Four years ago today, Pakistan and its children were so cruelly robbed of their hopes, their dreams, and their aspirations; the day when an assassin attacked our very survival, by snatching our best hope, our leader, our sister, our future – Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
Mere words cannot convey the depth and magnitude of our loss and our grief; so stark was the feeling of losing her – the woman who, for years, courageously bore the torture inflicted upon her by those of inferior strength and mind; who became the symbol of hope to millions across the country; who stood to fight when many others cowed down; who was unquestionably a matchless leader.
Since the catastrophic day four years ago, during all trials, tribulations, fears, challenges, every step of the way, every road on every journey, her memory has been so sharp, so intense, that it may well be a tangible force. Such is the potency of her persona.
But even in the midst of the pain, the grief, we were ever mindful of the task with which she left us. A promise made is a debt unpaid. And it is this thought that pushed the Pakistan People’s Party government to strive towards fulfilment of the promises made by Shaheed Mohtarma: the desire to repay the debt; to deliver on her promises; to realise her dreams – her dreams for this land, its people, and its future.
“My dream,” she said, “is for my land and my people to cease fighting and allow our children to reach their full potential, regardless of sex, status, or belief.” It is the realisation of this dream that has been the driving force of our actions. Mohtarma was an advocate of peace, both within and outside Pakistan. And to achieve this peace, she gave her life fighting the existing norms that challenged her vision; fighting for the people of her country, for their emancipation, their rights, their progress.
She endured countless tortures, including her father and brothers’ deaths; she bore, in a few years, what most do not see in a lifetime. But her resilience and fortitude saw her through the darkest of hours, the bleakest of times. It is this resilience, this courage, this love for her country that is her legacy to us: her nation.
Mohtarma was single-minded when it came to leading the fight for democracy in Pakistan. With her legendary foresight and vision, she recognised that true leadership required action and necessitated the need to challenge the status quo. She appreciated the fact that, ultimately, leadership was all about the strength of your convictions; and her conviction to stand by the people of Pakistan, to strive for their betterment, their emancipation, and their aspirations was unyielding. As Mohtarma herself said, “You can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea.”
Indeed, the tyrants imprisoned her, exiled her, and finally killed her, but what they could not harm was the idea she stood for – the idea of an egalitarian Pakistan, without the constraints of bigotry, intolerance and inflexible tradition; the idea of a democratic Pakistan, without the fear of tyrannical oppressors; the idea of a safe Pakistan, where children can grow to their full potential, regardless of sex, status and beliefs.
Just when she crossed the line from being a leader to being what she was – an ideology and a vision – is disputable. But that was what she was and what she continues to be. The fact is that although she may no longer be among us, she continues to live in our hearts and minds. There is no doubt about the fact that no one can ever replace the kind of leadership she possessed. Her abilities and charisma can never be forgotten. People across the world have keenly felt her loss. Her absence has made people realise who she really was: a woman, a mindset, an institution standing for the rights of the people, steadfast and resilient against tyrants.
And what does one say of cowardly tyrants who seek to sabotage the road that martyrs have paved with their lives, and kill the hope that they watered with their blood. Such pathetic, cowardly parasites must know and understand that never again will the people and government of Pakistan allow them to resurface and work against the interests of the country.
Today, Pakistan is blessed to be democratic, a state reached after so many and such heavy sacrifices. It is the duty of every Pakistani today to work together to strengthen this democracy; to ensure that the democratic process is not derailed and that Pakistan does not, ever again, fall victim to treacherous conspiracies. In the words of our dear sister, “It is imperative for all of us to fight to save Pakistan by saving democracy. Democracy brings development and marginalises the anti-people forces. We must save Pakistan, save democracy and save the fundamental rights of the people.” It is the fundamental rights for which today’s democratic government is working, and will continue to strive to ensure and to secure them.
I wish with all my heart that this day had never come. If only there was nothing to commemorate on December 27. If only this was like any other day. But, alas, wishing does not make it so. Today, we observe the day assassins extinguished Pakistan’s best hope. The day when the entire country, nay, the entire world, was plunged into a vertex of despair and grief, as we mourned an irreparable loss. But those who martyred that courageous, selfless leader grossly underestimated the strength of her convictions, and the single-mindedness of her followers.
On that fateful day, four years ago, when Pakistan was in chaos after losing our leader, one man rose to be the voice of reason. When the nation was wailing because of the deep wounds it had sustained, one man chose to dress the wounds and case the hurt. When the entire country was going up in flames, one man stood up to douse the fire. It was this man who had on that day lost the most. And yet he gave. He gave solace, hope, and direction to a nation reeling from the shock of losing its beloved sister.
The Talmud says, “There are people whose remembrance gives light in this world long after they have passed away. This light shines in our darkest nights on the road we must follow.” Indeed, the nights after Bibi’s assassination were the darkest ever. Yet, it was her thoughts, words, and vision which guided us at that crucial time, and continue to do so. Today, her spirit lives on in us all, impelling us to do our best for her country and her people; to fulfil the dream she saw, the future she envisioned.
Today, four years after she was martyred, her government follows in her footsteps. It remains committed to providing for her people, and with single-minded determination works to realise her dream. Sometimes, the decisions taken are not popular. Sometimes, the critics choose to turn towards the negative and become prophets of doom. And yet the government perseveres. It perseveres because behind its actions is the force and the spirit of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who said, “Leadership requires action: daring to take steps that are necessary but unpopular, challenging the status quo in order to reach a brighter future.”
And in her footsteps, today’s government continues to take those steps and challenge the existing norms, secure in the belief that she is and will continue to be our guiding light – today and for tomorrows to come.
Shazia Marri is the Sindh Electric Power and Information Minister.