When I was invited by Anita Mir on behalf of Campaign Against Martial Law to speak at a commemorative gathering for martyred Pakistani/world leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto at SOAS (Jan 15) I could not respond to her instantly. In a frame of mind that refuses to get into focus following assassination of all assassinations, I feared that my weak legs would not hold me on nor my quivering words would find that flow to speak about one who had become my life and soul. Then Anita persevered, sent me emails and text messages and so did Nadir Cheema who does not give up easy when crusading for a genuine cause.

A look at the galaxy of names such as Amin Moghul , Victoria Schofield and M. Ziauddin of Dawn who I was to share the podium with gave me strength and a reassurance that I was in the company of friends who would land me their support if I broke down. The audience-packed Khalili Auditorium was too filled with aura of innocent, youthful warmth, affection and profound sympathy for the departed soul. When I used to raise my head to look at them, I could not affix my tear- loaded eyes apprehending that theirs together would drown the room.

Sitting in the front row was Farrah Durrani—a young now renowned BBC TV producer who I had known since eighties painstakingly pursuing Bibi to capture her movements and images for posterity. I remember her very presence with her camera crew was enough to disarm Bibi who might have been overworked, short of time and in no mood to give an interview. Farah’s smile would open her up, give her comfort and in no time Bibi would be battle ready to effectively respond to volley of her questions.

When we ran into each other in the foyer Farah did greet me with a smile. It was perhaps the saddest that I have ever seen on a woman’s face. Not a word spoken yet it revealed it all the bloody drama that was stage-managed by the rulers to eliminate the most noble soul that I have ever come across in my life. Mutedly tears flowed and we whispered to each other words that we thought would help us hold us on. She gave a disc of her last meeting with Bibi. It is lying before me and I am dying to see it. I confess in the words of poet Anne Bronte:

Oh, I am very weary,

Though tears no longer flow:

My eyes are tired of weeping,

My heart is sick of woe.

Besides knowing and working with Bibi in various capacities during the last 30 years, I am also much too privileged to have known her father martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from my university days when I was one of his fans. Later as a journalist I became his stout supporter—not because of my fanatic admiration of him as the rising star on the horizon of world politics. He had crash-landed in a society that was decadent and a country straight-jacketed in the strangle-hold of the forces of status quo and obscurantism. He emerged as the harbinger of change who gave voice to the muted masses. It was his commitment to translate Quaid’s dream of making Pakistan a modern, democratic secular state that rallied people like us around him.

With Bibi gone I feel it is also –perhaps—end of the road for me since the glow that kept my life lighted in the most depressing years in exile and the flame that kept alive some hope in future—has been extinguished by those dastardly forces who want to see end of Pakistan. She stood as the symbol of country’s survival against those forces that have been working to make it a failed state.

Bibi was assassinated when Pakistan and its people needed her most—for their very survival. And this was the reason that she shrugged aside with contempt—the threats of death that were conveyed to her direct or through various channels—by the usurpers in power who saw in her to return to Pakistan an end to their rule. Their warnings to her were clear— Pakistan had space for only one– either her or the Bonapartist general. Her participation in elections would have meant defeat to him and his cronies who had been devouring pelf and power as vultures to the country’s barest bones. She preferred to do and die for Pakistan rather than surrender to their intimidations.

Though born into one of the most famous political families in the Asian sub-continent, martyred Benazir Bhutto was tempered in an upbringing that could make her withstand most adverse pressures in life. And even death she faced with a smile. I had the first glimpse of her when she accompanied her father, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to Shimla for a summit with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to negotiate an honourable peace agreement in 1972 when in 1971 Pakistani generals had preferred to surrender to the Indian army rather than to submit to the democratic will of the majority.

