By: Shehrbano Taseer
“History,” Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto once wrote, “is written in the blood of martyrs.” Judging by Sindh’s desolate and blood-drenched landscape, these words run true.
Larkana is seeped in history, and history haunts Larkana. Larkana, the heartbeat of the PPP and the soul of the Bhutto family, is deep rooted in tragedy and passion, in leaders and martyrs. Garhi Khuda Buksh is too full with graves that bear silent testimony to Pakistan’s struggle for democracy.
Today, on June 21, 2010, what would have been Benazir Bhutto’s fifty-seventh birthday, my heart is heavy. I am reminded of when I accompanied my father to Larkana in 2008 to pay tribute to our late leader, a year after her senseless assassination.
When our plane landed in Moenjodaro airport, my family and I were ushered into an entourage of black cars waiting to take us to the Bhutto family mausoleum. On the way, my father and older sister recounted personal stories of Benazir’s earlier years.
My father fondly remembered when she returned to Pakistan on April 10, 1986. The drive from the airport to Minar-i-Pakistan, where she was addressing the nation, usually takes 45 minutes. That day, it took them ten hours. Over three million people had flooded in from all over Pakistan to support their beloved leader, and see her speak. It was the very same speech in which she announced, “mein baaghi hoon mein baaghi hoon jo chahe mujh pe zulam kare” (I am a rebel, I am a rebel, and I can face any cruelty and injustice anyone does to me.)
My sister told me how Benazir’s parents called her Pinky, and that she loved red lipstick and Italian food. These stories humanized Bibi for me; she was more than just a politician – she was a mother, a sister, and a daughter. She was a symbol and an ideology. The savage extremists, foolish enough to think they have succeeded, have tragically failed. Bibi lives, and will live on. She will always remain a figurehead for her people, a beacon of hope, and a leader in the fury of a political storm.
Benazir built her legend using every weapon in her armory, which included inexhaustible energy, political conviction, pride as a woman, a Pakistani and a Muslim, and the famous Bhutto charisma. Faith, passion, and love — all these are found in our soul, not in our body. How can they be defeated by violence and bombs?
Miles before Larkana, I could see the tricolored PPP flags filling every surface. Even the donkeys outside Raani Park had PPP ribbons braided into their manes. The locals greeted the arrival of convoys of party office bearers, workers and supporters that reached the dusty town from every nook and corner of the country with warmth. Reaching the mausoleum, I was instantly engulfed in a sea of mourners, chanting slogans “Zinda hai Bhutto zinda hai!” and “jiye Bhutto!” The tragedy of losing their beloved leaders had not dampened their passion. I watched them with pride – these are the people on whom our democracy is to be built.
I was reminded of the local rallies during Benazir campaign trails of the 1990’s, where my mother carried me in her lap. I did not know then that I was living through something that was larger than me, the consequences of which would reverberate through history. But that day in Larkana, it was painfully clear what the world had lost by Benazir’s assassination.
Inside Gari Khuda Baksh, we said a subdued prayer for the departed leader and her family, and left. A quiet Fateha, a sad reflection for Pakistan’s precious Bibi. In the evening, we rode back to the airport in silence, left to the ultimate consolation of our own thoughts.
Our intelligence, our morals, our capacity for hard work, the education we have earned, our status, our responsibilities, our relationships, our talents – all of these matter, I thought. The way we vote, the way we choose to live, the way we protest, the pressure we bring to bear on our governments, the people we help, the things we create, the promises we keep – all of these have immense impact on our life as a nation.
If we use our influence to raise our voice on behalf of the voiceless, if we choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless, then we can change the lives of thousands and millions of people for the better. If we refuse to compromise on education and individual liberties for our people, we can transform PPP’s ‘Roti, Kapda, Makan’ manifesto into a reality. It is how we will ensure Benazir’s movement towards democracy continues. It is how we will find solace in knowing that Benazir’s lasting memory is not one of the scene of her murder, but rather, her legacy. To do so is our privilege, and our burden.