Benazir Bhutto remembered By Farahnaz Ispahani

Today is the fifth death anniversary of Pakistan’s iconic leader, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. History remembers her as the first elected woman prime minister of a Muslim majority country. For millions of Pakistanis she was the embodiment of their hopes for a democratic, pluralist country and the desire to be free of the scourge of extremism and terrorism. She led and kept the PPP alive against many odds during and after the dark years of the obscurantist dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq.

Benazir Bhutto touched the lives of many Pakistanis by confronting military dictatorship in opposition and through her programmes to address the issues of the poorest and most marginalised during her two short stints in office. She was seen as a threat by those who saw her vision for Pakistan as a challenge to their militarised intrigues. For that reason alone she was hounded during her life and killed by the bigots who have hijacked our beloved country.

Bibi Shaheed firmly believed that women and those who followed other religions were equal Pakistanis in every way. She lived by her convictions and was killed for them. Her vision for Pakistan is summarised in her final book, fittingly titled Reconciliation. Bibi also left the PPP a Manifesto that she had personally worked on and read and reread countless times.

It is hard to forget the day of her assassination, the scenes at the hospital, that endless night carrying Bibi’s coffin in the C-130 with her young children and closest friends and aides on board. The long, terrible drive through the dark, sleeping villages of Sindh, driving behind the ambulance which carried our beloved Bibi home are seared in my memory. Buried next to her father at Garhi Khuda Baksh and close to her two brothers Mir Murtaza and Shahnawaz, Benazir Bhutto was like them, martyred by those who loved power more than Pakistan.

Many of us believed that Bibi Shaheed’s sacrifice of her life would bring change to Pakistan. The country was paralysed and even those who had been her fiercest political opponents during her lifetime grieved for her and her family. There was grief around the world. World leaders who had known Ms Bhutto personally either in her capacity as prime minister or as the leader of the opposition or from her exile years mourned. As did many citizens of countries near and far. In the years since her assassination, many of us have run into countless working people in many countries who express their grief over Bibi’s death the moment they find out that we are from Pakistan.

Today, on the fifth anniversary of her death, we have to ask ourselves whether we understood her ultimate sacrifice. Have the over-reaching powers of the establishment that consistently plotted against her democratic values been curbed? Has democracy and its roots been strengthened? Have the lives of Pakistan’s citizens improved materially and socially or at least been put on the path to improvement? Are Muslims of different denominations and our non-Muslim minorities safer today?

Several excellent laws have been passed by parliament. The visible improvement of Pakistan-India ties are to be celebrated. The Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) — initially conceived by Mohtarma Bhutto herself along with economist Kaisar Bengali — is an extremely successful initiative with many new components. But much still has to be done and many of her ideas are still unfulfilled.

Pakistan remains in the grip of militarism and militancy. The superior courts have failed to expand access to justice, involving themselves in political issues instead. The democratic process continues to be undermined by invisible intrigues and many important issues end up being neglected. The establishment continues to think of ways around the Constitution instead of allowing the country to be run according to its principles. Instead of mourning what we have lost, we must use this occasion for self-reflection. We must remember her indefatigable energy, her love for her homeland, her endless patience and her step-by-step, day-by-day work together to reclaim Pakistan.

We owe Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto no less.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2012.

Shaheed Bibi….. by Farahnaz Ispahani


– Published in Daily Times on 27 December 2012 

Benazir Bhutto Shaheed will be remembered forever for her bravery, efforts for the empowerment of the oppressed within our society, and her sacrifices for us.

There are very few people courageous enough to not only face all troubles with resilience but also be capable of leading tough missions effectively. Not only a role model for the women of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto Shaheed is the pride of democracy advocates everywhere, fighting the war against the terrorists so bravely and finally laying down her life for the nation. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto devoted her entire life to the service of the people of Pakistan. She never bowed before anti-democratic and extremist elements who wanted Pakistan to become a hub of extremism and terrorism. She continued her struggle to save Pakistan from going into the hands of extremists who wanted to convert it into a state of rigid elements.

