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Lost frontiers—on Benazir’s 12th anniversary

Huzaima Bukhari

Pakistan’s future viability, stability and security lie in empowering its people and building political institutions. My goal is to prove that the fundamental battle for the hearts and minds of a generation can be accomplished only under democracy”―Benazir Bhutto

When crisis strikes, man has a tendency to make resolutions to enable its prevention in the future. The situation he goes through teaches him many lessons and if he is sensible, opens the windows of his mind and reasoning, giving him better control over his life and himself. Wisdom is an attribute that some are endowed with while others acquire it from their experiences but without any doubt, it takes precedence over mere knowledge. During one’s life span, quite a few incidents occur as outcomes of one’s own doings whereas a lot many are such that happen by chance. Those who do not learn anything or just turn a blind eye from whatever occurs continue to suffer, blaming others for all the bad in their lives and taking credit for all that is good. Yet life goes on leaving in its wake many fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams!

Benazir Bhutto emerged in the political arena as the daughter of a seasoned bureaucrat-turned-politician, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Out of his four children, his discerning eyes saw in her the potential to bear the burden of his own legacy and from an early age he began to groom her, preparing her  to take on the lead later in life long after him. Since childhood, she was raised in the most congenial political environment, saw history in the making, accompanied her father to the most sensitive negotiations, got the best education and above all, other than enjoying the privileges of an elitist class, went through an era of unimaginable suffering for a woman of her standing. Those were the days post-assassination of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto during which she proved herself as the most deserving heir to his legacy.

When her brothers fled the country, she with her mother stayed back to bear the torture of imprisonment and be subjected to ill-treatment when she could have easily taken refuge in Libya, Iran or any of the countries who had a soft spot in their hearts for her father. She chose hardship over luxury to which she was accustomed since birth but resolved to stay by her ideals of democracy as against dictatorship, in the footsteps of her father. This alone was sufficient to give her the much needed support of her people, her party, her followers and all neutral persons who sympathized with her. Even her rivals appreciated her stoic attitude towards her torturers.

Very rarely one witnesses this kind of moral strength to withstand physical and mental onslaughts for holding onto one’s beliefs and refusing to bend or compromise principles. All this coming from a young woman belonging to a traditional patriarchal society in the most uncomfortable times is even more appreciable. There cannot be any doubt that during this period BB learned a lot about the practical aspects of politics, about her true supporters, about all the turncoats within her sphere, about the extent of suffering she was capable of bearing and about what she would do to restore her status as the new active leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to once again establish democracy in the country after a long drawn struggle through the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD).

Fate gave her that momentous chance when on 2 December 1988 at only 35 years of age, she took the oath of the office of prime minister of Pakistan and became the first woman to head a Muslim country. In retrospect can it be said that despite her upbringing as a budding politician, this was a bit too early for an inexperienced young woman to handle the reigns of a government and that too, when there were multiple challenges facing her? Perhaps so or else, things would not have taken such bizarre turns that culminated in the dismissal of her government in 1990 by the very person viz. Ghulam Ishaq Khan who swore her in office earlier. Restored to power in 1993, her government was again dismissed by her ‘loyal’ supporter Farooq Leghari in 1995.

She was quite disappointed with the treatment meted out to her. At one time she remarked: “As a woman leader, I thought I brought a different kind of leadership. I was interested in women’s issues, in bringing down the population growth rate… as a woman, I entered politics with an additional dimension – that of a mother.” Each time she was prevented for one reason or another in accomplishing her objectives.

After losing 1997 elections, BB chose self-exile and moved to Dubai from where she continued to lead her party through proxies. During this period she remained active as a speaker, writer and politician. BB was learning again! These second phase of crises were teaching her a lot. She was a much experienced person now having been through the grill repeatedly. She had authored books reflecting upon her academic skills. She learnt the difference between ruling the country and wielding real power. The veils of hypocrites and opportunists had been lifted. She was observing with a better perspective and had gotten a firm grip over national and international politics. This was a transformed Benazir Bhutto ready to hold the bull by its horns with a revived sense of conviction and in high spirits. She was ready to deliver!

Her hopes were so high that despite continuous threats to her life, regardless of having to shake hands with a dictator, albeit racial and gender biases towards her, notwithstanding innumerable challenges she would be compelled to face, she chose to return to Pakistan to once again lead her people. This time around, her government would not cruelly be dismissed. This time around she would be denied the right to live, let alone veer the country towards the true form of democracy!


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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