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December 29, 2017

Benazir’s struggle


December 29, 2017

Benazir Bhutto sacrificed her life for a cause. She wanted to see Pakistan as a modern, progressive and pluralistic democratic country. She knew that her clear and bold stance against religious extremism and authoritarian government would put her life at stake. She was aware of the dangers linked with her return.

But she still decided to challenge all these forces. On her return, she was warned via a bloodbath at her rally. She refused to bow down. Finally, she was assassinated on December 27, 2007 after a public address at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi. With that, Pakistan lost a courageous, progressive and popular leader. Her assassination was a big blow to the democratic, liberal, secular and progressive forces in the country.

Benazir Bhutto had come back to the country with a clear vision and agenda to take Pakistan forward. Her agenda was to introduce reforms in the system to improve the lives of ordinary people. She was determined to defeat the extremist narrative. She had promised to provide employment, social services and equal rights to the people. She received tremendous response to her election campaign and once again proved that she still enjoyed massive support and charisma. The PPP was dealt a huge blow, and the vacuum created by her departure is yet to be filled. The party never recovered from the loss

Benazir Bhutto fought most of her life against military dictators and rightwing reactionary forces. The establishment never accepted her and tried everything to discredit her. The rightwing forces launched a vicious character assassination campaign against her. Every effort was made to weaken the party. The PPP went through many highs and lows under her leadership but she succeeded to steady the ship against all odds. She spent five years in power with a very weak position. The powers that be never gave her a free hand to implement her policies. Her five years in power were used to malign her politics and agenda of reforms. Circumstances never allowed her to show her full potential as prime minister.

Benazir Bhutto came to power in the era of the crushing domination of world markets and capitalism. She saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the crisis of social democracy. She emerged as a political leader in the era of the free market and neo-liberalism, which impacted her political views and ideology as well. The era of the decades of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s were completely different from the era of the 1960s and 1970s. She represented her era. She was an idealist like many other popular leaders but became more pragmatic with the fast-changing realities. It was a journey from idealism to pragmatism – in order to embrace the realities of her period.

But everyone was not happy with her. All those who believed in the social transformation of society were not happy with her politics and policies. The more radical elements who wanted to see the PPP as an anti-imperialist and anti-elite party were left disappointed by her policies. She was not a democratic socialist like her father. She was a social democrat who believed in democracy, reforms, fundamental human rights and dignity. Many people disagreed with her liberal, secular agenda and the compromises she made with the establishment, and imperialism and rightwing forces. However, the PPP leader’s violent death made her a symbol of struggle and courage again – against extremism and dictatorship. It washed away many of the political mistakes she had made during her political career.

The PPP was the party which genuinely stood for rights of peasants, workers and the labours. But the party that once promised the elimination of feudalism to further the interests of peasantry now banks on candidates from strong feudal backgrounds, especially in Sindh. The party that relied on its workers now relies on electables for its survival. It lost its vote bank to politics that revolves around the personal interests of its leaders.

Benazir Bhutto’s sudden death created a huge vacuum not only in the PPP but also in national politics. She was a towering figure in the party and in national politics with a history of struggle and sacrifice against military dictatorships.

Benazir Bhutto wanted to end reactionary religious fundamentalism without making radical changes and reforms in the social, economic and political structures. That is not possible. The struggle against poverty, unemployment, price inflation and hunger is linked with the struggle to transform society and build socialism.

The struggle for freedom, democracy, fundamental rights and for political and social transformation, to solve the problems faced by Pakistan’s working class and poor masses, is a struggle to change the system. This means a struggle against capitalism, feudalism, imperialism and rightwing reactionary forces both within and outside the state structures – all at the same time. These are interlinked with each other; any effort to defeat one of them will fail because the others will come to its rescue.

Benazir Bhutto stamped her authority on the party during this struggle, becoming an icon of democracy and resistance. The PPP went through many highs and lows under her leadership. She managed to maintain a certain degree of charisma and popular support among the people.

I criticised Benazir Bhutto’s politics and policies when she was leading the party. But I have always admired her courage and struggle. She was a brave and charismatic leader who stood for the democratic, constitutional and fundamental human and economic rights of the people. She was a true democratic leader who fought against dictators for democracy without any fear.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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