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. http://tribune.com.pk/story/484988/benazir-bhutto-remembered/

Written by Farahnaz Ispahani

Farahnaz Ispahani is a Global Fellow, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC. She is the author of the recently published book "Purifying the Land of the Pure: The History of Pakistan's Religious Minorities. Oxford University Press, 2017. Ms. Farahnaz Ispahani has been a leading voice for women and religious minorities in Pakistan for the past twenty five years, first as a journalist, then as a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, and most recently as a scholar based in the United States. An advocate of Pakistan’s return to democracy during the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, she served as a spokesperson and international media coordinator for the Pakistan People’s Party, working alongside the late Benazir Bhutto. During her tenure in parliament (2008–2012), she was a member of the Human Rights Committee and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. In 2013–2014, she served as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where she completed a book on the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan. In 2012, she was listed among Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, as well as Newsweek Pakistan’s Top 100 Women Who Matter. During her fellowship, Ms. Ispahani is exploring women’s political participation in the Muslim world, both in terms of their progress toward gender equality under democratic systems and the converse rise of women as agents of extremist propaganda within the world of the Islamic State. FARAHNAZ ISPAHANI is Senior Fellow, South and South East Asia Action Team at Religious Freedom Institute also.

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