Benazir Bhutto: Four Diary Entries

Entry 1
December 27
th 2007

Benazir Bhutto. Assasinated.

Was it just the other day I was watching news snippets of BB speaking in Larkana and addressing herself as ‘aap kee behen’ to the Larkana folk and me jesting that aap kee behen needs new glasses (because I do need new glasses, and have always been fascinated by the veritable goggles Benazir always wore: in her last speech though, the goggles were replaced by glasses which suited her face– and I wonder, what happens to those glasses, and I feel sadder and sicker.)

Its seems unbelievable. Benazir. Dead.

I feel sick with sadness, and loss, and for her kids. How does one sit down with one’s children and say ‘beta, this field that I’m in, it could get me assassinated.” How does a child, no matter what family legacy dictates, reconcile with the fact that, as much as their parent loves them, they continued in this potentially life threatening field. With anguish at their parent being something other than simply Mom or Dad? Or pride at their parent’s convictions? Or a bit of both?

-this is not how politicians should die. in Pakistan. anywhere.

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Entry 2

December 29th 2007

Daughter of the East: Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007

Two time serving ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27th December, 2007 in Pakistan. To my immigrant eyes Benazir Bhutto was an opportunity to be proud of my birth country for she was a female leader, and that too of a Muslim country and often, despite her unremarkable terms in office, I was able to say to skeptics in the US that of course Americans are ready to elect a female leader, Pakistan has already done so.

While it is a valid claim that the Bhutto surname gave Benazir a political leg up, it is also true that she was bold and brave in her own right for she stood– the lone woman– in rooms often packed with men only, the lone woman at a dais speaking to crowds of men only, a woman talking of matters predominantly associated with the male domain, and so challenged the stereotypes of ‘what women anywhere can do’, as well what a Muslim woman is capable of and, additionally, the stereotype of Muslim societies being naturally misogynistic.

Politically Benazir ‘grew me up’. When she first stood for elections, I would have voted for her purely because she was a woman but, by the time I was old enough to vote, her terms in office had taught me to vote, not for gender, but for the best candidate. In her 1988 memoir Daughter of the East, a young Benazir talks of coming of age both as a woman and politically: growing up a Bhutto, living through her father’s hanging by General Zia, her own years incarcerated in solitary confinement under General Zia’s rule.

I read Benazir’s memoir when I was a teenager and have been meaning to reread it since. It will be with great sadness that I will do so now. Whether one liked or disliked Benazir’s politics, whether one believed she truly cared about Pakistan or was just another politician greedy for power, for Pakistanis everywhere it is surreal that Benazir is gone, just like that, at age 54 when much of Pakistan was expecting that, in a few months, she would get yet another chance to lead Pakistan.

What disturbs me most about Benazir the person is her supposed hand in her brother’s (Murtaza challenged her position as head of the PPP for life) shady murder during one of her terms in office. Murtaza’s wife Ginwa, their daughter the erudite Fatima Bhutto (author of a published book of poetry), and even Benazir’s mother believes in her culpability: no doubt one’s family can be wrong about one….but, on the other hand, one’s family can also be right…
To be Benazir and have had your brother murdered (out, out damn spot), or to be innocent and yet have your mother and sister in law and niece believe this of you (et tu, brutus): in either case, a sad case.

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Entry 3

December 30th 2007

Democracy Within, Democracy Without

In the wake of BB’s assassination, per her will, her (not too popular) husband Asif Zardari was to be the chairperson of PPP, however, Zardari then bequeathed the role to their 19 yr old son, Bilawal, who will become chairperson (for life, I presume…) as soon as his studies at Oxford end. So continues the Bhutto legacy in Pakistani politics.

If democracy is PPP’s ideal for the country, then why is it not ideal within the party itself? Why Bilawal rather than a ‘democratically’ elected chairperson? Whither the actual chances of democracy within Pakistan when political parties are run as dynasties. Mr. Married Me reminds me that, sadly, political parties in Pakistan are entirely personality/dynasty based instead of ideals/policy based. Yet here was a perfect opportunity to change this status quo and make the PPP indeed a party of the people and not a Bhutto fiefdom…

I hear the media and people in general telling me that this is how it is, that Pakistan needs this as a symbol of unity, that this is the great and holy concept of tradition : well this is not how it should be. Tradition and all its traditional entrapments have never been valid arguments for me in any sphere and never will be. What I find most ridiculous is when people I think perfectly intelligent, or whom at least pretend to wear the mantle of thinking beings, inform me with the most serious of faces and the most educating of miens about the sacrosanct status of tradition in politics pertaining to country or family and how I really must get with this program.

William Dalrymple gives this insight into BB’s reading material:

Benazir’s favourite reading was royal biographies and slushy romances: on a visit to her old Karachi bedroom, I found stacks of well-thumbed Mills & Boons lining the walls; a striking contrast to the high-minded and cultured Indira Gandhi, in some ways her nearest Indian counterpart in their flawed centrality to their respective nations’ histories.

Romance and the royal biography on your bookshelf is no sin for a leader of a country, but for it to be your sole reads….hmm….here’s to hoping Bilawal’s tastes are more eclectic and in tune with his newly bequeathed responsibilities.

RIP Benazir Bhutto. Pakistan will be what it will be.

HarperCollins is planning a February 2008 release of Benazir’s new book,‘Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West ‘.

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Entry 4

February 10th 2008

Baby strapped with explosives

The Times Online UK has a moving excerpt from Benazir Bhutto’s posthumously published book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy & the West. Perhaps an eight year exile did mature Benazir and she would have, had she made it into office for the third time, proved to be a leader truly working in the best interests of Pakistan nationally and internationally.

It is strange reading this particular piece which enumerates who might want to kill her, her decision to return to Pakistan never the less, and her reaction to the first assassination attempt as well as the reactions of her husband and kids: Her daughter, Asifa, waking up to an insensitive SMS by a never the less concerned friend asking

“Is your mother all right?”

It is chilling to read how the suspected ‘bomb’ in this attempt is a baby strapped with explosives. Whose baby was it? Was it a baby whose mother was forced to give it up or did she do so with pride? Was it a unwanted baby? Often these days one is forced to ask which sort of person willingly risks death for the sake of a cause– Benazir’s cause was a democratic Pakistan and her decision to return home and trust in God admirable, courageous, fanatic…

from the excerpt:

My husband, watching the live coverage on television in Dubai, begged me not to expose myself directly to the crowd from the top of the truck. I said no, that I must be front and greet my people…

I had been traumatized by my father’s arrest, imprisonment and murder, and I know that such mental scars are permanent. I would have done anything to spare my children the same pain that I had undergone – and still feel – at my father’s death. But this was one thing I couldn’t do; I couldn’t retreat from the party and the platform that I had given so much of my life to…

The burning twin towers have become a dual metaphor for both the intra-Islamic debate about the political and social values of democracy and modernity and the looming potential for a catastrophic showdown between Islam and the West. And for both of these epic battles, my homeland of Pakistan has become the epicentre – the ground zero, if you will – of either reconciliation or disaster.

Rest here