As Dusk Falls on 2007
Benazir Bhutto knew death was knocking at her door. “Despite its predictability” one local columnist wrote, “there is an eeriness about her death”.
Photographs of her minutes before, full of life, animated, graceful and beautiful. A feared, powerful force in the form of a woman who believed that her party could change the face of Pakistan. And those who feared and despised her convictions could not face the fact that she could possibly win the forthcoming election so they killed her. I had watched an interview where she stated that it was against the Muslim faith to kill a woman because those who committed the deed would go to hell. Muslim has turned against Muslim. Pro Taliban militants and extremists sympathetic to Al Qaeda had said that they would target her because of her pro western attitude. It may take weeks, months or even years to find out who was behind this dastardly deed but wherever the blame eventually lands, the murder was an act of cowardice. Pakistan, days after the assassination continues to be unstable and the question is, “will it remain so as it has done in the past and will it continue to be so in the future?”.
I watched in horror last Wednesday as the appalling news unfolded, hoping there had been a mistake. I switched between BBC, CNN, Fox News and other American News stations but there was no mistake: Benazir Bhutto, the enemy of many but the hope of so many others was dead. In a flash – one minute waving from the sun roof of her vehicle, the next slumped, dying. In that instant when we were once again reminded that life is so very fragile and can be over in literally a heart beat, the changing face of Pakistan, the promise of democracy and the removal of religion from politics, died.
In this day and age when the news comes into one’s home as it happens, the graphic scenes of carnage, panic, weeping and wailing were horrific. Many more innocent lives lost as a result of a determination to rid the country of a controversial figure who after years of self imposed exile returned to her beloved country with the vision of restoring democracy. Whilst I was shocked by this violent act I was not surprised. I watched in October as the motorcade surrounded by supporters welcoming their heroine home, wound its way through the streets of
I don’t remember when I first started to follow the career path of Benazir Bhutto but it was before her first term as Prime Minister. Apart from her incredible stature, I was drawn by her grace, graciousness, her openness, her eloquence, her defiance, her courage and her powers of communication to say nothing of her beauty. Educated at Oxford where she was the first Asian woman to head Oxford Union’s debating society (no mean feat) and then Harvard, she entered into an arranged marriage. She assumed premiership of a complex nation state at the early age of 35 and was a likely and unlikely leader in western terms. She adhered to some traditions whilst confronting to others and she stepped into her father’s shoes after he was executed. There was further tragedy with the loss of two brothers and her mother’s mental decline. But she persisted. Palistan politics is violent and volatile but she was willing to face that instead of living out her life in comfortable exile. One could say that she knew her destiny and faced it each day with greater and greater resolve. Was her death an unnecessary martyrdom? I am not so sure. This woman believed in a cause and was prepared to put her life on the line for her beliefs – she supposedly prepared her family for what might happen to her and I cannot for one moment think that her husband and children were unaware of the dangers. But talking about the possibilities is very different from the realities.
There are many powerful women leading countries today (Germany, New Zealand, Liberia, president elect in Argentina)but Meir, Gandhi, Bhutto and Thatcher were among the first. It is remarkable that Gandhi and Bhutto came to power in countries where religion dictates that a man lead. There is no doubt that Benazir Bhutto came from a political dynasty in the same way as Indirah Gandhi. Both women learned the importance of country at their father’s knee and were moulded to lead.
One can talk about the corruption that supposedly took place during Bhutto’s leadership and although she was deposed and her husband served a prison sentence, the charges were never proved.
I have always said that Pakistan is a dangerous country and could well be the country which is responsible for World War 111. My concern now as it has been in the past, is the threat of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Its relations with India are fragile to say the least and the arrogance of both countries could go a long way to aggravating a delicate situation. Sixty years ago when India became independent, there was a division because the leaders could not agree as to whether a Muslim or a Hindu would lead the country. And so East Pakistan and West Pakistan were born. I wonder how many school children in the western world today, know that what is now Bangladesh was not so long ago, East Pakistan. And is Pakistan harbouring terrorists? What of Al Qaeda? Is Pakistan home to Bin Laden? And where does the West figure in all of this? How true is it that Bush urged Benazir Bhutto to go home and run for office whilst putting his money behind Musharraf?
Dusk is falling on 2007 leaving Pakistan and by extension, the world a more perilous place than we knew prior to Wednesday 27 December 2007.
As this year comes to a close, I wish each and every one of you whatever you wish for yourself in 2008 and I ask you at the same time, to spare a thought for Benazir Bhutto, what she stood for and her husband and son who are now to lead her party.
As dusk falls on 2009, what has changed in Pakistan?terrorism continues. Has the country been liberated. This year has seen numerous attacks and suicide bombings. The 29th December saw a suicide bombing during the main Jaloos in Karachi in which the Shias were mourning over the Day of Ashura. Forty three people died and sixty were injured.
Saeed Shafqat, professor and director of Centre for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG), Forman Christian University, Lahore, Pakistan has said that the "escalation of violence and religious extremism in Pakistan is “making Pakistan ungovernable,"
Will there ever be the democracy that Bhutto so wished for, in Pakistan?