Pakistan After Benazir: Choosing Our Future

Posted on December 29, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, People, Politics, Society
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Adil Najam

Benazir Bhutto, twice Prime Minister of Pakistan, now lies under six feet of earth in Garhi Khuda Bux, her ancestral village, in a grave next to her equally mercurial father, the late Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Time line for the Bhutto family

As the graphic above (click to enlarge) from Boston Globe shows, hers – like her father’s – was a brilliant but tragic life. Tragically ended.

Now she is buried. But I suspect that the Benazir saga is far from over. Indeed, just as all of Pakistan’s politics after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s hanging was contextualized by his hanging, all of Pakistan’s politics after Benazir’s assasination is likely to be contextualized by Benazir’s assasination.

In the immediate aftermath of this tragic death, the country continues to reel in grief at what has happened, fear about what might happened, and immense immense anger and everything that has been happening. As I argued in an op-ed in the New York Daily News today, this mix of grief, anger and fear is a very dangerous combination. It cannot lead to any good.

Right now the scenes we see on our screens are of mayhem, of devastation, of further violence, of destruction. These are not good images for Pakistan and certainly these are not the Benazir Bhutto would have wanted as her legacy. We at ATP have written many many times about the climate of anger that defines modern Pakistan (here here, here, here, here, etc.). This anger is the single most disturbing and single most defining motif of today’s Pakistan. Right now – and not without reason – the anger is being directed at Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf’s government. Much of this should, but not in this way.

More important to note is who the anger is not being directed at. I hope that the legacy of Benazir Bhutto’s untimely and tragic death is a legacy of a society that seizes this moment to reassert its demand for democracy and to recognize that extremist violence is our problem. This is not a mercenary war. This is Pakistan’s own battle. Right now the evidence suggests that society continues to tear at its own self. I fear that it will not change anytime soon. That things are likely to get worse before they become any better. But, I refuse to give up hope. At least, not yet.

As I wrote in my New York Daily News op-ed:

If this moment ends up being defined by Pakistan’s latent anger – if it launches a cycle of crackdowns and protests – it will certainly empower and embolden the militants further. But if it is defined by society’s sense of shared loss, felt grief and the continued movement toward genuine democracy, it might – just might – bring together a fractured society and awaken in them the realization that the common enemies are extremism, violence and terrorism. Then, we might just have half a chance of winning this war on terror. And Benazir Bhutto’s death would not have been in vain.


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73 responses to “Pakistan After Benazir: Choosing Our Future”

  1. Ghulam Ali says:

    This is an opportunity to change its image and broaden its base. It should work overtime to address the apprehensions about those in the middle class and in Punjab and NWFP and although I have never been a PPP supporter, I hope the party emerges as a better party after this.

  2. Kaseem Ahmad says:

    chirag, indeed you are correct that indians are not celebrating our troubles – not the ones that i know, the only celebrations taking place are amongst the mullahs of pakistan and the hindu fanatics of india – remember both of these were against the creation of pakistan in the foirst place.

    i say to pakistanis the mullahs must be dealt with ruthlessly for our pakistan to become pak of them and so we can all move forward together,

  3. Chirag says:

    I am Indian, and Hindu, but wanted to wish Pakistanis luck in helping their country move forward.

    It may be that the last embers of Jinnah’s dreams for Pakistan died with Bhutto, and that the extremists have finally struck the last, necessary blow for their takeover of the land. Perhaps they have been striking a series of brutal blows for a thousand years, and now, at last, nothing more stands in their way. They will subjugate the land and the people at last; the ethos of the subcontinent will be squashed, at long last. It’s not about being for or against Islam – it’s about the triumph of one type of Islam, strident and severe, over another, more local and variegated form of Islam.

    I don’t really know, I can’t make judgements as I haven’t been to Pakistan and cannot claim to completely understand the country. But if you think most Indians are celebrating your troubles, you’re wrong. Most of us are just saddenned by it.

