From dusk to dawn: a new beginning By Naheed Khan
The News, March 25, 2008
The writer is a former member of parliament who served as Benazir Bhutto’s personal assistant and political secretary
…Aur mein sidq-e-dil ke saath Pakistan ki wafadar rahoon-gi (That I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan…
A beautiful young woman, remarkably composed in green shalwar-kameez and with a white scarf neatly covering her head, takes the oath of office of prime minister on this ending note and signs the register. The pindrop silence is replaced with a massive round of applause. A few eyes glaze over with tears, a few faces are illuminated, while others smirk. This is Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, being sworn in as the first woman prime minister of an Islamic country, The Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Pakistan was triumphant: at last her sufferings were over; at last her struggle had found a destination. It was a sight her father, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, would have loved if he were still with us. How proud Begum Bhutto must have been seeing her little Pinkie transforming into Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Little did we know that this was the beginning of a new suffering which would eventually lead to her death some 20 years later.
Bibi had tremendous control over her emotions and we have witnessed it frequently; be it her father’s judicial murder or her two brothers’ killings, she remained composed and her elegance was par excellence, no matter what.
She faced life-long sufferings with remarkable grace and dignity. She bore the pain of her husband’s incarceration, for 11 out of the 20 years of her married life, with great endurance. Her personal life went through trials and tribulations, and when keeping her children away from her had become a compulsion, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was just a mother, longing to take her babies into her arms. But her commitment to her country and her people once again crushed her emotions, leaving three little toddlers waiting in anticipation of the day they would feel their mother’s warmth and fragrance.
Bibi was sworn in as prime minister for a second time, but again the office proved to be a package full of thorns and hardships. People often wonder what she got out of her commitment to her country. She was confined indoors when she should have been enjoying her youth with her friends like any other girl of her age. But she herself said: "I did not choose this life. This life chose me." She was forced to grieve over her father’s judicial murder, confined in her house, when she should have been a carefree young lady, the same house where she had shared some fine, warm moments of her life with her once happy family. She was not allowed to hug her dear father for the last time in his death cell.
They say that graves are full of indispensable people, but Bibi has proved them wrong. She will remain indispensable for as long as the world exists.
Today is indeed a sad day for all of us. The stage where our beloved Bibi would have been standing, taking oath as prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for the third time, awaits her not knowing that she has left us forever, and that this place will now never be honoured with her physical presence.
But the bequest that she has left will remain with us forever. Her grand presence and her extraordinary abilities to handle the most challenging situations would make even her contenders praise her in their hearts. How many people in this world do we have as undisputed as she as a martyr, after her death? I call her indispensable because we do not see her substitute, because we cannot imagine someone as grand as her, someone as gifted both in intelligence and vision as her, for years to come, perhaps never in our lives, at least.
Bibi was all in one, a beautiful blend of progressive and modest beliefs. She strongly believed in exchange of ideas, instead of conspiracy theories. She did not believe in political victimisation and was extremely forgiving. She wanted all political and democratic forces to unite and stand against dictatorship. We can only hope that the new government makes serious efforts to follow the path she so much wanted to tread. She was not merely the chairperson of a political party; she was a daughter of this soil, and we must not forget that she never compromised on principles, and her love for her country was unconditional. We all owe this to her blood.
Bibi, where are you on this day which certainly was meant to be yours? We miss your lovely smile, we miss your presence in our lives and we miss your unconditional warmth for us. It was all whisked away, and I could not do anything. I could not bring you back to life.
Bibi, my husband Dr Safdar Abbassi and I would sit for hours and pour our hearts out to each other, stealing some time away from political turbulence. Our trio had a rare and special bond, and during one of these sessions in Dubai I told her that my biggest wish now was to see her take the oath for the third time. She smiled with all her exaltedness and said, "Let’s see if your wish comes true or not." I promised that it would. I assured her that it was inevitable; she would emerge victorious in the upcoming polls. She did, but sadly, from Garhi Khuda Buksh, a final home for assassinated Bhuttos. Tears trickle down my cheeks and blur my eyes; my throat chokes as I type these words.
Bibi’s greatest urge was to make Pakistan a prosperous nation, a place free of suicide bombings and ethnic discrimination. She did not believe in Sindhis, Mohajirs, Pathans, Punjabis or Baloch. All she wanted was Pakistanis as one. This theory made her reconcile with those who had been her bitterest opponents, or who were responsible for her lifelong miseries. Her outstanding intelligence and political abilities persuaded other political forces to rethink and advance towards a peaceful and democratic Pakistan. She has proved that her school of thought was the right course and it is because of this that we are now seeing major political opponents stand together. I can visualise her looking down from the Heavens, beaming and praying that this new era lasts forever and takes her country to where she always wanted to see it. This parliament owes a lot to her, and can repay her only by honouring her wishes. The ray of hope she showed us should turn into bright sunshine, washing away the darkness surrounding us, and we must revert to her for guidance should we feel lost.
When I witness the new prime minister being sworn in, my heart will ache for you, Bibi. I cannot ever express how sorry I am that you are not here in this hour of your triumph. I remember promising you that we would leave no stone unturned in seeing you back as prime minister of our beloved Pakistan. I recall the excitement that we shared at the thought of being able to give Pakistan the opportunity to soar to the international stage as a young, vibrant democracy. I can imagine how delighted you must be today to see the beginning of the era you always dreamt of. This country of immense potential will Insha Allah rise, sadly without you, but we as a nation will witness your dream shaping into reality. I hope you have found eternal peace, and pray that your martyrdom leads us to a strong democracy and a brighter Pakistan. We all miss you, Bibi, more than you will ever know.