Benazir Bhutto: A Sad Farewell

Pakistan Link , Commentary, Ras H. Siddiqui Posted: Dec 28, 2007

I first met Benazir Bhutto in the back alleys of downtown Sacramento not too far away from the California State Capitol building. But that is just a partial truth (because it wasn’t really a back alley). It actually happened to be the guest exit behind the Sacramento Convention Center as she was about to get into a limousine. It was soon after 9/11 (October 2001) and earlier that day I had seen her deliver one of the finest speeches that I had ever covered by any woman, as an ethnic reporter. Benazir Bhutto had just finished addressing more than a thousand women (and about a half a dozen men including myself) at “A Woman’s Day Professional Conference and Exposition” event. If memory serves me right, she was a last minute replacement for Tipper Gore. I tried to get a picture with her in the exit area but was firmly turned down by the security around her. She did not know me from Adam. And at that time her security was the last thing on my mind. During the past couple of months it had been a major concern for everyone. Her murder was my worst fear realized.

Before going further a little more into this story, let me digress. I am beginning to dread calls from my brother. He called early in the morning to give me the news of Benazir’s assassination. He had also called in 1979 to give me the shocking news that her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been hanged by the regime of then military Dictator General Zia. Both times I had found the information unbelievable. And both times I have felt deeply saddened for the Bhutto’s and the country of Pakistan.

But life goes on and bad news becomes a part of the immigrant’s dilemma. News from the home country becomes increasingly distant especially after my three decades in America. Unfortunately the sadness of such events also gets coated with nostalgia, resulting in a melancholic mental state. Many memories erupt as hopelessness overpowers.

This article is about a remarkable woman and her father, about fading memories, hope and hopelessness. When I left Pakistan in 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in power.He had “picked up the pieces” as he said, of a broken country and offered it a future. We had survived the Bangladesh war with many wounds. But Z.A. Bhutto was all about hope. I last heard him speak in 1973 at a soccer match in Karachi, Pakistan. I also went to school with the Bhutto kids (sans Benazir who was older) at Karachi Grammar School till 1971. Now all of them, except one, are dead.

After 9/11 it was Benazir Bhutto that took up the banner of democratic hope in Pakistan when it was needed. She became the people’s voice in exile, traveled around the world, making speeches about the need for cross-cultural exchanges, religious harmony and how to make peace. I met her again in 2004 at an event in the San Francisco Bay Area. But this time she had me called to her table, had me sit down in the chair next to her and insisted that we have a photograph taken together. Benazir Bhutto, like her father, also had a good memory and read a great deal. She had read my report about her Sacramento visit in 2001 and an article I wrote about her father on the 25th anniversary of his assassination. She was reminded of the time that security stopped our picture taking in Sacramento and wanted to make amends. My wife said that I was beaming for several days after that meeting and the photograph was on our refrigerator for months.sadd/bhutto

In 2006 she again visited the area at an event in Newark. She was a much more confident about her return to Pakistan and no less articulate. The audience loved her and she knew it. She could charm anyone in her presence. Little do her murderers know what damage they have done not only to her country but to women aspiring for leadership everywhere.

She was a voice of moderation in a stormy regional sea of violence and terror. But in a world where violence often becomes the only language of diplomacy, she did not stand a chance. Yet the idealist in her and her dedicated followers refused to give up. Especially those like me who were foolish enough to believe that Benazir Bhutto belonged at home and could bring back the days when we kids walked the streets of the Pakistan without fear. Over 35 years ago, I remember that the Bhutto kids used to come to school with just a driver and no guard. Now, all except one, has been murdered.

This is a farewell for a rare, articulate, beautiful and talented woman who was a symbol of hope for millions. The Pakistan Peoples Party was her political strength as it was once her father's. Through the democratic process, the party offered hope to the poor and oppressed masses of her country. This assassination of Benazir is a direct attack on the already shaky federation of Pakistan. And while the authorities look for hands stained with her blood, while knowing that the assassins today wear disposable gloves or blow themselves up, we know that the world has suddenly become a much more dangerous place.

With dried and distant tears we Pakistani-Americans bid a sad farewell to Benazir Bhutto, one of the bravest women leaders of our time. Someday God-willing and with pride, I hope to tell my grandkids about meeting you BB (even though I have learned that you didn’t like being called by that name). You made secular and democratic people proud till the very end. May God keep you in peace, and may your children stay away from politics.

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User Comments

Nasreen aboobaker on Jan 03, 2008 at 21:52:16 said:

Raas expressed his heart felt emotions.Thanks Rass for sharing with us. Sacramento event he wrote about, I was there too and I took some black and white (film days) pictures of her sitting from my table. Then I had the opportunity to get my picture taken with her( thanks to Fahiza Alim). Just when security personnel were whisking her away from back door, I wanted to take her close up photo with my camera . Security did not want her but she told them its ok and i took her photo. Her death is a big loss for Pakistan and all women.

