The Daughter Of The East Is Missed Today

Crucially, Benazir understood that Pakistan needed reconciliation and healing, not hate and division. She wanted Pakistan to have some breathing room

The Daughter Of The East Is Missed Today

Sixteen years ago on the 27th of December 2007, one of the most charismatic leaders of her era, Benazir Bhutto, twice elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, fell victim to the cowardly attack of the forces of obscurantism and religious extremism. The wound caused by that murder is still bleeding. Pakistan is in the vicious grip of multiple economic and political crises, and once again the nation is feeling the loss of the Daughter of the East all over again – all the more so when the ugly shadow of despotic rule hangs over the country. 

It was Benazir who awakened the nation from the long slumber of dictatorship and became the voice of the dispossessed and disenfranchised people of Pakistan. Even her biggest critics and political opponents respect her courage and defiance in the face of cruelty and dictatorship – and that could be the reason for her untimely death. Her assassination is still shrouded in mystery and the perpetrators of this heinous crime have yet to be fully identified. Benazir Bhutto had her shortcomings and weak points but her dedication and sincerity to the cause of secular democracy is beyond doubt.

Before entering politics her training started under her charismatic father ZA Bhutto as a teenager, and that tutelage made her a leader in her own right. With an impressive academic record of degrees from Harvard and Oxford, she had the intellect and the guts to take on her most toxic critics. 

Benazir Bhutto was elected twice as the Prime Minister of Pakistan but was never allowed to complete her constitutional term. Her first term started after the death of General Zia in an air crash and now the powers that be very reluctantly allowed her to take the reins of Government in 1988 after she agreed to all the imposed conditions. She was a fighter and she never gave up. Just after a year-and-a-half, her government was sent packing in what was called a constitutional coup in 1990.

Benazir and her husband were implicated in many cases of corruption and elections were rigged to keep her out of power and the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) was created with funds provided by the intelligence agencies just to defeat the PPP led by Benazir Bhutto. This was the most difficult period of her life, spent in going from one court to anther to defend her in trumped up cases. It was even attempted to disqualify her and force her to flee abroad, but nothing worked and she stood her ground with fortitude and courage. All the attempts by the all-powerful forces arrayed against her failed to break her determination.

In the 1993 elections, she was triumphant once again when the PPP won a comfortable majority and even elected a president from her own party. She began a new term in office as Prime Minister – having learnt from her past mistakes, she started to move ahead and forget the past and the treatment meted out to her by the Powers That Be in the country. 

Benazir was no magic worker but she undoubtedly had immense courage, was a workaholic had a great hunger for new ideas, and managed to impact the lives of millions of people

In her second term as PM, she was now more experienced about the intricacies of the functioning of the government but again she faced some tricky challenges and just mid-way in her tenure her government started to unravel at the seams. In September 1996, her younger brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto was brutally gun downed in front of his house in a police encounter and this was the first serious event to destabilise her government. It was only three years of the second term when her government was once again dissolved by the use of article 58 2 (B) – and this time by a president from her own party. She once again faced persecution in many criminal cases and had to leave the country to live in self-imposed exile.

After her exile of many years, she returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007 and now her procession in Karachi was attacked by suicide bombers, resulting in the death of hundreds of innocent people. This was the worst terrorist action in the history of the country so far – and just two months later, she fell victim to the agents of terrorism that she had vowed to fight and eliminate from the country. 

The PPP founded by the father of Benazir has always been an advocate of progressive and secular politics and believed that this is the path to progress and prosperity of the nation and Benazir was always a symbol of hope for the country.

Benazir’s enduring legacy in Pakistan is etched in the hearts of many. She served as the voice for the marginalised, fostering an unparalleled connection with the people. Her commitment to inclusive politics stood as a beacon, transcending the prevalent politics of hate and vengeance that often mark today’s challenging time, Benazir was no magic worker but she undoubtedly had immense courage, was a workaholic had a great hunger for new ideas, and managed to impact the lives of millions of people.

The income support programme became a legacy initiative for the PPP, but even as it met with stiff resistance initially from the bureaucracy, which was unwilling to make women the only beneficiaries, President Zardari remembered her passion for it and insisted it be designed for women members of vulnerable families. That legacy of empowering women at the bottom of the social pyramid continues to this day with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who oversaw the beginning of one the largest redistributions of land assets after the 2022 floods by giving land titles of reconstructed homes to women of affected households.

Benazir Bhutto lived through the horrors of prison and house arrests but never used her party workers as political pawns to help her case. She lived through the judicial murder of her beloved and iconic father and the mysterious murder of her two brothers, but not once did she ask her followers or party workers to set the country on fire or to attack state institutions. 

Crucially, Benazir understood that Pakistan needed reconciliation and healing, not hate and division. She wanted Pakistan to have some breathing room, a space to reinvent itself as an economy that opened up opportunities for employment and growth, with social justice as the overarching norm. Her Charter of Democracy to end the politics of polarisation in Pakistan earned her accolades for attempting to bend history in the best interest of the country.

Daughter of the East, you are missed.