December 27 marks the 11th anniversary of the death of Benazir Bhutto, a woman who embodied resistance, courage, and political wisdom in a land that has been full of mediocre political minds.
Benazir Bhutto, known as BB in Pakistan, was probably the last of her breed of intellectual and liberal politicians, who with a shrewd approach managed to survive the onslaught from the establishment for almost two decades.
After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged, BB endured the worst time of her life when she along with her mother was sent to prison, after which her brothers Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto launched an extremist outfit to avenge the death of their father at the hands of the Zia-ul-Haq regime. Benazir denounced the acts of her brothers and instead chose the path of politics not only to avenge the death of her father but also to bring true democracy to the country.
She knew that democracy would not only weaken the political hegemony of the establishment but would also strengthen the masses, paving the way for a liberal-socialist economy.
She flew to London while Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq remained in power and kept her party alive from there. She returned to Pakistan in 1986 and the reception she received is still remembered as one of the biggest public gatherings in the political history of Pakistan.
Zia’s demise paved the way for new elections in 1987, and despite the efforts of General Hamid Gul and his accomplices, Benazir was able to win the general election. She became the first female prime minister of Pakistan and in the Islamic world at the age of 35.
She took over the government in a very hostile atmosphere where the bureaucracy was instructed to question her orders so that she could not perform as a prime minister. However, BB not only resisted the entire establishment but also was able to bring electricity to less developed areas and worked on building schools all over the country.
Her top priorities at that time were eradicating poverty and providing health care and housing to the downtrodden sections of the country. BB knew that the era of socialism was over, so she reincarnated the Pakistan Peoples Party on liberal ideologies.
However, only two years into her premiership, the president of Pakistan, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, dismissed her government. She returned to office after winning the elections of 1993 and continued to liberate the society and the economy.
Her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto also returned to Pakistan and was killed in the Clifton area of Karachi in a police encounter. The death of her brother not only divided the supporters of PPP but also brought enormous pressure on her government.
President Farooq Leghari finally dismissed her government in 1996. leveling charges of corruption. She badly lost the next election in 1997 and her rival Nawaz Sharif, who was a conservative and an ally of the establishment at that time, won with a two-thirds majority. However, his government was toppled by a military coup in 1999 and General Pervez Musharraf imposed martial law in the country.
Her husband Asif Ali Zardari was sent to jail and BB was again forced into exile. She again settled in London, and from there ran a campaign in the international community for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.
In 2007 she came back to Pakistan to lead the PPP election campaign, and on December 27, she was shot dead in Rawalpindi. The lady who had kept liberal politics alive and kept on walking the path of the politics of resistance finally was laid to rest in the village of Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, Sindh province, and with her, a golden chapter of the democratic history of Pakistan was also buried.
BB’s political career was unique in many ways. Her fierce speeches and stance against the might of the establishment and her indomitable will to defy the odds and completely tear down the script written by the invisible masters of the political chessboard always kept her opponents on their feet.
Her intellectual abilities to translate the narratives to the masses and to the global powers was unmatched. She fought against the worst military dictator of Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq, survived the onslaught of the establishment in the 1990s and eventually in the early years of the 21st century she changed her style of politics and reconciled with the establishment to gain power. Perhaps it was a tactical retreat to bring democracy back somehow.
Her death still is shrouded with mysteries. The planners and executors of her murder are still unknown and this clearly shows that her murder was part of a larger conspiracy.
Her grave in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh alongside those of her brother and father is evidence that walking on the path of resistance and anti-establishment politics demands blood and sacrifice in Pakistan. The Bhutto family has paid with their lives for democracy, and that is the reason that BB, along with her father, is still loved and remembered by the people who have the knowledge of the invisible dynamics of Pakistani politics.
BB’s reconciliation with her main political rival Nawaz Sharif and then her signing the charter of democracy with his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) meant that she was looking for an entirely independent democracy free of the possession of invisible forces. Perhaps she along with Sharif played a crucial role in ending the polarization in politics, which unfortunately has been brought back with the help of Imran Khan.
For the generation who grew up in the age of the Internet and technology and are hostages to the propaganda of the powers that be, she is less known in terms of her services for democracy, and quite often this generation raises its concerns over why the people of Sindh elect the PPP to power again and again despite its poor style of governance and inability to eradicate poverty even in the home province of the late BB.
For the answers, one needs to get away from computer and television screens and visit the province of Sindh, especially the rural areas. In Sindh, the legends of BB and ZAB continue to live because the masses who live there have seen how the entire Bhutto family laid down their lives against the tyrants.
In the slums and in the villages people always choose to side with those who stand against the oppressors irrespective of what they have done or not done for them. In a way, this relates them to the Bhutto family in terms of sharing the same pain and victimhood as they stand against the oppressors.
As the late French writer Milan Kundera said, “There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.”
Both BB and ZAB were able to create populist narratives among the working classes and peasants, and that is the reason they both still live in the hearts of many. You may like Benazir Bhutto or dislike her, but no one can deny the fact that she left a legacy that will be hard to carry on for any mediocre politician, and the vacuum created by her death still has not been filled as Pakistan still lacks a progressive, liberal leader like her who is popular across the country.