Saturday April 13, 2024

Stars never die

By Bashir Riaz
December 27, 2023

The evening of December 27, 2007 was filled with harrowing sorrow. I was lost in thought when a phone call pierced through the silence. Amir Mir informed me that Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was seriously wounded in a bomb blast while coming out of a jalsa in Rawalpindi and she was being taken to a hospital. It felt as if my whole world came crashing down around me.

In November, Shaheed Bibi had invited journalists to a dinner. After the dinner, she told Amir Mir that if anything were to happen to her then he could mention General Musharraf.

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (SMBB) during a press conference. — AFP
Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (SMBB) during a press conference. — AFP

After a while, Amir Mir broke the news to me that Bibi was martyred in an attack. I was devastated and the earth felt like slipping away from under my feet. People were angry everywhere and started burning public property to express their distress.

In such volatile circumstances, going to Larkana was like inviting death. I couldn’t decide whether to go to Islamabad or Larkana. Eventually, the next day, I decided to go to Larkana. Along the way, we saw torched vehicles and felt the country was in mourning. When we arrived in Garhi Khuda Bux, the burial had taken place already and there was a sea of grief-stricken faces around us.

When we reached Naudero, we found out that Asif Ali Zardari was not there. He called while we were traveling back, and we tried to condole but I could not find any words as my mind felt numb due to a huge sense of loss.

Shaheed Bibi’s struggles and achievements flashed across my mind. She was the first woman prime minister of the Muslim world and fought courageously against dictatorship. She was a leader recognized internationally for her political acumen. Programmes have been introduced in universities to honour her legacy.

In 1999, a conference was organized for women and during that time, she invited me to join her in Portugal. At the conference, she spoke about political and social role of women and everyone applauded her talk. She took out the time to answer all the questions and mingled with the participants who were all eager to meet her.

Apart from Europe, the Arab World also gave Shaheed Bibi immense respect, and she was known as the ‘daughter of Islam’. Shaheed BB was a leader who represented a democratic and progressive Pakistan on the international level.

She fought against the tyrannical rule of dictators who actively tried to oppress her and the workers of the Pakistan People’s Party. However, Shaheed BB always stood side-by-side along with her people not only during her life but also in death.

Shaheed Bibi simultaneously fought on several fronts. She was a mother as well as a father to her children. Despite personal engagements, she managed to take out time for party work and kept an eye on global politics. She used to work on her computer for five hours every day, writing articles and publishing her statements on various matters.

A beautiful aspect of Shaheed Bibi’s personality was that she had a generous soul and cared for the poor. She used to feel the pain of others just like her own. When she became prime minister, she helped numerous families. She always supported her party workers when in need as well. She had a special fund that she utilized to help people associated with journalism and literature. Once, she gave a tip of Rs100,000 to the caretaker of Pak Tea House, bringing joy to his household.

She helped scores of people through me. She gave employment opportunities to several people. A lot of people benefited from her generosity. Even today, the less fortunate ones remember the kindness of Shaheed Bibi and keep her in their prayers.

After her shahadat, the entire world recognized Bibi as a great leader. Just like her parents, Shaheed BB had a lot of charisma. I witnessed all her traits and her personality first-hand as I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to accompany her everywhere. For this reason, she referred to me as her shadow. She was very kind to me, and the trust she bestowed upon me is invaluable and an asset for me.

In her life, she shone like a bright star in the hearts of the people, and in her death, the glow of the star continues to guide her people in the direction of democracy and peace. Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Bakhtawar and Asifa are the custodians of her legacy. I am confident that they will follow in the footsteps of their mother and will carry forward her mission of serving the people.

The writer is the former press-secretary for Benazir Bhutto.