Benazir Bhutto — The Muslim Leader Who Saw Jihadis Coming- Farahnaz Ispahani

Two years after being elected, the world’s first female Muslim prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, received intelligence that a man called Osama bin Laden had given orders to kill her. The year was 1990. Al-Qaeda had not yet officially been formed, but the organizers of global jihad had already determined that Afghanistan and Pakistan, where they launched their first modern jihad against the Soviet Union, would be crucial to their plans for restoring the medieval caliphate across the Muslim world.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Bhutto narrated the bin Laden threat to her life in the second edition of her book The Daughter of the East. In the first edition, she had spoken of threats to her life at the time of her first return to Pakistan from exile, in 1986, while the jihadist dictator General Zia-ul-Haq still ruled the country. Bhutto conveyed her concerns about Zia to U.S. officials then as she did about bin Laden four years later. But before 9/11, warnings about radical Islamists were not taken seriously.

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by the jihadis on December 27, 2007 after addressing a rally where she repeated her warnings about the Taliban and other extremist groups. Today, events such as the recent massacre of school children in Peshawar, reflect what Bhutto was warning against. Extremist Islamist ideologues opposed her because as a western-educated Muslim woman leader she symbolized all that the jihadis hate.

Bhutto was physically brave beyond comprehension. She had a commanding personality, was extremely intelligent and well read. Her charisma, combined with her compassion towards the poor of Pakistan, helped her win elections in a conservative Muslim majority country. Zia-ul-Haq, the brutal military dictator, rued that he had not “finished her off” along with her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — a former president and prime minister of Pakistan executed by Zia after a military coup.

The extremists and Pakistan’s conservative establishment that has backed them hated Benazir Bhutto with a passion and tried to thwart her in every way her entire adult life. Pakistan’s reputation as a terrorist incubator owes itself to the hyper-nationalist and Islamist ideology cultivated over the years by the country’s establishment. Bhutto saw this ideology, not as a cement that would bind Pakistan’s disparate ethnic groups, but as a deviation from the ideas of Pakistan’s secular founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto had a vision and clarity about Pakistan, the Muslim world and the West after 9/11 that no Muslim leader today seems to have. In her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, written just before her assassination and published right after it, she argued that Pakistan under military dictatorship had become an epicenter of an international terrorist movement that had two primary aims: “First, the extremists aim to reconstitute the concept of the caliphate, a political state encompassing the great Ummah (Muslim community) populations of the world,” she wrote. The second aim of the militants was “to provoke a clash of civilizations between the West and an interpretation of Islam that rejects pluralism and modernity.”

In 2007, before ISIS and its markedly escalated brutality had surfaced, Bhutto cautioned the world about the violent intentions of those hijacking her Islamic faith. “The attacks on September, 11, 2001, heralded the vanguard of the caliphate-inspired dream of bloody confrontation: the crusades in reverse,” she explained to a global audience that still does not always understand motives of groups like Daesh — or the Islamic State as the extremist murderers prefer to be called.

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto

Bhutto explained that within the Muslim world, sectarianism was widespread and the Islamic dogma had been shaped into a propaganda tool justifying jihad against the West. She also took on rising western Islamophobia and argued that Islam and Muslims were not the negative and cartoonish caricatures often painted in the Western press and movies.

Bhutto offered an alternative vision of civic Islam, drawing on the Prophet Muhammad’s acceptance of “women as equal partners in society, in business and even in war. Islam codified the rights of women. It guarantees women, civil, economic and political rights.” She castigated those “who claim to speak for Islam who denigrate democracy and human rights, arguing that these values are western values and thus inconsistent with Islam. These are the same people who would deny basic education to girls, blatantly discriminate against women and minorities, ridicule other cultures and religions, rant against science and technology, and enforce brutal totalitarianism to enforce their medieval views.”

According to her, these people have no more legitimate relationship with Islam than the people who bomb women’s health centers in America have to Christianity or the madmen who massacre innocent Arab children at the tomb of Abraham in Palestine have to Judaism.

