Notions of "honoring the dead" seem to compel most to ignore or paint over the wrongs committed by them when they were alive. It's a sin of kindness that can be easily forgiven in personal and family atmospheres where loved ones suffer loss and are in need of comfort.
But when the person who dies is a public figure such as a head of state with great responsibility for many people, it is important to look honestly at the life lived, service rendered, values exemplified and decisions made. It's important to measure the gains and failures wrought by that life for the historical record and for lessons to be learned by others. Shahid Siddiqi has done just this on the second and third anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's death.
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated three years ago, December 27, South Asians are sentimental people. Over the centuries, their romanticism about revered religious deities and historical social icons has shaped their psyche of nurturing personality cults. To this when you add pervasive illiteracy and ignorance about political realities of the present times, it is not difficult to understand why some political leaders have managed to achieve their meteoric rise to power merely on the strength of their charisma.
For lack of substance, such political heroes did not last very long. They owed their fall to incompetence in management of the affairs of the state and misuse of power and often met violent fate. Their warts were posthumously removed by their hangers-on who, for their own self aggrandizement, transformed them into martyrs, clearing the way for their dynasties to rule after them. Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, all fell victims to this dynastic rule — a throwback of the ancient monarchical system. This created turmoil and stymied the development of political institutions rather than strengthening nascent democracies, or improving people's lives and such political heirs usually failed because they leapfrogged into power without any prior political experience or acumen.
Starting as a novice, Benazir matured into an astute politician, enlightened and aggressive. But was she indeed a champion of democracy as her successors and diehard supporters would like everyone to believe? She was inspired and tutored by her father — ZAB.
No wonder then that in many ways she was like him - a brilliant, charismatic, shrewd, ambitious, but self centered and autocratic politician with a visceral hatred for dissent. Bhutto championed socialism and the rights of the poor to gain popular support, when ironically he was a feudal to the core, by birth and by temperament.
After climbing to power, he discarded his socialistic garb, dumped his capable compatriots and surrounded himself with political pygmies who danced to his tune. To him ruthlessness was an instrument of power. Machiavellian in mindset, he let Pakistan dismember in because in that lay the promise of his power in what remained of Pakistan. Despite her claim, as that of her father, about commitment to the cause of the disadvantaged and the poor, she remained an elitist and never personally identified herself with this lot. She proved to be no Gandhi.
She went to live in Cannes after her father's death — a place best known for being a very fashionable and expensive resort city of the French Rivera. And when came time to contest her first election she chose Lyari, Karachi, as her constituency. How ironic that she lived in Cannes - one of the richest areas of Europe, and represented the poorest of the poor community of Pakistan? Soon after ascending to power Benazir mastered the art of manipulation and deception. She tolerated democracy because it was the only means by which she could get into power, but ruled her party and the country as an autocrat.
By getting herself appointed as 'chairperson for life' — she rooted out any dissent and challenge to her authority within the party. The home of Benazir and Zardari in Surrey, 70 miles south of London. She also had a home in Dubai and lived for periods in Cannes on the French Riviera.
Benazir was prime minister twice and both her governments were dismissed prematurely on charges of corruption and bad governance. Not only were her administrations marked by mismanagement, nepotism, social injustice and corruption, but her human rights record was dismal too. She was criticized by Amnesty International and other Human Rights groups for death squads, abductions, torture and deaths of political detainees in police custody. Political opponents were hounded, harassed and jailed. Her own brother Murtaza was murdered by the police in Karachi during her own watch as prime minister and her party government in the province.
Murtaza after returning to Pakistan from exile had demanded party leadership and his share of the family fortune. In exile Benazir maintained her stranglehold over the party. She did not allow the emergence of alternate leadership for that would have meant her own political demise.
It is widely known that after elections she disallowed her party's senior vice chairman and an old loyalist to accept General Musharraf's offer to become prime minister. She let the opportunity go to her opponents for fear of being marginalized and made irrelevant. In that event she also stood to lose her ability to bargain with the army her return to Pakistan. So much for her respect for democracy within her own party! Power is addictive and Benazir was addicted to it too. Unable to reach any deal with the army on her own, her safest bet was to ride back on the shoulders of the Americans who were looking for a credible and electable partner, willing to carry forward their regional agenda.
Aware of Neocons discontent with General Musharraf who, they thought, was playing a double game, she found this to be perfect moment to offer her services.
She agreed to partner with those she had at one stage publicly accused of her father's 'murder'. When she embarked on her historic return journey to Pakistan on 18 October 07, she was fully cognizant to all the dangers to her life. She was being intimidated by all, especially from Musharraf's henchmen. Day in and day out her opponents were issuing statements in the press with a view to deter her from returning.
Some even had stretched as far as warning her of dire consequences should she insisted on returning. But the world witnessed that she boarded the plane from Dubai for Karachi and upon her arrival there she was greeted by a historic sea of people; never seen before in the history of Pakistan. During that fateful night of October 07, her cavalcade was attacked by suicide bombers and some of her supporters laid down their lives protecting her.
She luckily escaped unhurt.
The scene of deaths and destruction was simply horrific. Any body else would have confined to one's home out of trauma. But there you go; Benazir Bhutto was up and running the next morning. She addressed a press conference and visited the injured party workers in the hospital and also visited their families at their homes; all of these activities in one day despite security threats to her own person. The great testimony to her boldness comes from her take on Taliban. While Musharraf was chickening out by surrendering to their terror, Benazir Bhutto was very clear from the outset.
She had said then, "The Taliban seek deaths and we must give them one". This meant she was dead against any talk with the Taliban and wanted some concrete and concerted military operations against them which Musharraf was not ready for. It is heartening to note, however, that she seems vindicated today as the new military commander — General Kiyani — did go ahead with the needed military strikes to destroy their sanctuaries in the lawless tribal areas.
Benazir Bhutto was a gifted lady — a brilliant soul. Even her staunch critics, both at home and abroad, accepted the fact that she was indeed a bright leader with brilliant ideas and immense qualities". The idea is the creation of a Reconciliation Corps, modeled on the Peace Corp. According to her it would be made up of Muslims from Western societies who have been economically, socially, and politically integrated into the life of their host countries while maintaining their Islamic character, culture, and religion.
By proposing this Reconciliation Corps, she in fact has envisaged that these Muslim youths could build bridges with their countries of origin. Benazir Bhutto had the extra-ordinary beauty to captivate any body and possessed the charm and charisma of her father. Like her father, she was loved both at home and abroad.
She was the only politician who had toured the entire Pakistan, city by city, town by town, village by village and hamlet by hamlet at least five times. She knew the party workers by face and the towns by the streets. She knew in detail about the winner and the runner-up in each and every constituency from Karachi to Khyber. The world also admired her brilliance, beauty and boldness. Unfortunately enough she was murdered just a day later.
She was conferred a posthumous award for her meritorious services in the field of democracy and humanity in Paris in June of In January , a portion of the famous Clark Street in Chicago was named after her. And, in the same month the newly inaugurated Bangladeshi parliament also unanimously adopted an obituary reference in her honor.
These are undoubtedly great honors which very few world leaders were bestowed upon. Like the Pakistani people, the entire world leaders mourned her death.
Benazir Bhutto - HISTORY
The news of her death had captured the World headlines immediately and the electronic media, the world over, covered this sad news for days and weeks together. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was a great loss for the people of Pakistan". All other world leaders had also sent messages of their condolences.
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Pakistan had declared three-day mourning in her honor.
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