The light that will never go out-Naheed Khan

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The writer was Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s political secretary and close aide, and a former member of Parliament

“Safdar, how about some naaras?” Bibi’s last words to Safdar. Bibi was sitting between Makhdoom Amin Fahim and me; I was sitting on her right. Safdar was seated behind us in that ill-fated jeep, on that calamitous day of Dec 27, 2007, as we left Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, after a rousing election rally. “Zinda hai Bhutto zinda hai!” The people shout slogans. She shouts the same words back at them. A heartbeat later she seems to abruptly dart back into the jeep — I feel a load, my heart sinks, Bibi’s head falls into my lap. “Get up, Bibi!” I say while trying to steady her with my hands. She does not stir. Another heartbeat and we are thrown against the ceiling by what is undoubtedly a close-range explosion. My body feels a warm gush of fluid dribbling down. “Blood!” I scream. “Drive!” Safdar shouts, “Drive FAST!” This cannot be happening. This cannot have happened.

One year later. For the first time in history, the Pakistan People’s Party is in government in Islamabad with good numbers. Asif Ali Zardari is the president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Musharraf has gone. Districts, towns, hospitals, an airport, roads, and innumerable social-welfare handout schemes have been named in Bibi’s honour. Her pictures adorn our physical and emotional landscape. Yet, to state the painfully obvious, we are no closer today than we were on that disastrous day to identifying the financiers, supporters, perpetrators and organisers of the assassination that shook the world and robbed Pakistan of its promise.

To be sure, no one can be more invested in getting to the truth than Bibi’s family. For them, and for all us Pakistanis, there can be no closure until her assassins are brought to justice. The UN human rights award posthumously given to Bibi is an honour for every worker, supporter, voter and sympathiser of the PPP. The world will realise that they lost a true visionary, a woman who was a bridge between Islam and the West. We Pakistanis, and the world, owe it to Bibi to investigate her assassination. The government has taken the matter to the foot-dragging UN, but this has not produced any comforting results. Troubling facts remain. It is a fact that the Liaquat Bagh murder scene was hosed down with shocking efficiency; that the Scotland Yard inquiry into the assassination was deeply flawed and contravened eyewitness accounts, and that the FIR for that assassination remains unregistered; that the complaint Bibi tried in vain to register with the Bahadurabad police following the midnight attacks on her convoy at Karsaz, Karachi, remains unregistered to this day; and many of the bureaucrats and officials who presided over the assassination continue to be in nauseatingly grateful employment of the government. It is also a fact that we are an inconsolably lonely nation without her. Time magazine has called Bibi’s assassination “Pakistan’s JFK assassination and 9/11 rolled into one.”

This is a grievous understatement. The first anniversary of Bibi’s assassination is a chance to pay tribute to the extraordinary life of our great leader, our bravest martyr.

The fact remains that despite recent troubles with India, an insurgency in Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal belt, tidings of socio-economic doom and gloom, Pakistan is chugging along. It is also a fact that like democratically-elected governments anywhere, the one led by the PPP may not be perfect, but it is still being given far less credit than it deserves in many areas. The lifting of the bans on trade unions, the regularisation of workers in PIA and Steel Mills, the reinstatement of sacked employees – these were some of the things promised by Bibi.

Bibi would not have approved of the well-intentioned but cosmetic manner in which she is being remembered by the renaming of myriad institutions after her. While there can be doubt that our party has suffered and sacrificed the most, Bibi would not have approved of her martyrdom being used as a fallback argument on talk shows and in the press by some party members when they are unable to convincingly answer pointed questions. The greatest and most befitting manner in which we, as PPP workers and as Pakistanis, can honour Bibi is by furthering her work with the same selflessness, sense of purpose and supernatural courage that she personified. She would not have wanted it any other way. In her letter of Oct 16, 2007, which, in accordance with her instructions, was released posthumously, she instructs us to serve “the downtrodden, discriminated and oppressed people of Pakistan” and to dedicate ourselves “to freeing them from poverty and backwardness.”

Time has not dulled the pain, but tears cannot turn the clock back. As we remember our hero, our leader, our sister, and the light of our lives, we should take some comfort in knowing that Bibi’s legacy lives on through our party. The PPP worker is the custodian of her legacy, the bravest soldier of democracy and of Pakistan. For 40 years, the PPP worker has looked in the face of tyranny and torture and never once blinked. The PPP is strong, firmly united, and it will outlive all of us. Bibi was, and remains, larger than life. She will be forever remembered as a brave and beautiful figure, as a powerful inspiration for the tens of millions of dispossessed and downtrodden people across Pakistan and throughout the world. This is our only consolation. Bibi remains alive.

She was larger than life. She is a martyr, and martyrs never die. She will live on in history for the future generations, to serve as a source of inspiration and the epitome of democracy.

Now is the time for us to start building this party as an institution so that we can fulfil her dream for Pakistan. Governments come and go but the ideology of democracy lives forever.

She was a ray of hope for the downtrodden. To carry on her father’s legacy, she chose this difficult path and for 30 years she carried her father’s hopes and dreams and made a party which battled two dictators. The workers faced the gallows valiantly; they were flogged, put behind bars, and worse, but did not bow to the will of the dictators.

Today, we feel emptiness in our lives. It will take a great deal of time, and millions of tears, merely to accept the reality that our great leader and loving sister is no longer amongst us. Our eyes well up with tears when we feel that her footprints will never grace the ground again.

Our relatives and friends console us by saying that Allah has taken her away because she was dear to Him, but we feel the emptiness in our lives as a result. Sadly, our tears cannot bring her back.

We silently speak to ourselves to console our hearts, but there is no answer to the question our hearts ask us: “Where is Bibi?” The consolation for the grief that now governs our lives, and her loss hangs above us like a perpetual cloud,bringing nothing but gloom and misery.



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