Benazir Bhutto will be mourned on the anniversary of her assassination at her burial place in her family shrine in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh in Sindh and all over Pakistan. This year, with the turmoil, strife and violence spreading all over Muslim lands by the extremists, it would be worthwhile to pay attention to her words, experience and recommendations for fighting the jihadi extremists.



(Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. 2013-2014)

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: a legacy of democracy.

Shaheed Z A Bhutto

By Farahnaz Ispahani

Every year on the 4th of April all Pakistani democrats take a moment to remember Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Dubbed ‘Black Day,’ it is the anniversary of one of the most tragic political murders in the country’s history, albeit one conducted with judicial approval. Bhutto was Pakistan’s first popularly elected democratic politician. He is still mourned today unlike any other political leader born in our land. His political journey, as well as his assassination, gave birth to an enduring legacy.

The worst military dictator Pakistan has borne, General Zia ul- Haq, had overthrown the constitutional order through a military coup on July 5, 1977. But his plans to rule with an iron hand by murdering democracy, burying rule of law, and terminating peoples power required the elimination of the man who could mobilise the people against him. It is for this reason that Zia ul Haq sent Shaheed Bhutto to the gallows via a show-trial —a judicial murder never to be forgotten.

In a letter to his daughter, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto in 1978 from prison Quaid-e-Awam Bhutto wrote “Your grand-father taught me the politics of pride, your grandmother taught me the politics of poverty. I am beholden to both for the fine synthesis. To you, my darling daughter, I give only one message. It is the message of the morrow, the message of history. Believe only in the people, work only for their emancipation and equality. The paradise of God lies under the feet of your mother. The paradise of politics lies under the feet of the people.”

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto continued her father’s mission only to die at the hands of the same mindset on December 27, 2007 –this time a brutal assassination without the pretense of legalities.

The essence of democracy and the struggle of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is based on the vision and mission of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his absolute belief in democracy as the best system of governance for Pakistan. As Mr. Bhutto said in an address to the Pakistan Bar Council in Lahore on the 30th of January 1973 “Institutions are not directly concerned with the people. The judiciary is not directly concerned with the people. The people are beneficiary of the judiciary. The people have their contact. But they don’t bring the judiciary into being in the sense they bring the Government into being in an election. So, the legislature, the parliament, the people are concerned with it. But, in order to see that the parliament does not fall to the caprices and the whims of members and other factors, you give it a period of time to make that institution grow.”

Unfortunately, for the people and for Pakistan itself his wisdom was ignored. And, as we have seen through the last five years of democratic rule, the unelected and indirect forces have played a major role in trying to undermine democracy and democratic institutions. However, in spite all those efforts the PPP and its coalition partners including the ANP and MQM played a role in attaining the first complete democratic term in Pakistan’s recent history.

Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a Pakistan Day message delivered on March 23, 1973 spoke about the Pakistani Constitution that had finally been drafted with national consensus.

“The adoption of the constitution will be a milestone in Pakistan’s history. For 26 years, a power structure dominated by the bureaucracy and a military junta and bolstered by self-seeking politicians thwarted the establishment of democratic institutions and denied to the people an ordered political life. The nation remained in the grip of a dreadful vice forged by the egoism of one group and the obscurantism of another. The result was the complacency, the confusion, the incoherence and the loss of pride and confidence that brought us untold sorrow and splintered the nation founded in 1947.”

The democratic government that governed Pakistan from 2008-2013 restored and strengthened the Constitution of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto through the 18th amendment. The constitution had been distorted with amendments introduced by dictators. This crucial amendment gave the provinces greater power and the resources to directly govern their areas and people.

Mr. Bhutto’s era was the age of revolution for Pakistan. He mobilized the country’s first mass-based political party. The Pakistan Peoples Party became the undiluted voice of the people and opened the way for other parties to similarly try and reach out to the people. The slogan of “Roti, Kapra aur Makaan” brought the needs of the people into Pakistani politics for the first time. He was hated by the drawing room elites because he transferred power to the voters and therefore to the towns and villages. He has never been forgiven for this. And, neither was his daughter Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto or the PPP.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto changed the history of Pakistan by empowering citizens to have a voice. His voice was silenced. It is time to hear the voices of the citizens again.

The writer is a former member of the National Assembly-

The article published in Daily Times on 04/04/2013 Link: