Benazir Bhutto A Life Story
By Safiq ‘Ali Patel
Over 2000 days or more than 6 years have passed since the assassination of the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Mrs Benazir Bhutto. Mrs Bhutto is known to have visted and even lived in towns and cities all over England and Scotland in Great Britain during her years of expulsion and exile from her home nation of Pakistan. In 2004 Benazir Bhutto returned to the town of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire in the United Kingdom to attend a charity fund raising dinner for the Saverya Foundation, a fundraising venture backed by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi of Dewsbury, raising funds and awareness of widowed women' issues in Pakistan. Few people know of Mrs Benazir Bhutto's private and frequent visits to Dewsbury in the 1980’s. Benazir Bhutto lived and hid in this former industrial mill town Dewsbury often. People or all walks of life witnessed Mrs Bhutto's life and political activity here and I’m allowed to tell you about the woman, her passion and her persona all these years later as a tribute her courage. A woman the world eventually came to know and recognise as Pakistan’s first lady Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto while in power, and an envoy and ambassador for her beloved Pakistan even when exiled and thrown out of office.
Benazir Bhutto and her now near extinct family have a long and enduring friendship and reputation in the town Dewsbury. Established way back in the 1950’s when supporters of democracy fled Pakistan arriving in Dewsbury to take refuge from the Military activity sweeping Pakistan back then. These supporters of democracy, the legacy of the British Empire's close relationship with Pakistan eventually arrived in Savile Town, Dewsbury to escape sentences inflicted on them by military personnel who objected to their support for democracy and peace in Pakistan as promised to Pakistan by the departing British Empire in 1948. Brokered and bought alive by several negotiators there after the British departed India and created Pakistan as an independent nation rather than a province ruled by India or by colonial powers.
In the 1980’s Benazir Bhutto spent time meeting many hundreds of people in Dewsbury, and all over England. It was a time she was noted to have marked as a period without fear and harm at her door. Some of the Pakistanis she met were survivors of untold purgatory in Pakistan since it’s formation in the hours after the British Raj left the world’s largest democracy India, which Pakistan was a part of until gaining independence as the British left their imperial Jewel India and its territory behind.
Zulficar Ali Bhutto, Benazir’s father was the leader and founder of the Pakistan People's Party. Shahid Zulficar Ali Bhutto as he is remembered was a vocal supporter of educated choice and progress irrelevant of religion for all people. He opposed segregation and division speaking loud and clear of freedom and humanity for Pakistan’s militia and sectarian torn populations.
He called on all for peaceful co-operation the world over, protesting against religious extremism through the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the 1970’s Zulficar Ali Bhutto’s support for voted leadership swept him into office as Prime Minister of Pakistan. He during his life served as the prime minister of Pakistan and as it's President too. Zulficar Ali Bhutto’s support for democracy over religious or military rule was bought to a premature end when he was assassinated by hanging organised by Militarised opponents in 1979. Officially his story tells of a man who was arrested and put on trail for conspiracy to murder by General Zia. The unofficial story says Zulficar Ali Bhutto was a staunch democrat, a believer in the electorate of Pakistan and his death by hanging was an act of military strategy rather than an act of democracy or fair and free trail for charges relating to conspiracy to murder and participation in a nuclear weapons programme.
As a child of the 1970’s I read about the death sentence that had been carried out on Benazir’s father, while sitting on my brothers knee. I read this news from a hand written note posted on a sweet centre wall in Savile Town, in the absence of the news- media. I was aged only nine at the time. Only after a lot of digging and questioning of the official story that Zulficar Ali Bhutto was executed for involvement in crimes against his opponents have I come to the conclusion that Zulficar Ali Bhutto was indeed persecuted and killed. Pakistan's history is recorded as having 9 democratically elected leaders, and then there is the undeclared log of military coups when the Army of Pakistan has grabbed power by force and run the state, courts and governmental departments. Though few people want to and are allowed to openly recognise in Pakistan that among the countries many struggles is the ongoing battle between political party leaders and the Army for control of Pakistan. It is with apprehension and reluctance that I note the death of Benazir Bhutto's father as a unjust execution rather than a fair and balanced act of court approved justice.