Ras Siddiqui on Jan 03, 2008 at 18:44:57 said:

Dr. Awan,

I wrote this tribute keeping Najma & KB
in mind. I just hope that they recover
from this shock. They did a lot for her.

And it is unfortunate that a writing that
came from the heart is being evaluated
for the photograph here.

Faisal Shafi on Jan 02, 2008 at 14:35:56 said:

I can only laugh at the ignorant Pakistani nation and the journalists. Just because I said negative stuff about him, he tries to divert everyones attention by stating that I dont like mukhtar mai or benazir.Bullcrap.I hate the Pakistani man's egotistical mentality.every time a woman is trying to do something, shes pulled back. And then its claimed that Islam tells you to treat woman fairly.Which muslim country can you think has done something productive other than what they are known for(im sure we all know what that is ;-).I do hope though that someone would do something about bringing democracy in Pakistan. As far as Raas goes, Just because Im entitled to my own opinion just like every one else, doesnt mean my head is up my.....Its easy to sit on a computer and criticise everything and everyone (journalists/critics) but when the finger is pointed at the journalist...TRUTH HURTS MY DEAR FRIEND....

Ras Siddiqui on Jan 01, 2008 at 08:53:55 said:

Thanks for the comments.

Abbas, you are right but I really do not know how to follow up on this one.

Dr. Awan, I know I devastated you must be.
Benazir was someone unique

Kamal from India thanks for remembering her.

Javed, I do not know which Javed you are
but all five that I know are fine people.

And then there is always the Faisal type reader that you will find with their head up
their.....For his information in the over 10
years of my association with NCM/NAM this is
the first time that my picture has been published here (as far as I can recall).

In all of Pakistan Link's 48 plus weekly editions last year (year 2007) my picture with or without my wife appeared four times, with writers Mohsin Hamid, Ahmad Faraz and with rape victim Mukhtar Mai etc.
What people like Faisal, whom I do not recall at all (for good reason) are upset about, I can understand. Both Mukhtar Mai
and Benazir whom I have supported are not to his liking. I can only suggest that he get a life and move on.
In my opinion the killing of Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan's 9/11.

Faisal Shafi on Dec 31, 2007 at 16:04:20 said:

Raas is someone who'd love to get his pic with any celeberity in the paper...dead or alive. I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr Raas back when Benazir first came to California and he was talking so much smack about Benazir and her father.And now I see he didnt want to miss another photo opp.Pick up any issue of Pakistan Link and read any event that Raas covered and you ll see a picture of him with the Performer alongwith his wife.
Raas Siddiqui or Raas Hole...You decide

Javed on Dec 31, 2007 at 12:45:29 said:

Ras writes from the heart about a matter that tears the heart. Great piece.
Benazir's assasination symbolizes the results of the War of Terror, it should really be called the War of Error.
The entire world is paying a price for it. The US in Dollars and soldiers, the rest of the world with lives lost and a growing veteranized terror force that threatens to reshape the world in the image of of terror not democracy.

kamal on Dec 31, 2007 at 05:14:44 said:

first of all let me say that am a hindu from india.. Benezir bhutto was really a great leader having great charisma and sheer ability.. oen of the powerful woman leader the world has seen.. great shock that she is no more.. may her soul rest in peace....

Dr Malik Awan on Dec 30, 2007 at 17:50:50 said:

I have been deadly shocked three times in my life attaining the age of 74. First time when my beloved leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was executed by the Military dictator on
4-7-1979 Second time when my own beloved robbed me for about 200,000/-who was raised, brought to US and promoted to be a Dr. to replace myself when I am expired and she had to take care of my remaining etc.and third the Assassination of my daughter, a mother of the nation, and political leader of Pakistan Mohtarima Benazir Bhutto killed by the ISI of Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan is entirely responsible for all the Assassinations of Bhutto families. Mohtarima is still live, will remain in the hearts of the Nation of Pakistan. I strongly condemn the act of the Government of Pakistan for being so barbarian who did kill the legend Bhutto. She will ever be remembered. I am three shocks in my life as cited above and I am astonished how I could survive after one each other although the second biggest tragady in my life has a special event losing my money my respect and honor for nothing and without any reason.

Abbas Zaidi on Dec 30, 2007 at 11:36:18 said:

An excellent job Ras, but you leave your readers stranded. There is a distinct shift in tone somewhere around 'dried tears' and it seems you did not go into the depth iyou lead your readers to expect from the summary at the start.

As much as I wish to thank you for this write-up, I would love to see a continuation of this article and a completion of a few more of the threads you showed the colors of.

This is indeed a great loss, but it is hard to say whether the greater loss might not be the dynastic succession -out of place and certainly out of time- that it has lead to.

Was Salaam.
Abbas Zaidi
San Francisco Bay Area




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