While addressing her people in Liaquat Bagh, which proved to be the last speech of her life, she said:

“I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. I want to see a prosperous, progressive and developed Pakistan.”

These words echo her boundless love and unrivalled warmth for Pakistan and its people. What can be dearer than life for a human being? But she put hers in danger to give us a prosperous, progressive and developed Pakistan. In return she faced the most debauched propaganda by elements wanting to see Pakistan as a state of conservatives. She was declared a foreign agent and unpatriotic, whereas none in Pakistan’s short history has rendered such sacrifices as her entire family. Today, the same elements are engaged in their vicious aims in trying to suppress the secular forces of the country. But despite their nefarious intentions, Quaid-e-Azam M A Jinnah, Quaid-e-Awam Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and our beloved leader Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s dream of a progressive and modern democratic Pakistan will soon be realised. Throughout her life, Benazir Bhutto struggled for the subjugated and browbeaten. She longed for a futuristic Pakistan where women were not subjected to embarrassment and sufferings. She wanted women to be treated with respect, as equal partners towards progress and prosperity. She wanted each child of Pakistan to be well educated with international standards of education and looked after properly.

Benazir had a lofty and multi-dimensional personality, which was a beacon of light for the marginalised segments of our society and she herself was a role model for women around the world.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto had the courage to defy the most awful dictatorship of her times. She had to pass through the vortex of a blood feud by a brutal regime in the shape of the ghastly assassination of her father Quaid-e-Awam Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the martyrdom of her two beloved brothers, the destitution of her great mother who had spent her life in the struggle for the supremacy of democracy, her own and her husband’s imprisonments, physical and mental torture. But nothing could shake Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and her family’s resolve for a progressive Pakistan. She bravely faced whatever came her way, continued to challenge dictatorships and remained resolute in her vow to both the people and democracy.

Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as a twice-elected first female Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Islamic world, worked meticulously for her aspirations of women empowerment.

Bibi Shaheed brought women into the mainstream by appointing them as judges of the superior courts. She opened the first women’s bank to give micro loans to women to start small businesses so as to empower them economically and so that they could live in society independently, with raised heads. She ensured state protection for women by coming up with the idea of separate women police stations to help those who suffered from domestic violence. She dedicated funds and proposed schemes involving women health workers to bring about a substantial change in improving the general health of women and last but surely not the least, encouraged women at every stage of political ranking.

Under her government, foreign investment quadrupled; energy production doubled; defence production improved, exports boomed. It was Bibi Shaheed’s government when 100,000 female health workers were recruited across Pakistan from the tribal to the settled areas to ensure healthcare, nutrition, pre- and post-natal care to millions of our poorest women citizens.

She never had a free and fair election. The Asghar Khan case has proved that the state machinery was used to bribe politicians in order to stand against her and rig elections. She was always under siege, facing state brutality, and spent her whole life under state instituted oppression. All means were used to defeat the public voice and she received no justice from anywhere, not even from the Pakistani courts that are considered to be impartial and fair. She would say: “We were in government but not in power.” Yet the lady on her own with great resolve and confidence delivered so much because she believed and used to say that there was another court, the court of the public. In that court, Benazir Bhutto was never at a loss as she was greatly loved and valued by the people of Pakistan.

We find that alone Benazir was not afraid to challenge dictators but faced bravely state evil, harassment at the hands of agencies, unimaginable allegations, vicious tongue lashings, oppressors, bigots and terrorists. Today, all these stand defeated while Shaheed Benazir Bhutto has emerged victorious and lives eternally in the hearts of people from Parachinar, Gilgit-Baltistan, Quetta and Chitral to Karachi as a symbol of a united strong federation of Pakistan. December 27, 2007 — a gloomy day in the history of Pakistan when all our hopes were shattered along with our expectations. The day when the country was set ablaze, stained with blood, and was almost pushed to the brink of disintegration, but the evil aims of undemocratic and terrorist elements were stopped in their tracks by President Asif Ali Zardari’s slogan “Pakistan Khappay” (Long Live Pakistan). The country was saved and reintegrated and a democratic Pakistan was restored to the people of Pakistan.

