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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/ Hamid Mir

A caring wife, loving mother and courageous leader

December 28, 2007

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Hours before her assassination, Benazir Bhutto [Images] informed Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai about the threat to her life. Bhutto was also warned that her meeting with Karzai a few days before the election could mean more trouble.

She was advised to avoid meeting Karzai because extremists would have another opportunity to declare that a 'Pakistani-American agent' had met an 'Afghan-American agent', but she ignored the concerns. Sources present at the Benazir-Karzai meeting revealed that the Afghan president prayed for her safety, to which she said 'Life and death are in the hands of Allah and that is why I have the courage to stare in the eyes of death without any fear'.

During her last working lunch at her Islamabad home on Thursday, her security adviser Rehman Malik expressed concern about the security in Rawalpindi. He was worried that the police had not provided his leader with jammers. He wrote to the interior ministry on Wednesday requesting better security. He tried in vain to contact the inspector general of police in Punjab on Thursday.

Why Benazir is blaming who she is blaming

Meanwhile, the organisers of the public meeting in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, informed her staff in Islamabad that they were ready to receive Bhutto with thousands of supporters. Despite the security concerns, Bhutto once again took a risk and proceeded to Liaquat Bagh.

When she reached the venue, the absence of the police outside Liaquat Bagh was obvious. Asif Ali Zardari was immediately informed in Dubai by a close friend that his wife was without enough security, but being in Dubai, he was unable to do anything.

After her well-received speech, she made a mistake in her enthusiasm. She opened the sunroof of her car and started waving to her followers on the way back to Islamabad. That gesture was enough for her assassin.

Bhutto was only 25 years old when her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged in Rawalpindi in April 1979. She was 32 when her younger brother Shahnawaz was mysteriously killed in France [Images] in 1985. She was 43 when her other brother Murtaza was killed by the police in 1996. Murtaza's killing was a great tragedy for her because it happened when she was prime minister. Just a few weeks after his assassination, Bhutto lost power and her husband Asif Ali Zardari faced very long imprisonment.

Bhutto spent more than nine years in exile without her husband. She raised her children as a single parent. She used to teach them the Holy Quran regularly with English translation. She tried her best to ensure the children did not feel the absence of their father. When her husband was released on medical grounds, he was sent to the United States for treatment. Once again Benazir was alone with her children in Dubai.

She did not allow her husband and three children to accompany her to Pakistan when she returned on October 18.

The last 30 years of her life were full of struggle and trouble, but she proved to be a woman of strong nerve. She was a caring wife, loving mother and a courageous leader.

A few days before her assassination, Benazir told me during a breakfast meeting that she was aware of the threat to her life, but she believed "there is a difference between a politician and a leader. A politician always asks for sacrifices and a leader always sacrifices." She said she was ready to sacrifice her life for Pakistan.

Pakistan is facing a grave crisis after Bhutto's assassination. Her party, which has announced a 40-day mourning, will find it difficult to get back into election mode. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has said his party would boycott the January 8 election.

Many political analysts have said the election should be delayed by a few weeks. Top government officials have contacted some PPP leaders, requesting their help in restoring order.

The government has told the PPP it can nominate anyone of its choice to probe the assassination. Zardari is pointing fingers at the government for the security lapses and the government is trying to establish that Al Qaeda [Images] was responsible for the assassination. But some people from both sides are trying to bridge the gap between the PPP and the government. There is a realisation on both sides that an unnecessary confrontation at this time will only help the enemies of Pakistan.

The PPP was established in 1967. Benazir Bhutto celebrated her party's 30th anniversary in November. The party faced a leadership crisis in April 1979 when its founder and chairman Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged but Benazir filled the leadership vacuum immediately with her mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto's help. Now, 28 years after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's execution, the PPP once again faces a leadership crisis.

Senior PPP leaders are confident that the party is intact and there is no crisis. For the time being, senior party vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim will look after day-to-day affairs.

According to reliable party sources, an informal meeting of the PPP's central executive committee will be held on Saturday in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. A strategy will be finalised at this meeting. According to these sources, the party's future chairperson will be elected very soon and there will be no leadership crisis.

Sanam, Benazir's younger sister, is not interested in taking over the party. She is a non-political person who has been living in London [Images] for the last three decades. Bhutto's mother Nusrat is ill. Many PPP veterans are of the view that Zardari should be given a chance to lead the party as he spent 12 years (from 1990 to 1993 and from 1996 to 2005) in prison.

Benazir once declared her husband the Nelson Mandela of Pakistan. Zardari has no doubt been a controversial personality and faced charges of corruption for years but none of these charges were proved in a court of law. Zardari has appealed to PPP workers and supporters to protest the assassination of their beloved leader without creating any law and order problem because Bhutto always believed in peaceful protest.


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