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Benazir's disrupted dream: Bridging Islam with the West

January 01, 2008 00:55 IST
Benazir Bhutto left the world in 2007, but she will keep shining on the international scene with a new agenda in 2008. Benazir wanted to bridge the Muslim world with the West. That was her greatest dream. Can her wish become a reality? The answer is 'yes'. Days before her death, the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country, finalised the manuscript of her new book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West.

Mark Siegel had worked with Benazir as a collaborating writer from the West. HarperCollins, the publishing company, is now trying to market the book in February. The book's launch will accelerate the debate for the reconciliation between Islam and the West through democracy. The debate may give a new 'life' to Benazir Bhutto, but keeping that debate alive will be the biggest challenge for the Pakistan People's Party in 2008.

And 2008 will throw tough challenges for the PPP's new chairman Bilawal Bhutto, and co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. Benazir faced similar challenges in 1979 after her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged. Then, mother Nusrat Bhutto took over the party as the chairperson and Benazir Bhutto was named the co-chairperson.

In 1979, General Zia-ul Haq postponed the general election indefinitely because he was aware that the PPP would benefit from the sympathy wave after the hanging of its founder-chairman. The PPP did not face the challenge of going to the polls in 1979.

The only big challenge was the party's political survival and they met that period with courage. Later on, it was the co-chairperson, Benazir, who led the party in practical terms and now her husband will lead the party as co-chairman in similar fashion.

In 2008, the PPP's new chairman and co-chairman face bigger challenges than in 1979. President Pervez Musharraf cannot delay the election for more than two months. Thus, the party will soon have to face elections. Tracking down the mastermind behind Benazir's assassination is another challenge.

Making clear that he is not interested in any investigation by the incumbent regime, Zardari has already pointed fingers at the alleged suspects. Confident, he is more focused on the polls now. He would also be keen to arrest the assassins when his party comes into power.

His son Bilawal is ready to participate in the campaign because he also wants to contribute to the 'revenge through democracy.' Most PPP workers and sympathisers are happy with Zardari's first press conference as the co-chairman as they say he showed confidence to carry on with his wife's mission.

On the other side, many in the government, were not looking comfortable when Zardari declared the pro-Musharraf Muslim League as the 'Killers League.' It is feared that if the PPP sweeps the polls, it will immediately start confronting the alleged suspects who are close to Musharraf.

There are no doubts that the new year will be tougher for Musharraf. Some of his close advisers are trying to find a way out through which they can avoid a direct confrontation with the PPP, but they also face problems. Bilawal is not ready to forgive the killers of her mother like Benazir forgave the killers of her father in the larger interest of the country. He cannot forget the turbulent period her mother faced without her husband in-exile.

Bilawal was only a year old in 1989 when his prime minister-mother Benazir Bhutto clearly hinted that her son would be the next leader of the PPP. Bashir Riaz was her press spokesman then. He also worked for her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and brother Murtaza Bhutto.

One day 'Bash' showed a picture on the cover of a French magazine to his leader, in which Benazir Bhutto was posing with her son Bilawal. A happy Benazir immediately asked for a black marker and wrote a question on the picture with her autograph. The question said, 'Dear Uncle Bash, will you be my spokesman when I will grow up?'

The same year, Bilawal met then US president George H W Bush, with his mother when she was on an official visit to Washington. Benazir actually followed the footsteps of her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who took his daughter to India with him in 1972 where he held talks with then prime minister Indira Gandhi. Bilawal was only two years old when Benazir's first government was dismissed by president Ghulam Ishaq Khan after 20 months.

President Khan was the part of the establishment which hanged Bhutto, but Benazir accepted him for the sake of democracy. Unfortunately, she was betrayed. Bilawal was five years old when his mother became prime minister again in 1993. This time too, she was not allowed to complete her five-year term and lost power after three years. Bilawal spent the next nine years in exile without his father who was imprisoned in Pakistan. Half his life he has spent without his father; now, the rest of his life will be spent without his mother.

He is sure that democracy will not only be the best revenge of her mother's assassination but the best way to complete her wish for becoming a bridge between Islam and the West. Only a true democracy can become a common agenda of cooperation between the two civilisations.

Only true democracy can resolve the problems of extremism and terrorism. Bhutto had plans of an international conference of world leaders for initiating a grand dialogue between the Muslim world and the West in 2008. She even planned the engagement of those forces, who were blamed for her assassination by the current regime. Now, it will be the PPP's duty to complete her unfinished agenda.

The PPP should not forget what Benazir Bhutto said in the book and must contribute positively to the grand cause of reconciliation between the Islamic world and the West.

Hamid Mir