Her initial act after coming to power for the first time in 1988 was to lift the ban on student unions and to legalise labour unions. She restored the free operation of NGOs and for the first time in the history of the country became the first Pakistani prime minister to allow airtime on a regular basis to her political opponents
On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto’s name was added to the list of Pakistan’s martyrs for democracy as she laid down her life while bravely challenging the Islamist terrorists who are responsible for a lethal wave of national and global destruction that has so far claimed thousands of innocent lives from Baghdad to Bamiyan and from Karachi to Kabul.
Benazir Bhutto gave her life on the frontline of a battlefield set by the so-called global jihadists against peaceful global citizens. Twice she got herself elected prime minister of Pakistan, something that displayed the generally secular mindset of the majority of the population that she represented so passionately.
She was instrumental in establishing and expanding the social, political and economic horizons of a nation which, for 11 long years, had paid a heavy price for supporting her father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s. It was during the long period of martial law under the guise of Islam that military dictator General Ziaul Haq annulled the constitution and replaced it with several presidential decrees that deprived the people of Pakistan of democratic participation in running the affairs of the country.
On the social front, Benazir Bhutto introduced numerous laws that empowered the working class, the youth and the womenfolk. Benazir believed that unless women participate in the social, political and economic activity of a country, it cannot prosper or be modernised. In this spirit, she appointed several women to her cabinet, established a ministry of women’s development and introduced women’s studies programmes in universities. She ensured that women in prison got better legal advice. She established the First Women’s Bank, which issued credit facilities exclusively to women.
Benazir Bhutto launched social uplift programmes such as family planning, nutritional counselling, childcare and birth control education and established women’s police stations staffed by women so that women could be confident in reporting abuses relating to rape, domestic violence and those based on gender prejudice. Under her premiership, Pakistani women were allowed to participate in international sporting events. Her government signed the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women. She hosted the Muslim Women’s Olympics, as well as organised a Muslim Women’s Parliament. For the first time in Pakistani history, she appointed women judges to the high courts and established family courts headed by women judges.
Her government built 48,000 public schools and she personally led the Polio Eradication Campaign in the country. Her achievements in the health sector resulted in a drastic reduction in the infant mortality rate. In recognition for her services, she was awarded a gold medal by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
She planned the electrification of 80,000 villages and introduced fibre-optic cable links. She introduced CNN to the people of Pakistan and opened a window through which an excited population learned about international affairs at a time when “CNN was only available in hotel rooms in other countries”.
On the political front, she struggled with the then career bureaucrat-turned-president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, to secure a general amnesty for all those who stood up against the authoritarian rule of the self-proclaimed Islamic crusader and ruthless military man, General Ziaul Haq. It was Ishaq Khan who cynically manipulated the amnesty in such a manner that it did not apply to Benazir Bhutto’s brother-in-exile, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, thus sowing the seeds of a dynastic animosity that would later split the family and the party. Yet, the majority of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) workers remained loyal to Benazir and voted her back into power for a second time in October 1993.
Mir Murtaza Bhutto had become disillusioned with the lethargic response of the masses towards the hanging of his father by Zia. At the time, the broad masses were numbed by the shock therapy they had received from the general, who had used excessive force and brutality to subjugate the masses and who had hanged their elected leader. This led Mir to believe (wrongly) that Zia could be toppled by instigating isolated individual acts of urban guerrilla warfare. But Benazir Bhutto saw the process of social mobilisation in a more scientific manner and with the support of the man in the street, she followed a path of non-violent opposition to military rule in order to overthrow the Zia regime.
Her initial act after coming to power for the first time in 1988 was to lift the ban on student unions and to legalise labour unions. She restored the free operation of NGOs and for the first time in the history of the country, she delivered open and uncensored print and electronic media and became the first Pakistani prime minister to allow airtime on a regular basis to her political opponents.
When Benazir Bhutto took her oath for the first time as the prime minister of Pakistan, she observed “the sullen faces of the military generals, and the frightened faces of the civil bureaucracy”. Although her time in government was shortened by the combined efforts of the right, she managed to introduce fundamental changes.
