“So how was it?”
My friend Jackie asked about the “Bhutto” documentary I had just seen as we sat down to lunch.
It took me a moment to find the right words.
“Compelling. Inspiring. Raw.”
She nodded understandingly.
To all my non-Pakistani friends, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto is an enigmatic figure. They know her father had been a charismatic intellect, they know she herself had led a nation – heck, a MUSLIM nation – and they know she was assassinated. They know all about the UN report condemning the Musharraf government for gross oversight regarding her security detail (I take credit for the last part; the report was all I could talk about for a few days).
But how to describe her to someone removed from the chaotic intricacies of Pakistani politics? It seemed impossible, until “Bhutto.”
The documentary was about more than one woman, it was about her dreams for her nation. I can’t help but feel that it is exactly what Bibi would have wanted. It was, in one word, thorough.
The night before, I headed to the National Geographic Headquarters feeling lucky I would soon be watching the documentary. I had heard such great things about it; it had won critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival. I walked into the main reception room and stopped in my tracks, in awe of the scene before me.
I was in a room with members of Congress, high-ranking officials from prominent think-tanks…and a slightly out-of-focus figure from history. Sanam Bhutto stood in the corner, smilingly chatting with two people. She wasn’t out of focus at all – it took me a minute to wrap my mind around the idea that Sanam Bhutto was here from London for this premiere and I would get a chance to say hello.
She proved every bit the lady I knew she would be – utterly gracious and kind. No one can doubt there is something strong in the Bhuttos, something profoundly patriotic. It was an amazing moment, one I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Soon after my arrival, the documentary began. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – an unwavering supporter of a democratic Pakistan – spoke at length about her friendship with Benazir Bhutto. She smiled as she recalled the address Bibi gave to a joint session in Congress, and slowly said the line that gave me chills “Ladies and Gentlemen, democracy is the best revenge.”
One powerhouse woman paying tribute to another. What a moment.
“Bhutto” covered the creation of Pakistan, and the multiple military dictatorships that have wrecked our country. The film showed a Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in his element – a proud, liberal leader with a vision for his people. Like all Pakistanis, I had heard the story of how he stormed out of the UN, but seeing the footage was incredible. Though he was and always will be a star in Pakistan’s history, he had his flaws and “Bhutto” does not hide them. His political deals with the right-wing clashed with his vision for Pakistan. His choice in chief-of-staff was his downfall. His execution, one of the darkest days in Pakistan’s history, would pave the way for Zia’s martial law to reign supreme law of the land.
As the film went through Pakistan’s history, I saw martial law, military dictatorships over and over again. It is frustrating to think my people had to suffer this much, generation after generation. WHY?
One fact stared back at me. Pakistan was strategically important to the United States both under Zia (Cold War raged on, and Pakistan served as launching pad) and Musharraf (Bush invaded Afghanistan and need Pakistan’s support).
In both instances, regimes that brutalized people, threw out civil liberties and even the Constitution were propped up with American dollars. I looked around at the audience. There was no denying everyone in the room connected the dots; Americans looked sad at the fact. After the documentary was over, I spoke to someone who said the following: “We have made mistakes that have cost the Pakistani people a lot. The United States can never afford to do this again. We can’t support a non-democratic government in Pakistan. Never, ever again.”
Such is the power of “Bhutto.”
The documentary showed Bibi’s family drama, her two terms as Prime Minister, and her personal life. I got the sense she wanted to maintain as stable a life for her children as possible, but was always devoted to her cause – democracy. Her brothers’ murders tore at my heart, tears stung my eyes. I was not alone; everyone around me was still, watching the screen, stunned at the deaths. “Bhutto” is not one-sided, as so many would assume so. Musharraf, Fatima Bhutto, and other critics of Bibi’s are interviewed throughout the film, allowing the audience to make his or her own opinion.
To me, there is only one opinion of the distinctively named Benazir. She was a woman with a steely resolve to help her people, a woman who carried a humanity instilled in her by her father. She was flawed, she made mistakes, she suffered public agony but her love for Pakistan was always in her eyes and her actions. The laws to help the poor in Pakistan have her name to them, and that alone serves as a testament to her love. Others may differ, and they are welcome to. But that is my sincere thought on her.
The strangest thing is, while I knew she was assassinated, I couldn’t help but sit there and pray for her success. I wished with all my heart she had lived to be elected, had guided Pakistan with her hand and heart.
But she didn’t. She died. A martyr for her country.
I walked home with a heavy heart, a prayer on my lips for all those who have died for Pakistan: the leaders killed due to politically motivated agendas, the brave tribal leaders who have stood up to the Taliban, the unsung heroes of our army, whose numbers astound the US and NATO forces, and the civilians – the ones who were praying, walking, shopping, living their lives, when a terrorist’s bomb went off. We have lost so much.
Then I remembered something. Bibi said that when she returned home, that parade in her honor was magical. That people were singing, dancing, joyous, hopeful. To her, that was Pakistan, and that was the Pakistani spirit. The blasts that occurred ruined it and killed so many, but right before that, that moment showed her what she was here to do.
I realized that losing heart and being melancholy was too self-defeatist. The Taliban will already have won if I give up, and that thought is too unsettling. I am inspired by this woman, her actions and her message. In “Bhutto,” Bibi herself narrated her life, shared the most traumatic moments of her life, and offered her dreams. I have taken them as my own, and will do what I can, in whatever small way, to bring them closer to reality.