As a member of the media team in Mr. Bhutto’s entourage, I spotted in her outstanding traits of making of a leader. Barely 19 she carried herself with grace, stately dignity and striking confidence—much of what now I see today in her successor Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

The military coup against her father in 1977, followed by his judicial murder in 1979, catapulted her into politics to complete her martyred father’s mission of socio-economic and political empowerment of his people. As the leader of the country’s biggest party — the Pakistan People’s Party – Bibi took upon herself the task of completing the mission of transforming Pakistan into a modern democracy with equality for all its citizens—irrespective of caste, creed or colour—as envisioned by the Quaid and her father. PPP under her leadership picked up the pieces of ZAB’s unfinished agenda. Her social and economic reforms though well begun were cut short by dismissals of her two governments much before she could complete her terms. It is an irony that while she sowed the seeds of peace, progress and prosperity others that succeeded her reaped the rich harvest.

Because she had dared to challenge obscurantist forces and the Bonpartist generals—she braved more than two decades of persecution and prosecution. She had proven her political prowess by holding the PPP together and its enormous vote bank intact while in exile. Constant showered with accusations of graft—acknowledged even by the retired general “ as politically motivated” her sustained popularity sprung a rude shock in the face of her opponents both in and outside the corridors of power when she received an unprecedented welcome on her return to Pakistan as “the daughter of their destiny” (Oct 18, 2007).

The sea of people from the remotest parts of the country converging onto Karachi converted it into a happy “mini-Pakistan” only to be marred by two suicide bombings -aimed at killing her—left over 150 dead. The regime as usual blamed it all on Al-Qaeda while its leader Baitullah Mahsood denied responsibility. The perpetrators of the most heinous crime took no time in washing all the evidence for fear of getting caught, Musharraf rushed to introduce Bhutto-specific laws to curtail her political activities, followed by sacking of the entire superior judiciary and a draconian clamp down on the media that continues to this day.

The Karachi attack intensified her resilience to fight back. It strengthened the confidence of the masses in her leadership. She could not be deterred by such cowardly acts and death threats by those who were sitting tight in the government. She did write to Musharraf warning him of devastating consequences if any harm came to her from his key officials including his Intelligence chief who had been in cahoots with hired extremists in planning to kill her. In the recent Gallup poll majority of the people have pointed their fingers at his government as her killer.

Not far from truth. The unabashed manner that he is going around trying to cover up the leads leave no doubt as to on whose hands Bibi’s blood could be found. The latest of the planned trips to some of those countries that are famous for producing finest perfumes remind me of Shakespeare’s famous lines regarding “all the perfumes of Arabia ”. I am sure none has been so far produced nor will ever be in this time and age that could wash the stains of such a noble blood as Bibi’s from the hands of her killer—whether he searches for it in Paris, Brussels, Geneva or London.

I had known Bibi very closely. She was brave, bold and courageous and she could not be intimidated by any threats. Once in a similar situation she had remarked: “We must break the siege of fear and send the message to others that no threats can deter us in our march on the road to democracy.” This was the message that she again conveyed to the General and his gang of Co-operative thugs following attack on her on October 18 last and despite various hurdles put in her way she dared to continue her election campaigning.

It was not in her blood to surrender to such threats. She, however, did not realise that this time she was up against those who were ruthless but were also past masters in self-branded projection as scions of ‘civilised and educated’ pedigree. They actually fall in the category of that Urdu phrase in which perpetrators of highest crimes against humanity beat the hell out of their victim and don’t let him or her cry as well (maartay hain aur roonay bhi naheen dai tay hain).

It is a historic fact that dictators hardly spare any effort at eliminating possible threats to their regimes, regardless of who gets hurt, even their country and its people. There could not be a better proof of it than Bhutto’s assassination just a few miles away from the steel-bunkered sanctuary of the President who had been passing sleepless nights seeing the rising crescendo of her sweeping popularity that would have pushed him in the dustbin of history on January 8. Since the author of her murder makes no mistakes, his minions saw to it all evidence is hosed forgetting that:

Heaven is above all yet: there sits a Judge

That no King (in this case president) can corrupt.

