There are some leaders who remain immortal, for whom death does not pose the same barriers that it does for others. Departure from this mortal world only serves to augment their fame as they reside then in people’s hearts. Pakistan’s first democratically elected president is a potent example of these very few. It is striking that even after three decades of the judicial murder that robbed the masses of their greatest benefactor; the common man refuses to accept the reality.
By engaging in slogans, Zinda hai Bhutoo Zinda hai, the line of mortality is breached and even death is transcended. For Bhutto did not represent only a mass of flesh but rather was the embodiment of compassion and affection for the marginalized and in his own right, constitutes an ideology. Such an ideology cannot be erased and as history testifies, powerful ideas remain entrenched in the psyche and mindset of people even after the passage of centuries. One may ask the question: What did this single man do that people cannot forget him? The answer to this question cannot be fully captured in any language, for when human emotions come into the picture, words start to fail us.
The brutal way in which Bhutto was murdered only adds to his legacy. That he embraced death with open arms and refused to bow to the forces of injustice showcases a man of great mental and moral strength. It was this very compassion and ingrained sense of morality that allowed him to feel the sufferings of the indigent and the impoverished. It bears telling that Bhutto inherited a nation that was in utter denial and a profound sense of disbelief after the fall of Dhaka. That he was able to steady the ship after the violent storm may be one of his greatest achievements. I, for one, find Bhutto’s speech in the Security Council, one that was given at a time of great tribulation, to be utterly captivating despite his rather brazen tone. Here was a man who stood against all great powers when faced with the possibility of having to compromise Pakistan’s national interest.
This is not to say that Bhutto was without fault or that his tenure was one that was immaculate. His socialist policies backfired in the economic realm as growth slowed down and productivity plunged. His independent foreign policy, one that aimed to reunite the Muslim world, did not go down well with the United States.
That said, the purpose of this essay is not to scrutinize Bhutto’s performance for the simple fact that doing so after three decades hardly makes any sense. The aim of this article is to underscore how a leader, despite his flaws, can become such an intimate part of a nation’s soul that the two become one. Bhutto is the heartbeat of millions of destitute Pakistanis, for whom the word not only serves as a reminder of the man that was but also as an everlasting beacon of hope. Hope, the promise of a better future and expectation of prosperity can be a very powerful motivator. Bhutto resides in the nation’s soul for he allowed people to dream, to see beyond their present suffering in the quest of a greater Pakistan. And once, a leader becomes a part of people’s dreams and their aspirations, nothing can remove that vision from the public imagination.
School of Foreign Service in Qatar