Why Can’t We Have Our Own Heroes?

Benazir Bhutto in a crowd

While observing the reactions to Benazir Bhutto’s third death anniversary on Monday, I was saddened to see the number of people who mocked those who posted or Tweeted memories of the late Prime Minister as merely jiyalas who willfully overlook her flaws in order to promote a political message. I was saddened because I hate to believe that we would actually be so cynical that we don’t allow ourselves to have our own national heroes and our own

The Czechs have Lech Walesa who led the Solidarity movement and helped free his country from communist oppression. He suffered imprisonment under martial law and was persecuted by the communist government. Still, he held strong and helped free his people.

Despite this, Lech Walesa was lost election in 1995 and 2000. He has even been accused of being a secret informer for the Polish secret police in the 1970s.

The South Africans have Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison for his activities with the African National Congress party’s anti-apartheid activities. After his release from prison, he went on to lead negotiations that resulted in the country’s first multi-racial elections and was eventually elected President in 1994.

But Mandela also has been criticised for supporting the ‘blood diamond’ industry which has ravaged parts of South Africa.

The Americans have Abraham Lincoln who is considered the leader who ended slavery and fought a civil war to ensure the rights of all men.

But though Lincoln made a lot of speeches about freeing the blacks in his country, many contend he was personally very racist. Certainly nobody will claim that he solved the problem of discrimination against minorities in America who lived under a form of apartheid for over one hundred years after the American civil war ended.

While each of these leaders was flawed in his own way, they are still held up as examples of courageous leadership in their own countries and around the world. Nobody pretends that they are or were saints, but people honour the risks and the sacrifices that they made in efforts to better the lives of their people.

Why can’t we have our own Benazir Bhutto, also?

Pakistan already has a God and Muhammad (PBUH) is His messenger. We don’t need another god or another prophet. What we need are leaders who we can be proud of, who can serve as a source of inspiration for our youth. We need mentors and model leaders who tomorrows leaders can learn from and build upon, not worship as saints.

I hear this all the time from my friends – we need new leaders who we can be proud of. What about BB, I ask? Oh, well, you know, she recognized the Taliban. She didn’t overturn the Hudood laws. There is always some reason that someone can find – a misplaced hair, a slightly stained dupatta.

But Benazir Bhutto also suffered immensely when she could have just as easily walked away and lived an easy life. She fought against a military dictatorship that murdered her father so that the people could choose their own government. She fought against religious extremism and intolerance so that all Pakistanis could live in peace in their own homeland. And she sacrificed her very own life in her effort to move the country forward.

Let us have Benazir Bhutto. Her courage and her memory should not be tossed aside out of petty political spite or because she made some mistakes or because she did not complete all of her goals. Her story is inspirational when we need inspiration, and her message offers hope when we need hope. I hear so many people say, ‘She was human like everyone else, so why give her a coronation.’ But I would like to post another question: Benazir Bhutto was human, but she was an extraordinary human. More importantly, she was and extraordinary human who was also Pakistani.

Why can’t we all be proud of that?

Democracy, of course!

Half the work in creating a sustainable democracy is getting major key players and parties to agree that democracy is the only option. Given Pakistan’s ill-fated relationships with martial law and military dictators, conventional wisdom expects that is where the country might return as it struggles with a plethora of terrifying challenges. Yet as they deal with a conspiracy theory driven punditry, a dark battle with extremists, and the worst natural disaster in Pakistani history, President Zardari and the PPP have accomplished a Herculean task. They have created an environment that respects and learns from Pakistan’s political history, and in doing so, rejects anything other than democracy as an option for our nation.

For example, the leader of the main opposition party, PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, has set a tremendous example by repeatedly declaring his support for democracy.  He has been blunt and sincere in his statements, saying, “We should stress on reforming the government and if it cannot be reformed then we should talk of a change but through constitutional means instead of calling for a martial law (to get rid of a failed government).” That statement came in the face of another political party’s leader, Altaf Hussain of the MQM, calling for “patriotic generals” to take over the country.

Nawaz Sharif has been criticized by the right-wing fire-starters in the media, but the fact is the public can no longer respect such illogical claims. Pakistani people are coming to expect and demand more of their governments, provincial and federal, and democracy is the only way to meet their needs.  It can then come as no surprise that the right wing has roundly slammed Nawaz and the PML-N, calling them “traitors.” Excessive hyperbole is their war chest; sadly, reason is nowhere to be found.

Over the past year and half, there have been more voices calling for a fair and free Pakistan. The Daily Times’ editorial board published a sharp piece titled “Support for Democracy” in which it profusely agreed with Prime Minister Gilani’s assertion that any change in administration through undemocratic means would be “dangerous.”

The movement for strong democracy in Pakistan received another boost, as our most recent military ruler (a man who once felt the judiciary was unnecessary and sacked judges he disliked, placed burdens on the press when not banning channels outright, and suspended the Constitution!), Gen. Pervez Musharraf, stated the democratic process was key to Pakistan’s success. He has announced his return to Pakistan, not as a military man, but as a civilian creating his own political party, the APML (the All Pakistan Muslim League).

Let’s take a moment to absorb this reality: the man who deposed an elected prime minister (the above-mentioned Nawaz Sharif) now casts himself as the defender of democracy as he said in a BBC interview:

“A time has come in Pakistan when we need to introduce a new political culture, a culture which can take Pakistan forward on a democratic path, on a correct democratic path, not on an artificial, make-believe democratic path.”

President Zardari has said that Musharraf has the right to participate in the political process. Affirming the wisdom of the people and trust in the political process the President declared that Pakistanis “know what is good and what is bad.” Of course how Musharraf will be received in Pakistan will be seen soon enough.

Many in Pakistan are waiting for an apology from Gen. Musharraf, for all the unconstitutional actions he and his administration carried out. This writer is skeptical about him ever eating a slice of humble pie, but glad he at least realizes a dictatorship has no chance in Pakistan.

We are at a new chapter in our history. It seems our leaders all across the political spectrum (liberal, conservative, err, former dictators) acknowledge that democracy is the only way to improve the overall quality of life for Pakistanis.

In the midst of the challenges, this is the glimmer of hope that keeps the civic-minded motivated to participate. After all, no other form of government would allow them that right.