Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto

Years from now, when asked where I was when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, I will respond, "I was at lunch with a Pakistani friend who was flying out to Pakistan that evening. If the question is where was I when I heard, I was at home, it was 16.20, and I went to the BBC website ON A WHIM. There it was."

I remember the execution of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, just months before we were due to visit Pakistan for the summer. I wasn't really affected - my parents weren't Bhutto supporters, and my father read news of Bhutto's death with grim satisfaction. I didn't really understand what was going on: as long as my relatives were ok, I was fine.

My late teens and twenties were a time of separating from my Pakistani identity. Even so, I cheered Benazir Bhutto as a western-educated woman who wanted to rule in an Islamic country. No matter how much my father cut her down, I always secretly hoped she'd get into power - a western-educated woman as Pakistani Prime Minister! HA! Take that you pompous, Muslim, South Asian male jerks!

Then she went for an arranged marriage. I, and many other girls of Pakistani heritage trying to straddle East and West, felt betrayed. So I didn't pay much attention when she was elected Prime Minister. I carried on my merry way, turning my back on my Pakistani identity.

Let's be clear here: Benazir Bhutto was no saint. She promised advances for women during her tenure as Prime Minister and didn't deliver. She saw the Taliban as a 'stabilising force'. She might have been guilty of corruption. Hero worship has no place here.

She was as complex as the country from which she came - an extremely privileged woman who spoke out for the poor (though actions are harder to find); a proponent of democracy who ran her government and party like a dictator. Full of contradictions, ever tough - but those were necessary qualities in an area with the worst gender rights record and the most corrupt political system in the world.

Whether one supported her wholeheartedly, felt that she betrayed her education in Western democracy, or felt she found it impossible to resist becoming part of a corrupt system, one cannot deny that she loved her country and gave her life for it. Her fate and that of Pakistan's were inextricably entwined; she lived and breathed Pakistan, even when she was thousands of miles away.

That sense makes the news of her assassination even more frightening.

I didn't expect to be hit by it the way I was; when I saw it on the BBC website banner, I just stared, unable to absorb it. Benazir Bhutto. Assassinated. I immediately turned on BBC News 24 and stared at it for 2.5 hours before I realised we weren't actually going to hear Pervez Musharraf's speech in full, nor was there going to be anything new for a while.

Mind-numbing, someone called it. Yes. But so much more. Shock, grief, horror, anger. Fear. And a sense of something being ripped away. An awareness that whether this was a master stroke designed to destabilise Pakistan and drop it into the hands of Taliban clones or whether this was a horrible miscalculation by one of her opponents, possibly even Musharraf- today, evil won a battle in the long war. And I'm feeling so much more I can't even begin to verbalise now.

But what I can verbalise is this: I don't want to read any more crap like the stuff on the BBC "Have your say", where the most recommended comment is the offensive "That's the way politics works with The Religion of Peace," and another is "Pakistan - what a wonderful place it must be." HOW DARE YOU. YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE PEOPLE AND THE COUNTRY, YOU XENOPHOBIC JERK. SHOW SOME RESPECT.
The people I want nearest me, the people I want to talk to about what I'm thinking and feeling are the ones who know Pakistan and love it, who can understand what I can say, but more importantly, what I can't. That's one friend flying to Lahore as I type, and another who had the nerve to tell me I was more Pakistani than I wanted to admit to.

Oh God. This can't be true.

We all thought she was indestructible, that she'd always be there. Her narrow escape in October, when 140 of her supporters were killed and 400 wounded, reinforced that belief. We couldn't imagine Pakistan without her.

Now, we have to.

Rest in peace, Baji.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As one who is fairly ignorant of Pakistan and its political history, I'd like to thank you for putting this horrible event into a far clearer perspective. I did not know what to think about such matters, hearing conflicting information and opinions on either side - but as I have come to expect and trust in your commentaries, Thank You for what you just wrote.