Benazir Bhutto, the iron lady

0
78

Wajid Shamsul Hasan

(Parliament Times): My association with Bibi (Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto) covered a span of over three decades until her death. My affinity with her father Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from my student days as a fan until I became a journalist—made it easier for me to get very close to Bibi after I was introduced to her by Bhutto Sahib in Simla in 1972.Gen Zia’s coup against Bhutto Sahib, his incarceration, arrest, murder trial and execution—was the most tortuous period in my life. The agony and pain suffered by the Bhuttos further cemented our relations. And as a student of history, I saw in Benazir Bhutto all the making of a great leader and a successor to Bhutto Sahib. Bibi had rare qualities of leadership. Unlike most of the leaders she was never revengeful, nor vindictive and a very soft human being who would forgive her severe adversaries at the first drop of tears of regrets in their eyes. Often she was advised to be strong handed against her opponents to bring them on their knees. She would have none of it. Rather, she preferred to forgive and forget. Pakistan’s overly rightist media was never supportive of Bhuttos or PPP. Being a female, it was easier for a male chauvinist media to malign her with baseless stories and insinuations even when she was in power.

I remember one morning there was an obnoxious column in an Urdu newspaper just when we were having a meeting of the media heads. One of the more enthusiastic senior bureaucrats, taking leave to speak dared to say that the way newspapers had gone berserk against her and PPP administration–it seemed that the government did not exist. She wished to convince the journalists that freedom was their right but did not give them a licence to be irresponsible. “Madam Prime Minister, if I am given charge of Ministry of Information, I shall ensure that the editors of the truant newspaper come to you on their knees to seek your forgiveness and not to repeat their baseless propaganda.” Addressing us (media heads) she made it clear that she had not struggled all her life to “make people walk on their knees”. She wished to convince the journalists that freedom was their right but did not give them a licence to be irresponsible. I cannot forget the analogy she gave about the upsurge of freedom newspapers exercised during her days of power. “When a caged bird is freed, it takes a big plunge to fly but being not used to it, falls flat. It again makes an attempt, again falls. However, after a few falls, it manages to fly off—that’s the way our media is behaving. It will be ok sooner than expected’’. My journalist friends who had the pleasure of knowing her would endorse that she was very kind to them, more than willing to help them in their professional duties.  As an outstanding political leader she was par excellence in wisdom, intelligence, grasp of issues, negotiations and deliberations. Though she had her own views, yet she listened to others as well and believed in politics of consensus. My friend veteran journalist Ziauddin once described called her as “an Iron Lady”. She indeed was. She was firm in her actions and no bullying by the powers that be could break her. Imagine her going to the highest battle ground Siachin Peak/Glacier when she was 8-month pregnant. She was deliberately invited to visit the Siachin heights knowing well her advance stage in pregnancy that she would refuse. She gave them shock of their lives when she braved the treacherous helicopter ride, icy cold weather and stay with the brave Pakistani soldiers at the height without taking any oxygen. Perhaps this was for the first time any head of the state or Army Chief had dared to visit Siachin heights in advance pregnancy. Her Party jiyalas were always dear to her. Her house was open for them and they would find her next to them in their hour of need and distress. I remember how she defied her security and to visit a party worker’s house in Orangi Town for condolence despite knowing that the area had become a live battlefield held under siege by an ethnic group. She was accompanied by late Iqbal Haider and myself and as our vehicle neared the house we could hear the sound of bullets. Police escort advised us to return but she would not have it. In a tense atmosphere she sat with the deceased family for several hours to defy fear of fear.