Sadly, just a few days ago, Bashir Ahmed Bilour joined Benazir Bhutto in death at the hands of the same murderers. Pakistan cannot be saved unless we, the people of this nation urge, plead, force through the ballot box a new order. One where the political class, military and judiciary are forced to work together and put Pakistanis and Pakistan first. It has to be a united effort to succeed.

Bibi Shaheed—we love you and we miss you and you shall be remembered forever. Rest in peace.

The writer was an MNA from 2008 to 2012

“Both capacity and will” by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani with Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

In an article in this newspaper titled “Can Bilwal revive the old PPP” (December 1), a respected reporter and anchor from a family that is known for its journalistic ethics — in an age and time in Pakistan when that has become a rarity — posits an interesting question.

Mazhar Abbas asked whether the Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had the capability and will to “reunite the old party, revisit the old party programme, eradicate corruption within the party and face the people with courage”.

There has been a concerted effort in the past year by the people of a constituency to create a negative image of the PPP chairman before he takes the national stage in an elected capacity. For those who argue that Mr Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari is already in the thick of Pakistani politics as chairman of the largest political party in Pakistan, I would agree.

However, only members of our party with whom he has interacted daily for the past five years know the extent of his involvement in the day-to-day affairs of the party — which are extensive.

Senator Jahangir Badar, secretary general of the PPP, and others of his seniority and stature can testify that Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto included her son at numerous political meetings from a very young age. And, in many ways, his instruction and education was based on the model that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto created for his daughter and Bilawal’s mother, Benazir.

South Asian politics is often bloody and tragic. And, as a young, valiant and bright Benazir stepped up to the challenge after her father’s judicial murder by the military-judicial complex, so, too, has the current chairman. And, as Begum Nusrat Bhutto guided her daughter after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s murder, so, too, has PPP Co-Chairman, President Asif Ali Zardari, continued the political education given to Bilawal for the most challenging times Pakistan has ever faced after Partition. Ideally, a democracy should be able to find new leaders with different family backgrounds every decade. But, Pakistan’s democracy is still young. Like many countries, our culture values family legacy.

Unlike the spoilt, undereducated offspring of some powerful families and political leaders, who have joined politics upon completing other careers, Bilawal is a mature, thoughtful and well-read man. He has learned practical politics through inclusion by his mother and during her years in exile, where she single-handedly ran the PPP:  in meetings, some private, some party-oriented and some of a very high level and private nature.

Perhaps, if one was to take the blinkers off and examine the public stands that Bilawal has taken in his political career, one may see a different politician. But, the concerted campaign to malign him must be ignored first.

Though no voice was willing to speak out strongly and fearlessly after the murder of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, Bilawal did. And, his political beliefs were made clear to all. His words on that day resonate specially in today’s Pakistan. When Malala Yousufzai was targeted by the Taliban in Swat, only two party leaders spoke out and named the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan — Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Muttahida Quami Movement chief Altaf Hussain.

In fact, the politician in Pakistan who best espouses the social democratic politics of the PPP as envisioned and practised by Benazir Bhutto is Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

Those of us in the PPP know and understand the politics of vilification and demonisation well: starting from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to his daughter and now, his grandson. And, many of us have also paid the price for remaining loyal to the party.

But, we also know our leadership far better than our detractors. There is far more discourse and debate within the PPP than people realise. The politics of principle is still alive and I believe that the PPP chairman is delivering and will continue to deliver into the future. Give him a chance.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2012.

“The writer was a member of the National Assembly from 2008-2012. She was recently named in Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers for 2012”