Understanding how Benazir was immortalised

Published: December 27, 2010

Bhutto was a legend

On the evening of December 27, 2007, we edged along the crowded Shahrah-e-Faisal road in Karachi. A cold winter breeze drifted in from a car window that had been left open for ventilation. Air-conditioners were a redundant luxury now that the temperature had plummeted to a cold extreme. And yet, there was a strong undercurrent of political friction that constantly reminded us that we were living through an era of sweeping changes.

There was a flood-tide of expectations from the forthcoming elections.

Optimism was virtually a non-entity as suspicion governed thought-processes. Many judicious observers had gone to the extent of stating beforehand that the elections would be rigged, damaging the political process entirely. However, not everyone was thoroughly convinced.

Against this backdrop of uncertainty, we drove leisurely towards our destination – the house of an ailing grand-aunt. But before we knew it, things took an unpredictable turn. A phone call announcing Benazir Bhutto’s murder left us astounded. The instinct of self-preservation prodded us to turn back.

Political murders were catastrophic events, particularly in turbulent countries like Pakistan. They could trigger a spate of socio-economic uncertainties. Mob tendencies would grow fearfully extreme and life would reach a standstill.

But there was a general consensus that this assassination had greater symbolic significance than any other mission of sabotage. To some it implied the derailment of democracy and to others it indicated the growth of radical Islam. In a sense, the murder had been expected much before Benazir Bhutto had returned to Pakistan to rally support for her political goals. Unfortunately, no one had anticipated it that evening.

As we drove homewards, fear enveloped my mind.

How could life be so brittle? I asked myself.

Here was a woman who had floundered for the upkeep of social justice, equality and the restitution of democracy. In the months following General Zia’s totalitarian takeover, she emerged as the true embodiment of righteousness when she untiringly fought to claim justice for her father. Her efforts may not have been of much avail but they steeled her to confront countless adversities she faced during her years in and out of public office.

How could moral courage that was obtained through several years of a dismal struggle be thwarted in a single explosion? More importantly, how could death justify a divergence of political opinion?

It was these questions that plagued my thoughts that night as the trepidation of Benazir’s murder turned into resignation. Their urgency astonished my sixteen-year-old mind. I felt the restive urge to understand this murder. But I knew that facts would not offer an accurate representation of its purpose. They would simply provide a string of politically motivated excuses for this crime. All I could understand in those brief moments was that life was precious. One simply could not divest it from anyone. It seemed so futile, so completely immature.

As the hours passed, I continued to ponder over this. But on a more pragmatic level I was convinced that no one in a world ravaged with political violence would understand this. Thus, I endeavoured to seek answers for myself. In a frenzied spurt of agony, I walked to my desk, equipped myself with a pen and several reams of paper and began to write.

Initially I had contemplated a lengthy perusal of the many manuals on Pakistan’s history that had been tucked into a book shelf but the ideas came across as absurd. After all, how could something as fragile as death be explained through politics? Did it not surpass its influence?

I was certain that it did. And so, I chose to write in an attempt to immortalise Benazir’s life. I realised that so long as her life had been productive, the idea of its denouement would not seem bizarre. In fact, it would make death seem like a necessary phase of respite.

Moments later I was prepared with a poem that celebrated the life and times of a courageous woman:


Enthused by that graceful soul,

We throng to her sepulchre in cries and doles.

Our mind eclipsed in disbelief,

As her mission remains adjourned.

We recall those hours, unsightly and grim,

When she willingly floundered, fulfilling our whim.

She decreed for us the bounties of liberation,

Vowing to succour this poverty-stricken nation.

In a mesh of foreboding, she slithered to our rescue,

Wallowing in our woes; exulting when necessary,

Until her demise forced her to eschew.

Now, the Empress of Sindh, a saviour and kin,

Is ensconced in a mausoleum of martyrdom.

As melancholy hymns permeate in hopeful dins,

We wail and wait akin.


Taha Kehar

A blogger on social events and has previously worked as Assistant Editor for a media magazine. He is currently pursuing Law Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. He tweets @TahaKehar.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    The thing is…she was talented but she didn’t do so well when in power – at least the second time around in the mid-nineties….it should not be that just because you die you become a martyr and all your wrongdoings get washed away. she was undoubtedly courageous to have faced everything she did in her life but please do not mistake her for the ‘lost messiah’ – she was as flawed as the rest of them.Recommend

  • AhsanS

    Just because she was a woman in Paki politics while it was dominated by the males? or Did she actually do some good for the country? I fail to understand. Or is it just out of sympathy she was assassinated on the middle of a road. What is it that actually justifies a Sind Govt Holiday? What difference she would have made if she would have been alive and elected? like this was not the first time she would have become a PM? Would people also remember Nawaz Sharif in the same manner when he dies? He atleast has the credit of getting the nuclear bombs exploded in poor balochistan! Will someone please help me understand what is this romance all about this country is having with BB? No one cared when Nawaz Sharif was thrown out and she still stayed in dxb/uk and yet she wanted an NRO to come back? What?Recommend

  • http://abbasiworld.blogspot.com Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    If you haven’t understood it already, I doubt any explanation will be of any help.