The truth shall come out and the entire perfume of Arabia, Europe or America would not be able to wash his hands of her innocent blood. Allah willing.

I had the honour of having had many opportunities to sit with her and dilate on the future of Pakistan in the given circumstances. She firmly believed that the real choice that Pakistan faced today was the choice between dictatorship and democracy. She insisted: “The path we choose will determine the outcome of the battle between extremism and moderation in Pakistan .” She was confident that by empowering the people and building political institutions, she can pick up the gauntlet to prove that the fundamental battle for the hearts and minds of a nation can be won only under a true democratic dispensation and not through barrel of the gun.

Bibi laid down her life for her conviction and faith in the people. “I am confident about the future of Pakistan . I believe that a nation that is inspired by democracy, human rights and economic opportunity will turn its back decisively against extremism. Indeed, I look forward to the day that a truly democratic Pakistan , unhindered by extremists and military rule, takes its place on the world stage” were some of her last words that I remember she spoke to me before leaving for Pakistan .

After her what? My simple answer would be: deluge! But I feel I am wrong since she always held a positive view in most adverse and challenging circumstances. Her father walked to the gallows head high so that his people could look into the eyes of the usurpers straight. Her death might as well prove to be a turning point in the nation’s chequered history. By sacrificing her life and nurturing the fragile sapling of democracy with her noble blood she at last may have laid the foundation of a new democratic order in Pakistan . Her blood would surely go a long a way in harnessing itself into a people’s revolution to bury for all times the hydra-headed monster of military dictatorship.

I hope on February 18 through their vote for the PPP and other liberal and democratic elements—people of Pakistan will turn the tables on the dictator and obscurantist forces who threaten the country with extinction. This could only be the people’s best and everlasting tribute to Shaheed Benazir Bhutto who lived and died for establishing an egalitarian and secular Pakistan . Remember rulers cannot cheat the masses all the time. They instinctively knew the insidious and shadowy killers of Benazir Bhutto. They have identified them and all fingers point at Musharraf regime. They know it is not Taliban or their mutants. Her enemies are far more sinister. And some of them had been named by her in her letter to Musharraf and to Wolf Blitzer of CNN. Obviously President’s hurried yatra starting from January 20 to four European countries is being described as his desperate bid to hose his much tarnished image in the manner that his “inefficient” officers washed away the evidence that would have easily exposed Bhutto killers.

The retired General—nay any one who killed her– must know that physical death does not stop history from taking its course. And Bibi has already set the terms of history in this region. She was always a step ahead of her killer’s plans. Her last prophetic words uttered just on the eve of her assassination—will continue to echo in the ears of the enemy of the masses: “How many Bhuttos will you kill, you kill one and yet another Bhutto will be born in every house”. With her martyrdom—since Shaheeds do not die—her legacy has moved into immortality. The Benazir phenomenon dyed in her pure blood will continue to fight the dark forces of dictatorship and obscurantism and protect Pakistan for ever and ever. Her killer’s lust for power is like the fatal AID’s disease. He and his collaborators would rest in pieces as had been the fate of ZAB’s murderers while Bibi would bask in Allah’s blessing for having laid her life for the good of her poor people.

We do not have many parallels in history to her life. After all she was Benazir—the matchless. Hers had been very unusual and enormously challenging—starting from the fact that being a woman she assumed the mantle of leadership in a predominantly male society. She buried her father killed at age 50 and two brothers killed in the prime of their lives. She raised her three children as a single mother when her husband was arrested and held for eight years without a conviction — a hostage to her political career.

She made her choice when the mantle of political leadership was thrust upon her shoulders after her father’s judicial murder. Ever since then she did not shrink from responsibility and she died like her great father for her democratic commitment since both believed that it is the righteousness of one’s cause that makes one great and not the dime a dozen tin medals that adorn the uniform of the Pakistani generals for waging more wars against their unarmed people than defending country’s sovereignty rendered into a myth by them.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan is Pakistan’s ex High Commissioner in UK.

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