“I am not afraid of death. I am a man of history and you cannot silence history.” (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto)
“I am not afraid,” Benazir Bhutto declaimed at her father’s mausoleum two months ago, “of anyone but Allah.” In the last weeks of her life, Benazir demonstrated that she possessed a depth of conviction that was, beyond dispute, exceptional. When she returned to Pakistan earlier this year after long exile, she made clear to family and confidantes that she was well aware of the great dangers lying ahead. She was undeterred by the murderous bombing that greeted her on her return home. During her two tenures as Prime Minister of Pakistan, she was charged by adversaries and critics with corruption, with sponsoring terrorism directed at India, with dilettantism. Whatever be the truth in relation to these accusations, the Pakistan People’s Party chief showed, in word and deed, that she possessed the raw courage needed to set past wrongs right. In his last interview before his execution by the military regime of General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said: “I am not afraid of death. I am a man of history and you cannot silence history.” People across Pakistan will recall these words as they ponder how best to respond to a despicable act by killers who made no secret of their loathing at the prospect of a progressive woman emerging as Pakistan’s ruler.
With this body blow to democracy in Pakistan, what is clear is that epic struggles lie ahead for its hard-pressed people. Some analysts fear the assassination will spell the end of the tentative movement towards democracy witnessed in recent months. While such an outcome will suit the military establishment, it will have dangerously destabilising consequences. As Benazir pointed out movingly in a recent interview, “people are just being butchered and it has to stop, somebody has to find a solution and my solution is, let’s restore democracy.” It was this combination of extraordinary courage and well-reasoned commitment to democracy that made Benazir stand out among Pakistan’s political leaders. Her death illustrates in stark relief the failure of Pervez Musharraf’s regime, which continues to be underwritten by the United States. It is one of the grimmer ironies of history that Benazir was killed at the gates of Rawalpindi’s Liaqat Bagh — the very location where a gunman shot dead Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan in 1951. In the decades since, the country has lurched ever closer towards the abyss. All those who care for its future — and for the future of our shared region — must join hands to ensure it is pulled back from the edge. We share the deep grief of the people of Pakistan over this terrible loss during a time of troubles.