December 27, 2007 is a tragic day that will live in infamy in the troubled and traumatic history of Pakistan and will be tragically immortalized in our national history. It is the day when a precious life was extinguished at the altar of fanaticism, religious intolerance, and bigotry. On this day, the leader of Pakistan’s biggest political party, Benazir Bhutto, was cruelly assassinated in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi.
Despite the fact that she was not a sitting prime minister, her brutal murder shook the world like the murder of US President John F. Kennedy or Indra Gandhi, the Indian Prime minister, many years ago. Her untimely death shook the very foundations of Pakistan. Riots erupted all over Sindh and Karachi witnessed some horrible scenes of public protests in the form of loot, plunder and arson. Her tragic assassination highlighted the doubts about Pakistan and confirmed her fears that she had expressed many times. Years of dictatorship and state sponsorship of religious extremism have turned the nuclear armed state of Pakistan into a safe haven for terrorists that threaten the very existence of the country and pose a danger to the world.
BB had always passionately advocated the urgent need for building a moderate Muslim democracy, based on secular principles that cares for its people and allows them to elect their leaders to govern them democratically. She drew attention to the fact that the war against terrorism cannot be won without mobilizing the people of Pakistan against Islamist extremists and bringing Pakistan’s security services under civilian control.
Benazir Bhutto had suffered tragedy, grief and heartbreak many times in life – from the judicial murder of her beloved father to the trauma of the unnatural death of two brothers and the long imprisonment of her husband and long years of exile. She was demonized and victimized endlessly by the civil-military oligarchy that has ruled Pakistan since 1958. In spite of many impediments and pitfalls, she managed to retain popular public support.
In 1988, despite some fierce opposition from the military establishment, she became the youngest Prime Minister in the history of Pakistan, and the first woman to lead a Muslim nation in the modern era. As a political leader, she stood for secular democracy, human rights, women’s empowerment, press freedom and mass education. Her enemies and critics accused her of many vile deeds ranging from corruption to being too close to the United States.
During her second term as Prime Minister, Pakistan became one of the 10 emerging capital markets of the world and the World Health Organisation (WHO) praised her government’s efforts in the field of public health. She was a leader of global caliber and not just a daughter of the east. She inherited a powerful political legacy and mesmerized the people of Pakistan. Her beauty, charisma, exuberance and intellect provided her with qualities of head and heart that attracted and rallied people around her. Her mass appeal was the result of the circumstances under which she took the leadership of the PPP – the legacy of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had founded the party.
As a young woman in her 20s, BB accepted the challenge to lead from the front after her father had been demonized and hanged after a sham trial called, which came to be known as a judicial murder. The military coup of General Zia gave Pakistan a repressive and autocratic regime that believed in turning Pakistan into a theocracy. Thousands of party workers were incarcerated, lashed and hanged. Thousands of others went underground or left the country. The young and charismatic Benazir, in spite of her own suffering and grief, became a source of strength and hope for her party workers. She remained at home and in exile a unique brave and formidable leader.
She was just 54 years old at the time of her death and could have provided many years of dedicated service and leadership to her party and her nation. In her death, the nation lost the only woman leader with guts and unbelievable energy. She was not only immensely brave but also believed passionately in secular democracy. She had dedicated her life to combating religious militancy and to eradicating the monster of intolerance, bigotry and fanaticism from the country. She was gunned down by the Islamist militants because she dared to challenge them openly and to defy their obscurantist plague of terrorism that had found a place in the country.
Her death is an irreparable loss to Pakistan, a tragic calamity whose significance extends far beyond the end of her life. She was an iconic leader who offered the hopes of a progressive Pakistan at peace within and with its neighbors. Her appeal extended from Khyber to Karachi. She was a symbol of unity for all the provinces of Pakistan and a proof of Pakistan’s ability to exist as a viable democratic country and a respectable member of the world community.
Lie in eternal peace, O daughter of Indus. So cruelly they took you away from us.
By your slain father and siblings rest. Your courage heavens will now attest.
We’ll cherish your beautiful memory, your sacrifice. Tears of unbearable grief will never suffice.