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Remembering BB, ‘who in death has become bigger than life’

By Zofeen T. Ebrahim, IANS

Karachi : “In her death she’s become bigger than her father ever was, even bigger than when she was alive,” said well known Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi, a slight tremor noticeable in his voice as he remembered former prime minister Benazir Bhutto at a memorial reference.

“Everybody calls her ‘shaheed’ (a martyr) even (President Pervez) Musharraf,” the editor of popular English weekly The Friday Times and the Daily Times said Tuesday, one amongst an eminent panel who gathered to pay tribute to the late Benazir Bhutto (popularly called BB), a little over a month after she was assassinated in Rawalpindi on Dec 27.

The mood in the hall, jampacked with civil society and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) workers was sombre and quiet, the sorrow impregnable and the loss real, still fresh. By the end of the service – organised by her PPP – most in the room were moved to tears.

She seemed to have touched many a heart as speaker after speaker narrated personal anecdotes.

All that was left of her now are memories generously shared by people, a majority of whom were journalists who had often judged her harshly. But the differences were set aside as they recalled the larger than life persona of Benazir Bhutto, making her human after all, yet infallible.

Calling her the “queen of hearts”, Sherry Rehman, the party’s central information secretary, was emphatic that it would be impossible to fill in her shoes. “She was far ahead of her times.”

But perhaps Sethi said it best and put the finger on the pulse when he said she symbolised hope, “hope for the poor of the country”. Jogging his memory, he recounted the other times she gave hope to a country plunged in despair, reeling from one military regime to another.

He remembered her first homecoming back in 1986 in Lahore, surrounded by “sea of people” as her cavalcade moved out of the airport, terming it “the most hopeful time in living memory”; and then when she took oath of office as the prime minister in 1988 and he thought perhaps that “was a more hopeful moment”. And then this time when she came back, on Oct 18 “to undo her mistakes”, she brought hope again, even in the young who were unaware of her legacy and had “grown up on lies and allegations about her” welcomed her with open arms.

But there were things only the closest knew. According to Rehman, who still finds it exceedingly difficult to talk about her in the past tense, Bibi, as she liked to be referred to, was a “woman in a hurry” who worked “18 hours a day” driven by a “need to change” and thus constantly involved in policy dialogue, even at the most ungodly hours of the night.

And like Sethi who is convinced “she knew she was marked and her time had come to make the ultimate sacrifice” marvelling at her flirtation with death, Rehman, too, thought she had a premonition that she didn’t have time on her side and wanted a 100 day programme to put the nation on the path of straight and narrow.

The incredible energy the memorial exuded was apparent as those present promised that they would not sit silent but get to the bottom of the things and find out who killed BB, rejecting the Scotland Yard investigation outright. The Scotland Yard has pointed the needle of suspicion at the Al Qaeda

“Those are the same forces that had earlier dismissed the three PPP governments,” said Iqbal Haider, secretary general of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and a former law minister.

“All you need is courage to point the killers and call them killers,” his voice reaching a crescendo as did his emotions.

While the time for mourning was not over, Rehman said the party was trying to pick up from when BB left them. “We have to keep the caravan of democracy moving”, she said, and the election campaign would start after the 40 days mourning period would be over on Feb 7.