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Benazir Bhutto Faced Death With Courage

Benazir Bhutto Faced Death With Courage

By Mirza A. Beg

Banazir Bhutto, fell victim to the politics of endemic violence in Pakistan. She called herself "the Daughter of Destiny" in her autobiography and often styled herself as the daughter of Pakistan. She had more upheavals in one life time than most can imagine. In her untimely death, she followed her slain father and two brothers.

She was the daughter of former President, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, appointed under emergency rule when former dictator Yahya Khan abdicated in the wake of civil war of 1971. The war was brought on by hubris of Yahya Khan and Zulfiqar Bhutto, resulting in East Pakistan breaking away to form Bangladesh. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto later became the Prime Minister under a parliamentary constitution designed by him. He rigged the next election and was overthrown in a military coup in 1977 by General Zia ul Haq, who hanged him in 1979 for the murder of a political opponent.

With courage and perseverance, twenty-six year old Oxford and Harvard educated Benazir Bhutto became the undisputed leader of her father's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The PPP was hounded by General Zia, an ally of the US in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. After the death of dictator-President Zia ul Haq in a plane crash, she returned from exile to lead PPP to victory twice to become the Prime Minister in 1988 and again in 1993. And twice she was dismissed from office under a cloud of corruption and nepotism in 1990 and 1996 by the ceremonial president.

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In 1999, General Parvez Musharraf overthrew the government of her political rival Nawaz Sharif. General Musharraf has ruled Pakistan through some very difficult times in the wake of 9/11 and the US war on Al Qaeda and the Talibans in neighboring Afghanistan.

After eight years of dictatorship, and close cooperation with the United States, Musharraf has not been able to contain the virulent Talibanist ideology that has spilled over among the kith and kin of Afghan Pashtuns in the very porous frontier areas of Pakistan. With regular indiscriminate bombings of Pashtun villages in Afghanistan by the US lead forces and occasional stealth bombings in Pakistan, claiming hundreds perhaps thousands of innocent lives, the Pashtuns have become much more anti-American and anti- Pakistan government than ever before, resulting in Iraq style suicide bombings in civilian areas of Pakistan.

Unable to defeat the Talibanist ideology and unable to safeguard the civilian population in the heartland of Pakistan, Musharraf has become quite unpopular. He found his power slipping and made the mistake of firing the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court in March 2007. Unexpected widespread protest followed and Musharraf was forced to reinstate the Chief Justice. It weakened him further.

Over the summer of 2007, the United States brokered a power sharing deal between General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto to provide a gradual shift in power. Musharraf dropped the pending corruption charges against her and allowed her return to Pakistan after a decade of self exile. She was a candidate for Prime Minister again in the upcoming election on January 8, 2008. On again, off again political maneuvering by General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto further weakened Musharraf who declared emergency in early November, but was forced to relinquish his military dictator's uniform to become a newly minted civilian president.

Whatever the veracity of behind the scene deal may have been, Bush took credit for it, trying to shore his sagging popularity in the United States. To the Pakistanis the very idea of Bush meddling and controlling the two top political figures, made Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto appear to be stooges of Bush, who while preaching democracy has a record of supporting dictatorships and bullying other countries. An average Pakistani does not support the Talibanist ideology and feels caught between the devil and the deep sea, unable to decide which is which.

Benazir Bhutto was a polarizing figure in a country that had aspirations of nationhood, but keeps loosing to the vested interests based on many conflicting ethnic, linguistic and economic fissures held together or perhaps suppressed together by the domineering presence of the military. For sixty years, its leaders have gone for quick fixes of military dictatorships rather than let the imperfect civilian institutions grow and mature.

As polarizing leaders often are, she was intensely loved by many and was hated by many others. In the past Benazir Bhutto had political opponents, but this time she had deadly enemies. The bullets of an assassin and the suicide bomber not only killed Benazir Bhutto, but have set Pakistan further back, denying another possible chance for an imperfect democracy to take root.

I was not an admirer of Benazir Bhutto's political compromises and considered her father to be one of the architects of the dismemberment of Pakistan when Bangladesh broke away in 1971. But criticism aside one has to admire her courage and persistence. She tried to bring sanity to Pakistan's many-sided murky politics choked with a strangle-hold of military on all the intermittent civilian governments, including hers.

Finally she went down fighting courageously trying to do some good for her beleaguered country. She was less than what critics like me would have liked her to be, but then critics have the luxury of not being in the rough and tumble of politics. They do not have to swallow principles and make calculated imperfect or at times far from perfect compromises. As Theodore Roosevelt said,

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again ... who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly."

Banazir Bhutto knew the dangers she faced. About 150 people died in an attempt on her life when she arrived in Pakistan from exile in mid-October this year. She was not intimidated but pursued on with vigor. She died valiantly fighting for her and Pakistan's future as she saw it. She was cut down in her prime by those who have a very narrow jaundiced view of their religion and no vision of the future. They court death, killing innocent bystanders in ignorance of the ideals of religion and nobility of human spirit.

After six years of war, death and destruction the US should realize that bombing wins battles and destroys some enemies while creating many more, resulting in a heavy blowback price to pay. War of ideas is won by convincing the enemy of a better future. Instead of supporting military dictatorships the United States should invest in better schools, universities, hospitals and infrastructure to help Pakistan alleviate poverty and build a more equitable society.

Pakistan is again at fateful cross roads. It is sixty years late, but not too late, because what else can a people or a nation do, but to take up the fallen standard and persevere. Pakistanis can reject the politics of fear imposed by the quick- fix promises of military dictatorships. They should take up the difficult long journey of slowly building civil institutions of imperfect political give and take to reach an internal cohesion and become a nation at peace with itself and its neighbors.

Mirza A. Beg can be read at

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