By Tarek Fatah
It was the summer of 1966. We were mere teenagers meeting Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had just resigned as Pakistan’s foreign minister and was about to launch a new left-wing political movement, the Pakistan Peoples Party.
Sitting in the front yard of his sprawling Karachi mansion, he engaged us in a lively discussion about Islam, democracy and socialism, while chewing on a cigar. That was the day I first saw Benazir Bhutto. She came in, had a brief chat with her dad and then left, as we debated how best to oust Pakistan’s then military dictator, Ayub Khan.
Pinky, as Benazir was then known, barely nodded at us. The articulate young girl did not participate in the discussion about democracy, nor did she hear her father talk about the cancer of dictatorships, but she would not have to wait too long to discover that herself. None of us could have imagined how the disease, strengthened by Islamic extremism, would wipe out almost the entire Bhutto family. Within 40 years, Benazir, her father and her two brothers would all be victims of political assassination.
The macabre dance of death began on April 4, 1979, when deposed prime minister Bhutto was hanged by the country’s Islamist dictator, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. The state-sanctioned killing stunned the nation. Yesterday, they came for Benazir, the leader who posed a greater threat to the established order of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan than even her father – for she was a woman.
While Benazir represented modernity and a quest for gender equality, the Islamist establishment and the Army’s Inter-Services Intelligence – that Islamists have so effectively penetrated – wanted to turn back the clock of history and permanently exclude women from the corridors of power.
When the first suicide bombings killed more than a hundred of her followers in October, on the day she returned to Pakistan after years in exile, Benazir’s naysayers claimed she had staged the attack herself. The Islamists and the left mocked her, labelling her as the poodle of George W. Bush. The cruelty of the slander was matched by her resolve.
Why did they have to kill her? If she was as corrupt as her critics claim, couldn’t they have bought her loyalties? Her killers, however, knew that the woman who spent years in jail, lived in exile for a decade, had one thing on her mind: the end of Islamic extremism in Pakistan. For that, and for the fact that she was a woman, she had to be eliminated.
As a student leader in Pakistan in the 1960s, I witnessed many failures. The country I called home lost wars, got divided in two, suffered military coups. Close friends died as a result of civil strife and comrades were tortured, but the air of optimism would not leave us. Today, another dark cloud of despair hangs over much of Pakistan. But the spirit of the Pakistani people cannot be dampened.
When Bhutto senior was hanged, the streets went empty. Fright had overpowered the people, who abandoned the man they had come to love. Last night, hundreds of thousands of people poured onto the streets of major cities. Some beat their chests and in anger while others set fires.
In Pakistan, the forces of progress and enlightenment are lined up against darkness and death. How can we in Canada ensure that Benazir Bhutto’s quest for progress and democracy is not buried with her?
A lot. We need to stop dealing with military dictators who imprison court judges, rewrite constitutions, harbour Islamic militants and then present themselves as the saviours of the West. We need to say to these men: As long as you harbour merchants of death and purveyors of hate, we will consider you as persona non-grata and that our doors are closed for you, your ambassadors and your messages of medievalism.
The elder Bhutto wrote a book from death row in 1979. Titled If I am assassinated, its last pages contained a quote from Russian author Nikolai Ostrovsky:
“Man’s dearest possession is his life, and since it is given to him to live but once, he must so live as not to be scared with the shame of a cowardly and trivial past, so as not to be tortured for years without purpose, that dying he can say, ‘All my life and my strength were given to the first cause in the world – the liberation of mankind.’ ”
As death stared the senior Bhutto in the face, he stared back. His past has no shame of cowardice. His daughter, too, gave her life in courage.
Courtesy: The Globe and Mail