putting democracy back in place. Until her last breath she did not give it up and when she was shot dead by dictator’s hired killers (Dec 27, 2007) she had reached the pinnacle of her glory and on the point of fulfilment of her democratic dream.
It was triumph of her politics that Pakistan at last saw the restoration of democracy in 2008. It was no mean achievement that after over two decade-long periods of dictatorship, PPP leadership by adopting politics of consensus as provided in Charter of Democracy, brought in constitutional amendments to strengthen the federation through maximum provincial autonomy seeking unity in diversity as was the vision of the Quaid behind the idea of Pakistan. Notwithstanding the faults and failings of the nascent democratic order all its institutions worked complimentary to each other. And for the first time spirit of national reconciliation and politics of consensus bequeathed by her to the nation ushered in a period in which for next decade there was no political prisoner.
Besides giving rebirth to a democratic order her greatest contribution lies in her infinite message in defence of Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance and harbinger of inter-faith co-existence. In her last testament “Reconciliation, Islam and the West” Bhutto defended Islam as a progressive and egalitarian system that nails the prejudiced view that it was a religion of violence and fear.
Through convincingly vigorous arguments to counter anti-Islamist forces propagating its totally distorted view, she extensively quotes and discusses verses of the Quran that uphold universal peace, plurality and the democratic traditions of consensus and debate. Like a learned religious scholar unlike the Taliban breed, she has brought into focus to create awareness, verses from Quran that prohibit the very actions that extremists claim as necessary or justifiable acts of “Holy War”.
Her presentation in “Reconciliation” is armed with quotes from the research and conclusions of a large number of Muslim scholars and authorities on Islam. I entirely agree with the conclusion of an eminent writer who along with other heavyweights spent the better part of the past decade making the same argument. There cannot be two views that her book is a very useful storehouse of ammunition for defending Islam as a religion of peace, social justice, harmony and universal tolerance.
Unlike the prophets of doom masquerading as religious scholars and political leaders who know all and know nothing, Benazir Bhutto stoutly defended Islam’s socio-economic justice. She did not waver in her perseverance to underscore her wisdom and foresight. She rightly emphasised that there was not only need for “Ijtehad” for change in the Muslim way of life according to the needs and challenges of the present age, democracy was not a western idea but part of Islam that believed in equality and condemned poverty as the greatest curse of god. She was also candid in criticising those who perpetrated extremism on the plea that their actions were a reaction to injustices by the west while completely ignoring violence by Muslims against Muslims in Muslim countries. She was rightly bitter over the silence from the Ummah when it came to be killing of Muslims by Muslims on sectarian grounds.
Bhutto all her life was a champion of democracy for all people-irrespective of ones caste, creed, colour or gender. She was at her best when she challenged issue of democracy versus Islam. With her scholarly depth and profound understanding, she focused on the political histories of a large number of Muslim-majority nations, strongly pleading that the failure of democracies in most of the Muslim countries was political rather than religious. In almost all cases, the west (either a colonial European power or the US) had played a questionable role in undermining democracy and propping up dictators—for example Pakistan, Egypt etc. While the western leaders cried hoarse for waging wars to make world safe for democracy, their preference was always in favour of supporting evil of dictatorship for geo-strategic expediency and gains. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was absolutely right and brave when in a Congressional presentation confessed that Pakistan was reaping the bitter harvest of bitter seeds sowed by the United States following Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
When in exile knocking at the western doors to wake up their leaders that if they were sincere in defending the pristine values of democratic freedoms/human rights, the need of the hour was to join hands with her for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan. She tried to show them wisdom in the words of Lord Chris Patten—valid in 2006 as well as now– that if the West wanted to bring sanity and stability in post-Soviet Afghanistan, it must stop supporting dictatorship in Pakistan. Lord Patten believed that only a strong democratic Pakistan can help in ushering order and stability in Afghanistan.
Democratic Pakistan was made to join West in support of Taliban since they were seen in the eyes of the West to be harbingers of orderliness in a strife-torn, war-ravaged country following Soviet withdrawal. It was through western and Saudi help Taliban took Kabul right after the fall of her government in 1996 – squarely placing all the blame for Pakistan’s Taliban policy on her successor. Whatever- she never gave up her opposition to obscurantism to her last breath.
Most importantly her book demolishes the “clash of civilizations” thesis. She makes mince meat of it with the aid of a number of Muslim theologians whose vision was based on reason, sanity and tolerance within the Muslim world. She died searching for support to strengthen those voices of reason and sanity and to get them space to be listened. She was profoundly perturbed since she believed that the real clash was not between Islam and the west, but within Islam itself. And according to her the way out was for the moderates to be victorious over dictatorships.
Bhutto had laid out her own blueprint for the defeat of extremism by concerted efforts involving both Muslims and the west. She pleaded to the oil-rich Gulf states to “jump-start economic and intellectual development” in the rest of the Muslim world via a Muslim Investment Fund. She lobbied for a Marshal Plan for rebuilding Afghanistan and Pakistan-ideas that remain elusive to this day while trillions of dollars are going down the drain with no hope of victory in sight. She concluded her book by acknowledging that her proposals “may seem daunting and even impossible. I make these recommendations because the times demand something more than business as usual . . . It is a time for creativity. It is a time for bold commitment. . . There has been enough pain. It is time for reconciliation.
One agrees with the view that it may be tempting to think her death undermined her belief in what was yet possible, but it seems more in keeping with the spirit of Reconciliation to say that there are ways to counter those who use violence to further their ends. We just can’t wait until tomorrow to do it. We must strike now. A little late would be too late.
That being what her aspiration was for the global Muslims, one had thought that decade of democratic experimentation in Pakistan would take us further on the road to fulfilling the visions the Quid, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. Unfortunately it seems other round. Not going into the controversy of how the Establishment ‘selected’ a government and a prime minister to get over Benazir Bhutto’s democratic dream, nation must unite to thwart the rapidly unfolding conspiracy to replace democracy with fascism as recently manifested in senior PTI leader Faisal Vawda’s statement regarding physically eliminating 5,000 dissenters for political cleansing. He let the cat out of the bag and it reminded students of history of the rise of Hitler’s fascism in Germany and the cleansing that he carried on to eliminate his opponents. It was more than 5,000.
Honourable Faisal Vawda as PTI Minister had made his name as the strongest protagonist of IK and his policies, much more than others, some how he manages to get quality time from tv anchors of all shades of views. His statement regarding the PTI pogrom to eliminate political dissent, has generated alarming debate and sharp reactions in Pakistan threatening serious consequences to the democratic future.
Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto has rightly warned that Pakistan was on the path toward rolling back representative rule and the state’s priority is to crush democratic civilian voices while continuing to support and harbour terrorists and extremists. “We are experiencing a transition away from democracy, we are experiencing a transition to dictatorship — a transition to authoritarianism — a transition to totalitarianism. The talk of hanging 5,000 people is fascism.” It seems times ahead would be tough as such need of the hour for the nation is to get tougher.