His daughter Benazir Bhutto was quietly studying in the family home in the Sindh area of Pakistan when she was delivered the news that her father had been killed. During Benazir Bhutto’s private trips to England she disclosed that though her family faced repeated accusations of corruption, and conspiracy to murder, the real reason for the Bhutto family being so violently targeted was their support for elections and votes for poorest of Pakistan’s people many of whom continue to live below the poverty line and in conditions that are in-humane. Clean water, organised removal of sewage, clothing, food, education and employment are scarce resources in the country particularly in the rural communities where the vast majority of the nation's voting population are based. The flooding in 2010 in Pakistan showed the television watching public the plight of people who went from having few resources for daily sustenance to having none.
“What do I do?,” the Benazir Bhutto of the 1980’s asked as she sat in the flower wall papered living rooms of Savile Town, in Dewsbury in England. “My father was killed. I am his daughter whom opponents do not wish the world to know about. I’ve fled exile and with the cover of friends am visiting Pakistanis and appealing to British people to ask them what they believe I should do. I am appealing to British people to stand by Pakistan and I want their support for democracy rather than martial or Shariah Law in my home country”
I know not to this day, and perhaps it better that I don’t know quite who it was that managed to help Benazir come several times to Savile Town in Dewsbury in the 1980’s. In fact its not really known or understood how Benazir managed to travel all over the United Kingdom speaking of her ambitions for Pakistan. I do remember her tears and members of British and Pakistani communities becoming like Benazir's own family to her touching Benazir’s head in traditional Pakistani style as a gesture of support and sympathy for Benazir Bhutto. British and Pakistani people advised Benazir to not feel alone or mourn or miss her family or her country. Local people became family to Benazir Bhutto. Family and friends eventually said goodbye to Benazir with tears in eyes once more. She ceremoniously left like a bride leaving her family home. Years later, from the television news we learnt that Benazir got home to Pakistan safely and had come to see her most treasured dreams become real before her very eyes.
In 1989 Benazir Bhutto triumphantly returned to Pakistan, free from exile and was elected by thousands of ordinary Pakistanis as Prime Minister of Pakistan. She became a living Icon of triumph. Despite threats of violence against her Benazir had put herself forward as a candidate in the countries elections and won a massive mandate to become Prime Minister, leading a coalition government. Her success in the elections bought criticism from another fragment of Pakistan's ever increasing political participants, the nation's Islamic Scholars who ruled that Islam forbids the leadership of a woman in the political spheres.
In Dewsbury a northern former mill town Benazir has supporters and critics. Across England there are over 1 million Pakistani and British born Pakistani voters. Some people here praise Benazir Bhutto's politics while others despise her involvement in politics.
On winning her first election in Pakistan in 1989 thousands of people rallied to cry in Urdu “Pakistan Zindah Baad”. In English this means “Live again and live forever Pakistan.”It was a slogan chanted as defeat in the face of an alleged dictatorship run by Army General Zia that allegedly killed Zulficar Ali Bhutto.
As a Tribute to Benazir Bhutto, a woman I met as a young man I add “Benazir Bhutto Zindah Baad” meaning “Live for ever Benazir Bhutto and live forever Pakistan a free and democratic Pakistan”
In this locality of England we call Dewsbury, Pakistanis have lived for over 60 years. On speaking to the Pakistani community based here some are supporters of a Shariah Law state in Pakistan while some people want a military administration in Pakistan. There is passion and conviction as there is connection with all modes of government that seek to run this former province of India that has for more than 60 years been recognised by international convention as a free and democratic country and republic named Pakistan.
At different points in Pakistan's history concerns have been voiced for people and in particular the lack of economic progress and development for the masses of people in Pakistan who live below the poverty line. Nobody here wants to give their name or opinion but some bravely say only Benazir Bhutto championed for the ordinary people of her country. Mrs Benazir Bhutto was driven in and out of Government in Pakistan twice. It was during a rally for a third term in office that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.
