By Bashir Riaz
On December 27, 2019, as we marked the twelfth death anniversary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the essence of her principles and ideals have been etched into our collective memories just like the memory of our favourite fragrance. Once you experience it, it becomes a part of your memory forever. December is also the same month when thirty years ago, Shaheed BB took oath as the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim World. She showed us a glimpse of a progressive and democratic Pakistan.
Even during her life as a student, she was setting precedent as the first Pakistani woman who became the President of the Oxford Union. Today, the Benazir Bhutto Memorial Lecture has been established at Oxford to honour the life and legacy of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. Last month, the former British Prime Minister, Theresa May, delivered the inaugural Benazir Bhutto Memorial Lecture. Different European countries and American institutions acknowledge Shaheed BB’s contributions towards democracy, rule of law and human rights. I still remember that in June 1984, during a visit to Denmark, two renowned newspapers wrote detailed articles on Shaheed BB and gave her titles akin to “Princess of the East” and “Iron Lady”.
There is no doubt that Shaheed BB represented the bright side and a positive image of Pakistan in the world and even after her loss, her name continues to live on. When we lost her, it was not any political party’s loss but it was the loss of our country, it was Pakistan’s loss who lost her biggest champion of democracy. She represented the federation and was the face of unity among the provinces. Only the enemies of Pakistan, lurking within as well as outside the boundaries, benefited from this act of terror. Shaheed BB always kept national interest at the forefront of her decisions. She continued her father’s vision to ensure Pakistan became a strong nuclear power. If she were still with us, the political landscape would be different from what we have today. She would have dealt with the terrorists with an iron fist and no one would have been allowed to threaten the sanctity of the state. The whole world understood this as she had raised her voice for the people of Palestine and Kashmir on various platforms.
She highlighted the Kashmir issue on various international forums. In a conference by the OIC held in Morocco, the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto spoke about Kashmir and helped the All Parties Huriyat Conference to become a member organization. Shaheed BB had a clear stance on the Kashmir conflict. She believed that the people of Kashmir should have the right to decide their future. In line with the UN resolution on the subject, she suggested a “soft border” between Azad Kashmir and Occupied Kashmir to give relief to the Kashmiris. This would allow the two sides to mingle together, discuss their problems, and eventually, reach a consensus on the Kashmir issue. Today, Bilawal Bhutto has been following in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather and speaking out for the Kashmiri people against the injustice meted out by the Modi government, demanding that the curfew should be lifted. The great political legacy of the Bhutto family always has been to fight all kinds of undemocratic forces, anywhere in the World.
Shaheed BB favoured dialogue and believed in conflict resolution through discussions rather than violence. Certain forces who subscribe to nothing but the ideology of anarchy and clash of cultures, were not happy with Shaheed BB as a symbol of unity. Her personality is also reflected in her writings. She used to say that life is short and therefore, we should build bridges and stay positive. She wanted to change the life of the people on the grass roots level, championing her father’s slogan of roti, kapra, makaan to fight poverty and make a difference in the lives of the poor people. She wanted to bring peace to her people, to her country, and to the world.
On Quaid-e-Awam, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s sixth death anniversary, Benazir Bhutto addressed a gathering in Birmingham and said, “I am the daughter of Shaheed Bhutto! Today, I am making a promise to Shaheed Baba and the people of Pakistan that I will fight evil and will dedicate all my skills and energies for the victory of the good. I will make any sacrifices required to help our motherland get rid of the martial law.” She kept true to her words and fought the martial law with great determination, until her last breath.
Shaheed BB loved her people and in return, the people of Pakistan doted on their brave leader. This bond threatened and terrified certain forces who then decided to remove Benazir Bhutto and severe the bond. Little did they know that this bond is not easy to break. As long as Bilawal Bhutto continues his mother’s vision, the bond between the Bhutto ideology and the people of Pakistan will remain intact.
Every year, December 27 is marked as her death anniversary in Garhi Khudabaksh. This year, the event took place at Liaqat Bagh, Pindi, on the site where she last addressed her people.
In 2007 when Shaheed BB had decided to return to Pakistan, I felt anxious and in our farewell meeting, I asked her for forgiveness in case of any lapses on my part and she reciprocated then said, “You must continue my mission—you will live longer than me.” On December 27, 2007, I truly understood her message. She had already decided that her life was not her own; it belonged to the people of Pakistan.
In an international conference in Portugal, a writer from Middle East gave tribute to Shaheed BB and described her as the only bright shining star amidst a galaxy full of stars. Just like the light of the stars that continues to reach us years after the star has faded away, the light of Shaheed BB’s ideology continues to brighten the political landscape of Pakistan.
(The writer is the former press secretary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and advisor to Bilawal Bhutto, Chairman PPPP.)