We remembered her Kashmir speeches and her frenzied outburst against (then Jammu and Kashmir governor) Jagmohan. Yet her vivacious personality, her courage to be innovative and dwarf best of men before her reminded us of Indira Gandhi in many ways. The Benazir-Rajiv Gandhi summit was yet another reminder of her charm and civility.
Twice prime minister of her country, she faced many tribulations. She was exiled, faced all sorts of allegations from corruption to acting against national interests, had a turbulent family life, her husband was behind bars... Between all this, she raised three sweet children -- daughters Asifa and Bakhtawar and son Bilawal -- even as she hopped between London and Dubai.
Yet, she was a source of hope for Pakistan's democracy and for good relations with India. Imagine her as prime minister of Pakistan. And imagine L K Advani here as prime minister after the next election. It would have been two persons of Sindhi origin, ruling an erstwhile Akhand Bharat region!
But this is just wild imagination before the stark, brutal truth we are witnessing.
It was all okay till the bosses of Pakistan, in Washington, decided to play a game called democracy. The main reason for her tragic end can be traced to the Islamists' deep-rooted hate for Capitol Hill. Musharraf too was peeved to see his rival propped up by his benefactors; he did everything to humiliate her and make her insecure. He gave clear signals that he sent feelers to her in Dubai and let her in only under duress.
Allah willed that another rival, Nawaz Sharif, would also return to Pakistan and add to the former general's woes. Things were going from bad to worse for the battered dictator who had already been forced to give up his uniform.
Everybody knew what was in store for Bibi Benazir. Musharraf's show of remorse is not innocent; no one trusts him anymore. In her death, India has lost a good leader in a neighbouring country, a leader who we could have talked to with ease and confidence. We knew her. This can't be said about the others.
If Benazir was being looked at to lead Pakistan into a new era of democracy as Pakistan's prime minister, it was Washington's duty as well to have ensured her safety. She was greeted with deadly bombs the day she arrived in Pakistan and had a premonition that she would be killed. 'Nobody who kills a woman can claim to be a Muslim,' she had said. But the terrorists had their own version of Islam.
She was charming, yet firm in her beliefs. She could have easily lived a happy, luxurious life, but she wanted to be a guardian to her homeland; she wanted to develop it. Unlike her father, her attitude towards the minorities in Pakistan was extremely favourable and positive. The Pakistan People's Party is the only one that helps Hindus and has Hindus in the party structure.
Hate begets hate
Pakistan was born in hate, violence and intolerance. It is still reaping that harvest. Assassinations, hangings, exiles, army rule -- this sums up Pakistan's journey since it was created 60 years ago. It is a withering State, a 51st state of the US, a jihad factory and an unpredictable nuclear power with a political structure that is based on feudalism.
It is ruled by its army, America and Allah... in that order. Many of us feel good to hear that. But that's a matter of utter shame! We need a strong, happy neighbour to have peace in our home.
And pray, are we doing better democratically? Murderer, extortionists, betrayers are finding high positions in which they can rule and create laws for the country. Patriotic people are still living as refugees in their own land. We have been utterly unsuccessful in controlling terrorism of the same variety that killed Bibi Benazir. This has been a wilful act, aimed at nurturing our vote banks.
If we have progressed, it is because the soul of India supports the continuance of democratic rule. It perseveres with great dynamism to achieve democratic goals. This is happening despite the fact that India is being plagued by bad politics and indifferent politicians; our MPs and MLAs have turned into money making machines.
An interesting article appeared a couple of days ago in the Pakistan media. It gives an insight into the basic differences between the two people who are otherwise alike in everything -- race, language, culture, ancestors, history, attire and blood group. Yet, they have shown a big divide as far as their progress is concerned.
I quote, 'Indians and Pakistanis have the same Y-chromosome haplogroup. We have the same genetic sequence and the same genetic marker (namely M124). We have the same DNA molecule, the same DNA sequence. Our culture, our traditions and our cuisine are all the same. We watch the same movies and sing the same songs. What is it that Indians do and we don't? Indians elect their leaders.' (Dr Farrukh Saleem in The News; read the full report here).
I would add a one more line -- Indians hate extremism of any variety. Pakistanis have not been able to show the same sentiment.
The quintessential Hindu character of the Indian nation provides enough space for divergent views to co-exist and pursue their goals within the broad framework of the Constitution. Manmohan Singh will not hesitate to go to Atal Bihari Vajpayee's house to greet him on his birthday; it does not matter that they are from opposing parties.
Marxist rule in West Bengal and saffron rule in another state is accepted as naturally as the change in central governance. It is a democratic process. The armed forces are strictly under the control of the constitutional authorities. Nowhere in the Islamic world could this have been possible; even countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are moving deep into the Arab-Taliban intolerant mode.
While praying for the peace of Benazir's departed soul, we should promise ourselves that will nip dangerous viruses feeding on political food in the bud. The State was never so ineffective and untrustworthy as it is when it goes soft on terrorism.
Unfortunately, the Congress has not learnt its lesson even after losing two of its great leaders and the nation's prime ministers in terror attacks. Its policies are creating an atmosphere where terrorists feel more comfortable than they were before.
Agreed, Benazir was not a politician a newly created country like Pakistan needed. But, among the choices that are available, she was the best.
She was able to rouse the public. She had the spine to stand against the Pakistan army's ugly, all-pervasive control. She could take on Musharraf. She had faith in democratic values. She had the vision to see India as an ally. And, keeping the country she represented in mind, she had the support of the US. All of this fulfills Pakistan's requirements at the present time.
Her sudden departure from the scene has further precipitated the crisis in Pakistan. The real countdown has begun for the cunning ruler in Islamabad. His fate, which was kept in abeyance after his rendezvous with the army, is now sealed.