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Benazir Bhutto Struggled For Empowering People’s Rule In Pakistan

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December 27 is one of the darkest and gloomiest days in the history of Pakistan. This is the day when Mohtaram Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi in 2007. Her assassination left the country in state of mourning and chaos.

Benazir Bhutto, Pinki to her highly prominent parents was born on June 21, 1953 in Karachi. Who would have known that one day, Pinki will be the youngest first woman prime minister of Pakistan and would lead a historic political movement against the martial law of a despot, who hanged her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the first elected civilian and most popular leader in the history of Pakistan.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto at a very young age of 16 went to study at Harvard’s Radcliffe College. After completing her undergraduate degree at Radcliffe, she went to England’s Oxford University. She was elected president of the Oxford Union and became the first Asian woman to lead their debating society.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had inherited love for land and people from her father Shaheed Zulfikar Bhutto. She wrote in her autobiography ‘Daughter of the East’, “My father had brought me here just before I had left Pakistan to enter Harvard University in 1969. You are going far away to America,” he had told me as we stood among the graves of our forebears. “You will see many things that amaze you and travel to places you’ve never heard of. But remember, whatever happens to you, you will ultimately return here. Your place is here. Your roots are here. The dust and mud and heat of Larkana are in your bones. And it is here that you will be buried.”

Shaheed Benazir Bhutto had learnt to look straight in the eyes of tyranny and despotism from her father. She wrote in her autobiography about her last meeting with her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Jail before his execution: “Somehow my legs move. I cannot feel them. I have turned to stone. But still I move. The jail authorities lead us back through the jail ward, the courtyard filled with army tents. I move in a trance, conscious only of my head. High. I must keep it high. They are all watching.” Her loving papa’s Pinki, the Harvard and Oxford-educated Benazir had turned into courageous, strong and brave Benazir, who had shouldered the huge responsibility of her father’s political legacy and had led struggle for restoration of democracy, supremacy of constitution and parliament in heavily male dominant and patriarchal society.

After hanging, or judicial murder of Zulikar Bhutto in April 1979, Mohtarma Benazir and Begum Nusrat Bhutto were arrested many times over the following years. She was detained for three years, and faced every kind of persecution from the regime of Dictator Ziaul Haq. She had to go into exile in 1984; hanging, public flogging, detention and imprisonment of political workers, human rights activists, writers, poets, students and journalists had become order of the day. The country had seen the worst kind of censorship and human rights violations. The resentment and anger against Zia grew stronger and louder but she pursued political struggle by peaceful resistance and never used her mass level political workers for violence or blackmailing as pressure tactics. When Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in April 1986, people gave her a historic welcome.

Zia had never wanted Benazir Bhutto to win, besides creating other difficulties, he deliberately chose date for election which could coincide with the date when Benazir Bhutto was to give birth to her first child, just to hinder her from election campaigning. But after sudden death of Zia in plane crash general election was held in 1988. Vilification campaigns and religious fundamentalists’ propaganda (that it was un-Islamic to have a female leader) was in full swing against her. Despite all this, Pakistan People’s Party emerged as victorious in the election under her leadership.

On 2 December 1988, she sworn in as the world’s youngest and first woman prime minister of Pakistan and Muslim world. But from the very beginning, she was given the tough time by the establishment and bureaucracy. With her nerves of steel she dealt an organized and orchestrated propaganda and smear campaign through fake news and planted stories in so called mainstream media. Pakistan saw a worst period of political engineering and foul play in election and then in National Assembly through bribing and intimidating of members. Within a span of 20 months, she was dismissed by President Ishaq Khan.

On 19 October 1993, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was sworn again as Prime minister for second term. But again anti PPP and anti Bhutto establishment never accepted her. To give her tough time, very serious problems such as ethnic violence by MQM, and sectarian violence among Sunni and Shia were let loose. In her second term, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto sought to strengthen the relations with socialist states. Benazir Bhutto also strengthened relations with communist state Vietnam and visited Vietnam to sign the mutual trade and international political cooperation between both countries. She also wanted to have good relations with India.

During her short span of 3 years in office, she had brought electricity to many villages, established schools, colleges and hospitals and road networks in various parts of country. She made food, housing and healthcare for poor her top priorities; she undertook coordinated efforts to advance women rights and gender equality. She encouraged and brought forth many women politicians. She led initiatives such as women police stations, and lady health workers and income support programmes. She had a passionate vision to modernize Pakistan to compete with contemporary global challenges.

She had to suffer another tragedy in her life when in September 1996, her brother Murtaza Bhutto was killed in a police shootout in mysterious circumstances. Murtaza Bhutto’s murder was part of a plan to destabilize her government and to wipe out the Bhutto family. Soon after losing her brother, she had to lose her government when President Leghari dismissed her from the office.

Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir and Asif Ali Zardari were implicated in many and somewhat politically crafted cases, some false and frivolous. Subsequently, Asif Ali Zardari was imprisoned and she was forced to go in exile.

After returning to Pakistan, she was assassinated after an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi in the same park where Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto has mentioned in her book a number of incidents where General Pervez Musharraf had shown his resentment on her return. General Pervez Musharraf had stated that provision of her security would depend on her level of ‘cooperation’ with him.

People remember her as Shaheed Raani (Martyred Queen). Her political struggle against dictatorship and success to country’s top executive position has always been celebrated as a triumph for women not only in Pakistan but in the Muslim world too. She became a symbol for the global fight against military dictatorship, human rights, women rights violation and extremism. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir gave her life for a progressive, democratic and modern Pakistan, based on values of political freedom, freedom to speech, equality, diversity, and tolerance. She would always be remembered as champion of democracy, supremacy of civilian rule and her fight against extremism, which ultimately took her life.

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Naya Daur