The few people who dare to mourn Mrs Benazir Bhutto's death openly say candidly that no politician has sought to give a voice and campaign for resources for Pakistan's most impoverished people in quite the way Benazir Bhutto had. Some people complain that Benazir's efforts as an envoy for Pakistan's poorest and most dis-enfranchised have never been recognised either. People talk vibrantly here in Dewsbury that Benazir Bhutto was the victim of long term religion based discrimination that was sectarian in origin. Benazir Bhutto was a follower of Shia Islam. Belief that caused her rejection and blame from Muslims following other sects of the Islamic faith.
A man who will not give me his name and I have learnt after many years of being stationed in this town not to press for such details said clearly.
"Benazir Bhutto deserves a tribute. She spent her life seeking water for Pakistan's thirsty, food for Pakistan's hungry, clothing for Pakistan's naked; she has worked hard to secure medical training and supplies for Pakistan's ill people and wanted deeply to lift Pakistan from the embers of racial and sectarian hatred and war. Benazir Bhutto wanted to cleanse Pakistan of its squalid conditions and create a powerful and dignified people and a country respected on the international stage. Benazir Bhutto was educated at University and wanted the right of peace, education and progress for those most beaten by the challenges of stabilising Pakistan. Reports emerge about corruption, these allegations have been pinned on virtually every candidate who has entered the fierce battle to become Prime Minister or President in Pakistan. Allegations of corruption in Pakistan will outlive Benazir Bhutto," my nameless interviewee tells me.
Looking back at the life of Benazir Bhutto she was compelled into politics by the expectations of dynasty, and the formidable reputation of Benazir Bhutto's father Zulficar Ali Bhutto. Mrs Bhutto tried hard to maintain his established links with the United Nations, she tried hard to continue with reforms to abolish poverty and reduce instability in Pakistan, each time building on her fathers strongest political legacies.
Benazir Bhutto was not without her opponents or critics for long. For Pakistanis choosing between religion and nation, between democracy or military is a daily requirement loaded with conspiracy and brutish pressure, nation and religion are a subject of conversation and a point of regular persecution. But it in a world that frowns upon war, regime, dictatorship and poverty Pakistanis and people who have no connection with Pakistan agree that without Benazir Bhutto Pakistan's neediest people would now be facing extinction.
We know that Benazir Bhutto visited Birmingham and Glasgow, we know of her visits to Bradford and Leeds, to Rochdale, Oldham and London, all towns and cities in the United Kingdom. She worked for her charitable pursuit for ordinary people of her home nation Pakistan. Gradually over years a picture emerges of a woman who gave her life to her country. British Pakistanis all over England and Scotland talk of a woman who was a talented and forceful speaker, a woman who was admired by some and demonised by others. Yes, a consistent strand is evident as I follow the trail of Benazir Bhutto's life. She was sometimes portrayed as a villain, a power and money hungry monster, but the average commentator does not speak or tell of a dangerous or selfish woman. Instead, the ordinary classes of Pakistanis, and the ordinary and average Brit talk of a sharp and quick thinking woman whose obsession was not money or power rather a woman who wanted money and power to destroy hunger, famine, poor education, and human devastation in all regions and provinces of her home country.
Benazir Bhutto was a woman politician who stood for humane ideals, whose plight as an orphan and female on a male dominated political stage gave her empathy with the masses of people in her country who endure frequent conditions akin to famine struck Africa, baring the effects of baron land where nothing grows due to infertile soils, empty stomachs resulting from failed harvests, floods, earthquakes, terrorist disruption, disease and health related epidemics. These humane ideals are the very ideals that masses of people protest for and seek to benefit from.
These are the aims, objectives and ideals that make Benazir Bhutto worthy of remembering and worthy of a tribute at approaching 1200 days after her passing away from this world. Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on 27 December 2007 while leaving a political rally that was part of Benazir Bhutto's campaign to seek a third term in office as a democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. Her observers say Benazir Bhutto knew the risk of assassination was high and even inevitable. But Benazir Bhutto was willing to risk her life to chip away at poverty in Pakistan one more time. She was willing to tolerate brutality again to stand shoulder to shoulder with and take part with democracy. Hers is a story of which many chapters and much detail so far remain untold.
Rest in peace Benazir Bhutto Prime Minister of Pakistan 1988 to 1990 and Prime Minister of Pakistan 1993 to 1996.
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