Remembering Benazir’s courage and crusade

by Elf Habib

The vision and passion that consumed her life have now actually transcended far beyond her party and captivated almost the entire nation, including her worst foes and critics. The nation has similarly embraced her audacious stand to confront the savagery of terrorism

Benazir Bhutto’s second death anniversary was observed with a solemn gathering of her party members in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. The day marking the martyrdom of Benazir kindles some really effulgent memories of her charisma, rare courage and crusade for democracy and a modern, peaceful and pluralistic Pakistan. The saga of her almost superhuman stoicism and perseverance even against the most relentless cruelty, unfairness and excruciating personal loss and suffering began about thirty years ago in 1979, with the heartrending moments of the last sight of her father in a death cell, separated from her by the steel bars which were not opened even for a last kiss and embrace. It canters to her own incarceration, being pushed and even slapped by martial law functionaries and the ancillary hearing impairment apart from the deep emotional scars. It exudes the ordeal of being held incommunicado in a Karachi jail kept oblivious and unable to reach her own mother confined in the same barracks, her isolation and exile and the eventual return to the most tumultuous reception in the nation’s history in April 1986. It involves the searing sojourn of one brother being poisoned and the other falling to the assassin’s bullets during her own premiership. Then come the stunning moments of being thrown into the street from the sublime slot and being hunted like a quarry for charges of corruption and mismanagement. No less overwhelming are the stress and odium of being dragged from court to court across the country while her husband, also vindictively interned, braved a bestial torture resulting in slashed wrists, lacerated tongue and bleeding aorta.

Her courage and determination to fight Zia’s machination have become an illustrious exemplar in the history of world democratic movements and a beckoning bequest to defeat the dragons of dictatorship. Zia threatened to make her a horrible precedent like the Joan of Arc, the legendary French freedom fighter who was burnt at the stake by the British invaders. This analogy had evidently exposed Zia’s status as an alien intruder. Benazir’s magic and appeal, in contrast, kindled a new hope and promise and her arrival to an unprecedented and maddening reception in Lahore unequivocally repudiated Zia’s rule, relevance and policies, and sealed his fate long before his cremation in an air crash. An even more scintillating spectacle of her redoubtable and superhuman courage, almost unparalleled by any, unfolded in Islamabad on November 18,1992 while protesting against a weird harassment by Mian Nawaz Sharif, through a cannonade of corruption cases. All the routes and avenues of escape from her residence had been cordoned by massive security contingents and barbed wires. But flanked by her core companions, she suddenly emerged to brace, trample and sweep the barriers with a lightning verve and speed to the jubilation of her enthusiastic supporters and the utter embarrassment of the security squads. The aura and spell of her style, strategy and acumen far exceeded the futile naivety of her captors. A resurgence of the same death-defying valour became manifest in spurning the terrorist threats at the Karsaz and Rawalpindi processions.

Even the most courageous crusader, after the carnage at Karsaz, would have discreetly discontinued confrontation through massive morale-boosting protest rallies. But her zeal to dismantle the dictatorship and terrorism was far more overpowering than priorities of self-protection and preservation. Dictatorship and terrorism have been intimately intertwined in this country, the former deliberately forging and fuelling the latter for myriad motives including its use as a potent, covert counterforce against democracy and enlightenment. A large section of her admirers feared that her thrust against the twin menace of terrorism and dictatorship was bound to ensure her exit. Yet, undeterred and fired by a death-defying determination to surrender her life for a far greater cause and commitment, she walked willingly to the altar of sacrifice. She openly defied and deviated from the role scripted for her and nudged Nawaz to contest elections and thus galvanised the largest ever threat to the dictatorship and its minions.

The vision and passion that consumed her life have now actually transcended far beyond her party and captivated almost the entire nation, including her worst foes and critics. Many religious parties that vehemently opposed the need or relevance of any written constitution other than Quran and Sunnah and nonchalantly promoted and protected the dictators are now howling to arraign Musharraf for treason. The Sharifs, once the darlings, devotees and defenders of dictatorship and its derivative institutions, are now clamouring for an immediate end to arbitrary amendments eroding the authority of the premier and parliament. Pursuing his avowed stand to sweep aside the scourge of dictatorship, Nawaz too fervently supported the lawyers’ campaign for the restoration of the judges axed by Musharraf. And when Benazir’s own husband balked at their restoration, Nawaz induced a new strength and momentum to the lawyers’ long march, earning it laurels and extracting also another solemn pledge to scrub the seventeenth amendment. A resounding riff in the march dedicated this struggle and success as a tribute and testament to the soul of Benazir. The nation has similarly embraced her audacious stand to confront the savagery of terrorism. The soldiers are risking their lives in the most treacherous mountain slopes and valleys. Police and innocent citizens are bearing the monstrous burst of suicide bombers and crippling economic and social calamities. The cost of healing and reconstruction demands accepting new challenges and imperatives.

Yet a larger part of Benazir’s dreams of welfare and reconstruction is becoming murkier as, unfortunately, the success and continuity of the representative rule once again seem to be at stake. Democracy, for its real curative power, has to move beyond elections and ensure an equitable distribution of resources and opportunities. But the repeated marathon dictatorships in Pakistan have systematically shifted the national wealth and resources to the unattainable megalomaniac defence and security ambitions, leaving very little for the people and their genuine needs. The misery of the masses, thus, cannot be relieved without reversing this chronic imbalance. Yet the dictatorships have devised massive Maginot Lines of bureaucratic, political and corporate combinations to resist any effort in this direction. These forces, spearheaded by some dominant squads in the media, have already ganged up to excoriate, discredit, derail and demolish the democratic system and particularly to shunt out the PPP leadership. A nauseating impression is being spread that the entire economic chaos and meltdown were created by the funds plundered by some PPP politicians out of evidently less than a third of the national budget handled by them in their past ephemeral spans. No accountability is invoked for the sectors guzzling more than two thirds of the budget, which has almost always been left unaudited and untraceable to the taxpayers. The glaring injustice and corruption committed by the dictatorships are also shamelessly ignored. The lovers of Benazir, particularly her heirs in the PPP, thus have to revive and emulate the example of her courage, crusade and strategy to stave off the storm threatening democracy and dedicate themselves to retrieve the resources for popular welfare and development.

This column was originally published in The Daily Times on 2 January.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *