Today is the 16th death anniversary of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the first woman leader of a Muslim nation in modern history, who served two terms as prime minister of Pakistan, in 1988–90 and in 1993-1996 in male-dominated political establishment, conservative and patriarchal society.
She always remained the centre of the global political stage and was an inspiration for women across the world. Her high intellect and nuanced understanding of national and international political and social issues surpassed many male political leaders’ acumen. After Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto has been the only Pakistani politician of a truly international stature.
Benazir did not earn this distinction by just being the daughter of her great father Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, but because of her unflinching, and uncompromising struggle for democracy, civilian rule and constitutional supremacy.
Her political journey was not easy; she had to pay a heavy price for her political fight for democracy, rights, and justice. Her path to political leadership was full of tragedies and hardship; her father Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government was overthrown in a military coup and he was later hanged in a judicial murder. Under the worst military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq, she was imprisoned and put in jail in the sweltering heat of Sukkur. Shaheed Benazir was also imprisoned for nearly five years, spending much of the time in solitary confinement. She went into exile in England and there she mobilized and organized a political campaign against Zia’s dictatorship. She returned to Pakistan in 1986, where she was given a hero's welcome by a sea of people, which was never seen before in the history of Pakistan.
Many related her life with something out of a Greek tragedy; her younger brother Mir Shahnawaz was poisoned to death, her brother Mir Murtaza was murdered in Karachi when she was Prime Minister of the country in 1996. She buried her brother – the third male member of her immediate family in the family graveyard in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh.
When she took office as an elected prime minister after military dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, she focused on working for the betterment of poor masses. Her utmost priority was women empowerment, many pro-women initiatives were introduced for the first time in Pakistan.
Shaheed Benazir worked hard to change lives of women and downtrodden people who were hit hard during the dictatorship of Zia. Shaheed Benazir became a symbol of resistance and hope for women at national and on global scale.
Her tenure in office was never an easy task; the continued propaganda and conspiracies, planted stories, nonstop media trials could not weaken her resilience, steadfast dedication and courage, and nothing could stop the people from admiring her and discovering hope in her leadership.
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto had rightly said: “For women leaders, the obstacles are greater, the demands are greater, the barriers are greater, and the double standards are greater.”
Due to her political insight and farsightedness, she wanted to end the old rusty politics of revenge, political victimization, interference and interruption, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto envisaged a historical ‘Charter of Democracy (COD)’. She signed the COD with her political opponent Nawaz Sharif, in 2006 in London. She led the dialogue process with political parties for putting their differences aside to end a decade long dictatorship of Parvez Musharraf.
She knew that it was risky for her to visit Pakistan and she had mentioned the possibility of her murder in the interview. She was told that suicide bombers would target her during or after an election rally in Rawalpindi. She replied to the security agencies that: “giving me security is the responsibility of the state, you beef up security and make sure that I’m fully protected. Not only I’m protected, but my people who are there, they’re fully protected.”
During the election campaign, she said in an interview. “It is very hard to tell if I will live through this (election campaign). This is a challenging situation; I am ready to take the risk. The people of Pakistan are prepared to take the risk. When Pakistan’s very existence as a moderate country is at stake then we all have to take the risk.”
She took the risk of her life for the sake of democracy, political, economic and social rights of millions of downtrodden people who were long waiting for her return to Pakistan.
We women in Pakistan always drew strength and inspiration from Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and when she is physically no more among us, she is still a role model and her legacy is a beacon of hope for those who believe in equal political and democratic rights for women.
The hopes and dreams of millions of people in Pakistan were shattered when she was assassinated on December 27, 2007, while campaigning for the general elections outside Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed was only 54 years old when she was assassinated.
Her death was an irreparable loss for Pakistan and the world, as it was the loss of a visionary leader and a beacon of hope. She was immortalised forever, she would always remain alive in our hearts.
Sixteen years after her death, the Pakistan People’s Party, under the leadership of young Bilawal Bhutto has shouldered the gigantic task of fulfilling Shaheed Benazir’s lifelong mission to nurture and strengthen democracy in Pakistan.
Sahar Imdad Hussaini, a renowned poetess of the Sindhi and Urdu language penned a poem to mourn the assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.
وہ خواب نگر سے آئی تھی
اور سپنے بانٹنے آئی تھی
وہ سپنے بننے آئی تھی
اور خود ہی سپنا بن بیٹھی
تم اس کے بھیجے میں بزدل
اک گولی مار تو سکتے ہو
اس بھیجے میں ان سپنوں کو
تم گولی مار نہیں سکتے
تم بزدل تھے تم بزدل ہو
تم ایک عورت سے ڈرتے تھے
تم ایک عورت سے ڈرتے ہو
تم ان سپنوں کی سندر سی
سب تعبیروں سے ڈرتے ہو
تم خوف کے مارے مر گئے ہو
وہ سپنا آج بھی زندہ ہے۔
(سحر امداد حسینی)