Benazir laid to rest, burying a nation’s dreams


Garhi Khuda Baksh (Pakistan): Benazir Bhutto, who could well have become Pakistan’s prime minister in a fortnight, was laid to rest Friday afternoon in the ornate family mausoleum she had built for her father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in her dusty home ground in Sindh.

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Less than 24 hours earlier, the two time prime minister of Pakistan was getting ready to address a rally in Rawalpindi as the nation uncertainly moved towards elections on Jan 8. But at precisely 6.16 p.m. Thursday, an assassin’s bullets rudely cut short her political aspirations and put a question mark on the future of her volatile nation.

The body of Bhutto, 54, called Pinkie by her family in her childhood because of her peaches and cream complexion and later named Benazir, meaning someone without a match, was put into a white shroud as per Islamic custom and was lowered into a mud-walled grave in this village near Larkana.

The town was from where the mystique of the Bhutto name grew to seize the imagination of not only this nation of 165 million people but the subcontinent.

Clouds of dust swirled as tens of thousands of mourners congregated from all over the country to bid adieu to the woman who was nicknamed ‘daughter of the East’. There was shocked silence, silent tears but also loud wailing and slogans against President Pervez Musharraf, holding him responsible for her death – like her colleague and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and husband Asif Zardari did.

The woman, who had the distinction of being the first woman head of government of an Islamic country and became in 1988 the world’s youngest prime minister at the age of 35, left behind three teenaged children, her politically ambitious husband Asif Zardari, an ailing mother Nusrat – who at one time was acting chairperson of her PPP – and younger sister Sanam. And millions of grieving supporters for whom she personified hope for a better tomorrow and a more democratic Pakistan.

“She came to save Pakistan,” a tearful Zardari told an Indian television channel shortly before burying his wife of 21 years. “But they killed her.”

It was a brutal end to a star crossed life for a woman born to fame – and tragedy. She saw her father being hanged to death and her two brothers dead at the prime of their lives.

Bhutto, who initially wanted to join the foreign service and become a diplomat, developed uncanny political maturity from a very early age because of the tutelage she received under her father, the charismatic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto whose popular government was overthrown by the army in 1977 and who was hung by military dictator Zia-ul-Haq two years later.

She left days after to return in 1986 – after being in exile abroad for the first time – crowds of over a million greeted her homecoming in Lahore, leading many to compare her return with “Caesar’s return to Rome”. That road led to her first stint as prime minister – she again became prime minister in 1990.

Her last homecoming, just two months ago was equally portentous. She came home after an eight-year exile on Oct 18. But a devastating blast ripped through her homecoming rally leaving 140 people dead.

Bhutto escaped. But only for two months and 10 days – till another rally in another town on Dec 27, 2007.