by: Naurah Khurshid
I opened my eyes in a household where pictures of Benazir Bhutto and her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto decorated the walls. Popular political slogans rolled off my tongue like nursery rhymes. On the occasion that a guest would look at Benazir’s picture and take that as a cue to express their displeasure with the Bhuttos, the entire room would erupt in intense political debate for the next couple of hours.
For me, the most entertaining time of the day was when my father and uncles had political discussions. Where “Bhutto Sahab” was always discussed with a certain degree of reverence and sadness, BB (as Benazir was always referred to) was the present. Regardless of how much she was criticized for her naive politics and “political blunders” there was always a hint of hope whenever her name came up. She would always have my family’s vote. For as long as I can remember I was always told stories of Bhutto Sahab’s charisma, eloquence and courage. Excerpts from his speeches were repeated so many times that I memorized them, along with the line that always marked the end of these stories: they killed him.
About Benazir, however, I was told very little except for the fact that she was Bhutto Sahab’s daughter. I do remember being at my father’s colleague’s wedding when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old where Benazir was a guest too. I remember my father lifting me up to the stage where she was sitting so that I could shake her hand. He whispered in my ear, “She is Benazir Bhutto. Say Salaam.” And the only thing I remember from that encounter is thinking how “white” she was.
I made my own judgment about BB. My impression of her was according to my own ideals rather than stories. While her political achievements and failures were discussed frequently on TV, in newspapers and in drawing rooms, her personal feats and struggles were rarely ever brought up before her death. Once when I was in school and a friend made a comment about her “tumultuous and abusive marriage” I remember thinking how could one woman possibly fulfill so many expectations? How could she be “as good as her father” as a politician, a role model for women, a good Muslim, a good mother to her kids (so what if she raised her kids as a single parent?) all at the same time and then be judged viciously by the people?
She lost her father and had to languish in jails just for being his daughter. She lost both her brothers and was held responsible for their deaths. Her marriage to Asif Ali Zardari was openly and shamelessly discussed in the media with absolutely no consideration of the fact that she was a mother who probably had to justify a lot of cheap gossip to her kids. Every time she would run an election campaign somewhere her moral character would come under attack in a way that would make any decent man cringe. And yet she was dismissed for having a privileged and perfect life. After all she had oodles of money to make her forget that half of her family had been murdered and her own life was in constant danger.
Maybe she lacked her father’s charisma and wit but she was gifted with the kind of defiance and courage that a very few possess. She did not show the slightest sign of backing down when her rally was rocked by bomb blasts in October of 2007. She looked every bit the man’s daughter who refused to compromise with a dictator even if it sent him to the gallows.
So when they finally got her in December 2007, I remember that there were no angry tirades like the ones my father would launch into while talking about Bhutto’s hanging. There was silent mourning and grief because “they made sure there is no one left.”