    Well written brother.Recommend

  • AhsanS

    @Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi: frankly i did not even read it! it was a general question? whats the hype all about!Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    She was a brave women, no doubts about it.
    She has been immortalized by changing the name of Nawabshah city to her name, by changing the name of Islamabad airport to her name, by issuing the poor people Rs.1000 cards in her name, by taking her picture to the UN’s assembly, by posting her photos everywhere in government offices, by creating an expensive monument in her name and offcourse by your poem.Recommend

  • AhsanS

    @Ali Hassan: and she did not have to pay for any of these! neither the airport nor the thousand rupees to the poor!Recommend

  • Mohammad naeem

    BB and her party s hope for oppressed and less privilaged ones in our country. PauseRecommend

  • http://www.mmoizblog.blogspot.com/ Moiz

    Benazir being a female PM or being highly voiciferous yet impractical is no reason to pronounce her “a true leader”.Recommend

  • AhsanS

    And you know the worst part is … i hate it when i think about it .. even though it hasnt happened yet … but everyone knows this will …. bilalwal bhutto will take over as PM as soon as he returns from god knws what he is doing. Y? bcoz he is BBs son! and bcoz BB is a so called legend! for what, no one knows! perhaps becuase there actually are no reasons for doing so. its lyke a circular refernce error form MS Excel :pRecommend

  • Ali

    But what did she actually do for the country?
    Are we better off now as her result of her having existed? If so how?
    Your reply should not not include references to her father, Oxford education, oratory skills, family back ground, personaility. None of these amtter a bit.
    Yuor reply may touch upon literacy levels, health indices, law and order, GDP growth, per capita income, job growth, nutrition improving during her tenures.

    Go on give it a go, see if you can tell the world just how great this women was for Pakistan using the criteria above.Recommend

  • pfft

    @Ali- I doubt the author wants to tell the world how great she was. It’s just a way of showing that life is precious and should not be taken. The poem doesn’t show her greatness either – just her courage. It suitably takes the point of view of those who looked up to her. The author seems to be aware of all the points you’ve made. Just a way of remembering the dead, this piece. Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/143/taha-kerar/ Taha Kehar

    @Waqqas Iftikhar – I concur with your point-of-view. Although we’re not creating martyrs or searching for lost messiahs in this context.
    @AhsanS – I do admit that there is a strong romantic inclination to BB amongst many Pakistanis. The reasons for this are quite debatable. Perhaps the astonishing (and ironic) appeal of dynastic politics in the region has something to do with it. And (of course) being a woman also brings brownie points. These are superficial categories which does not account for the ideological conditioning at play. I blame the media. :)
    @Wasio – Thanks for your appreciation.
    @Ali Hassan – Thank you for acknowledging my effort. I would disagree with AhsanS’s comment on your observation. No one pays to be immortalized. And this case, I doubt it’s even possible.
    @Moiz – Agreed. Read this like an obituary, in that case.
    @AhsanS – Good analogy! You just answered your own question, it seems. Dynastic politics made BB popular and it will also bring Bilawal to the fore.
    @Ali – Quite a challenge you’ve presented here. Rest assured that I would never have mentioned either one of the pretexts to answer your question. Quantitatively, her achievements are minimal. But then again, counting achievements is just one yardstick.
    @pfft – Thanks for the analytical approach. Recommend

  • Mastishhk

    Dear Taha Kehar,

    You have chosen Adjectives like Saviour and kin to describe late BB. Would you care to explain when and where did she display such deeds. Can you give an account of her achievements or accomplishments as PM of Pakistan.The number of fingers on your left hand would outnumber her achievements.He husband Mr Zardari is known as the most corrupt person in Pakistan. How did she deal with that.Mr Zardari enhanced his wealth with impunity right under her nose. Please don’t argue that she wasn’t aware of this.The term Martyr cannot be applied to you just because you were murdered in a public rally . Its your work when you are alive that helps you earn the tag and in this respect BB fails completely.Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/143/taha-kerar/ Taha Kehar

    @Mastishhk – I’m glad you’ve raised this question and wholeheartedly agree with your approach. I want to clarify that the poem deliberately presents an exceedingly optimistic view of BB. This optimism serves as nothing more than a literary device which presents the perspective of those who saw her as an inspirational leader. The views expressed and the word choice are tailored accordingly.
    But to answer your question, BB’s achievements as PM were mainly metaphorical. After assuming public office in 1988, she was perceived to be a representative of democratic principles. However, her tenure between 1988-90 indicates otherwise. Of the numerous reasons that led to her government being sacked, the divisions within the Pakistan People’s Party, rifts over policy initiatives, personal ambition and corruption are the most important. The PPP’s unwillingness to work with the MQM in a coalition and the violent confrontations that resulted in the Pucca Qila massacre of 1990 were the final assaults on the transparency of her political programme.
    Unfortunately, her second stint at power was also afflicted with the same problems. There is no doubt that Zardari was to blame for the whole debacle. Benazir, it appears, did not acknowledge this fact. In her book “Reconciliation – Islam, democracy and the West” she alludes to “Zia elements” conspiring against her government by “working on” President Leghari and the CJ. Recommend