  4. Hyder Yusafzai says:

    Benazir Bhutto: A Personal Tribute

    My dear Benazir,

    You have gone, you have left us in the lurch. They have taken you away from us, as they did earlier in the case of your father and your brothers. They have murdered you and they have murdered our hopes. A part of me, as a Pakistani and a believer in democracy has left me, has been taken away from me. I am hollow today for these murderers have dealt a body blow to the polity and the federation of my beloved Pakistan, but also to its people who have suffered at the hands of these blood-thirsty murderers. As a Pakistani of my generation, I never thought I would live to see this day, but yet once again, any maybe not surprisingly, I have seen a tragedy.

    You know Benazir, I avidly supported the Pakistan Peoples Party and yourself. I recall the day in December 1988 when you took oath as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I recall in my minds eye the lounge in my grandmother’s drawing room in Lahore. It was such a charged and emotional atmosphere, with my grandmother and her sisters shedding tears of joy and also of sadness, as they recalled the painful journey that you had begun starting on April 7, 1979 a journey that was the beginning of the evolution from ‘Pinky’ you father’s beloved daughter, to Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Pakistan. We loved you for you represented a break from the past. However, our hopes were dashed after you were ejected from the Prime Minister’s House on charges of corruption. Yet we awaited your return in 1993. But today at 33, I for one know that they, thwarted you from day one. They were out to get you, they wanted you to fail. They fed us news they have always fed us, to demonize politicians and civil society. It is these murderers that we as a nation must bring to justice. We will one day!

    Benazir, who are ‘they?’ Of course you know Benazir, this was the civil-military establishment that did not believe and does not believe in the power to the people. You mentioned, before your departure for Pakistan after eight years of exile, that you were concerned that the security establishment could target you, using Taliban-Al-Qaeda as pawns. Today that has happened. The unthinkable!

    Benazir, they have raped and pillaged us for decades and they rule us today. They have been responsible for the creation of the monster of extremism in my beloved Pakistan and they are the ones responsible for your cold blooded murder. I hope that we as a nation will have the power to turn on these people, the monsters and the creators of these monsters and cut them down for we want a Pakistan that you dreamed for and you were working towards.

    Benazir, you have sacrificed your life for Pakistan and for its youth and its children. You once said, and I quote,

    “The wheel of history turns. And it turns not just for individuals but for nations. And as the wheel of history turns for the children of Partition, I hope we bequeath to them a better future than our own bitter past.”

    Benazir, Pakistan and its people will one day avenge your murder. As Nawaz Sharif said when he came to the Rawalpindi General Hospital, the time for revenge is now here. Let us as nation decide once and for all.

    Benazir, your father was the victim of a judicial murder by a kangaroo court. Your political journey began at the tender age of 26, and since that day they tried to decimate the Pakistan Peoples Party but yet thirty years later, the PPP remains the most popular and potent political force in the land, for the aspirations of the people are represented by the PPP.

    Benazir, I miss you as a son misses a mother and a sister and as a leader of Pakistan. I cry for you, I weep for Pakistan and I shed tears for myself and my fellow Pakistanis. Benazir, we are all weeping tears of blood, filled with sorrow and of anger. At times, I am crying for an ideal that seems to have escaped us in your cold blooded murder by them. May your soul rest in peace.

    Benazir we will always love you and we will miss you. We the people of Pakistan, will meet you in the Hereafter. May you have a wonderful afterlife, may you enjoy the company of your father and brothers, and of your heroic icon, Hazrat Bibi Fatima.

    Benazir, as you begin a new journey, please know that (and I quote),

    ‘Yeh baazi khoon ki baazi hai, Yeh baazi tum hee harogay, Har ghar say Bhutto niklega, Tum kitnay Bhutto maarogay. Jiye Bhutto.’

    In grief and emotional agony, I wish you adieu. Farewell Benazir, farewell.

    Pakistan weeps for you, its daughter.

    Hyder Yusafzai

  5. Rafay Kashmiri says:



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