Benazir Bhutto was being hunted down for a long time by Pakistan’s very own gang of ‘forty thieves’, a rapine gang which consists of the Taliban, the segment of the ISI that supports them and the military generals who sit at the apex of the huge military-industrial complex
It was none other than Benazir herself who laid down the grounds for an independent judiciary in Pakistan by ordering the separation of the legal system from the executive. Her invitation to the Indian prime minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, and his wife was testimony to her desire to address the most sensitive issues in the region and to begin to sort out the diplomatic and military mess that had been allowed to accumulate, and which indeed had actively been cultivated under successive military regimes.
The religious far right, the pro-jihadist elements in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the corpulent generals were busy for a long time knitting plots to get rid of Benazir Bhutto and they continuously spread disinformation about her. Yet her elevation to the realm of power as the first-ever female head of state in the Muslim world sent a strong signal to the Muslim as well as to the western world that the Pakistani people are not a bunch of cultish Wahhabi-Salafist fanatics but have deep-rooted and heterodox secular and Sufi values.
On the economic front, too, Benazir Bhutto managed to make her impression. According to the International Labour Organisation, the largest job-generation ever in the history of the country took place during the government of Benazir Bhutto. She managed to transform the economy in such a manner that Pakistan became the 10th largest emerging market in the world. The economic transformation that is so much needed in Asia to end the state of poverty and modernise our societies led Benazir to become an advocate of regional economic partnership and social transformation of these very societies. Her view of regional peace was manifested when she proposed that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) be transformed from a cultural forum into an economic one.
The port of Gwadar, the Regional Corporation for Development (RCD), highway through the Makran Coast, the Omara Naval facility, the Pansi and Ghazi Barotha Dams, the Saindak Gold and Copper Project and many more were initiated by this dynamic woman. It was with the help of the UAE that she managed to build the Multan Oil Refinery. During her tenure, our agricultural growth jumped from zero to seven percent.
It was these very policies in the social, political and economic sectors — policies of peaceful coexistence — that alarmed the military-religious zealots, who, for a considerable period, had justified their huge budgets and illegitimate military rule by creating and maintaining a psychological ‘strategy of tension’ against India which in actual fact was a ‘tension’ that was always directed against the Pakistani people.
The social policies which she introduced concerning women’s emancipation and empowerment angered the religious far right that is now gathered in the FATA region. The Taliban and al Qaeda could never have tolerated such actions as they would risk seriously marginalising their recruiting grounds among the poor.
In Pakistan, army generals are awarded lucrative jobs such as vice chancellorships of universities and are granted residential plots of land during and after service by a military-business complex that owns 12 percent of the land and which is worth more than $20 billion (that figure being just the visible money, the iceberg’s fine, white tip). ‘Milbus’ (as Dr Ayesha Siddiqa coined it) would never agree to relinquish control of the state to a civilian government that encourages public sector enhancement, which challenges the overweening dominance of plutocratic military businesses such as cereal-making factories, cement companies, textile manufacturing, sugar mills, hotels, shopping malls, housing societies, insurance companies, banks, farms and many more.
Benazir Bhutto was being hunted down for a long time by Pakistan’s very own gang of ‘forty thieves’, a rapine gang which consists of the Taliban, the segment of the ISI that supports them and the military generals who sit at the apex of the huge military-industrial complex. The murder of Benazir Bhutto was undertaken by a perfectly coordinated team of assassins.
It is this same coalition that threatens the current government and has unleashed a campaign to defame the government and the president. Let us divert briefly to analyse a few of the achievements of the Zardari-led government.
Since he has been in power, President Zardari has proved to be a very accommodating leader and has pursued a policy of national reconciliation, which has led very successfully to the formation of national unity governments nationally as well as provincially. He launched the Benazir Income Support Programme to enhance social uplift in these times of economic hardship triggered by the global financial crisis and the rise in food and oil prices. Recently, his diplomatic endeavours helped Pakistan gain a special trading status when, at the EU Economic Summit in Brussels, British Prime Minister David Cameron successfully argued in favour of abolishing tariffs on imports from Pakistan.
Benazir Bhutto’s attempts to create a society based on the principles of democracy, social emancipation and economic independence brought her into direct confrontation with the axis mentioned above. On more than three occasions, this nexus orchestrated assassination attempts against her, and on December 27, 2007, they finally managed to kill this singular woman.
The legacy of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, and before her that of her father, will live on amidst courageous slogans of ‘Zinda hai Bhutto zinda hai!’ (Bhutto is alive!) raised across the country and beyond by those who adored them and who already have endorsed and embraced their ideology of freedom and democracy. We are millions.
The writer is a freelancer based in London. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org