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June 21, 2021

Remembering Shaheed BB

June 21, 2021

Fourteen years after the martyrdom of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, “Zinda hai BB, zinda hai” still echoes in political rallies and every day, in the hearts of her party-workers. I often think that indeed, Shaheed BB still lives in our thoughts and memories.

Every year, June 21 is marked as her birthday and cakes are cut to pay tribute to this phenomenal woman, who was the pride of Pakistan nationally and internationally. Despite a known threat to her life, she chose to return to her people for the sake of democracy and rule of law. Her sacrifice will be remembered in the history of Pakistan forever as part of Bhutto family’s irrefutable contribution towards restoration of democracy.

During her tenure as prime minister, she created employment opportunities and helped numerous people who had nowhere else to turn to. Today, all those whose lives she touched remember her with deep respect. Shaheed BB is an example of a true leader who stays alive in the hearts of the people long after leaving this world. Her generosity is also evident in her ideology of reconciliation instead of revenge.

There are countless instances from the life of Shaheed BB that are a testimony to her courage and struggles for democracy. She never gave in to the pressures of military regimes and firmly stood by her ideologies, almost as an article of faith – she protected her vision with her life.

On January 14, 1984, Shaheed BB reached Heathrow Airport in London after five years of jail and house-arrest where she received a very warm welcome from her supporters. On this occasion, she spoke to the media and said, “Pakistan is my homeland. I will live and die there. I have come to Britain to seek medical treatment. In Zia’s martial law, I stayed in confinement for five years and now I am breathing freely in a free country. After consultation with party leaders here, I will decide on the future course of action. Pakistan People’s Party does not belong to any single individual but it belongs to the people of Pakistan. I will return to Pakistan as soon as my treatment ends.”

Only a few days after arriving in London, I received a call from Sanam Bhutto that BB was looking for me. Shaheed BB asked me if I wanted to work with her as her spokesperson. I was humbled by this proposal and accepted. Her guidance taught me a lot and gave me a fulfilling mission in life.

Whenever she spoke about her struggles against oppression by dictators, there were never tears in her eyes and she never wallowed in self-pity. When she would talk about her time in the jail, she always remembered her party workers awaiting punishment in the Pakistani jails. She never forgot the need to fight for her people, staying true to the legacy of her father, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She said that autocracy had to be finished and if that meant her going to jail then she would do it again and again. She raised her voice for a democratic Pakistan on multiple forums internationally and helped establish a strong base for the PPP around the globe.

In 1986, she rendered everyone speechless when during a television interview she said that despite the oppressive tactics of General Zia, she would not resort to politics of revenge. The TV anchor repeated his question and asked that even though Zia hanged her father and kept her in jail, would she still not take revenge? She replied she did not believe in revenge, and this was the difference between Zia and her. When the next morning we went out for breakfast, she was received by a crowd of people who highly appreciated Shaheed BB’s response.

On April 10, 1986, when BB landed in Lahore, she asked me to exit first and see the situation regarding police behaviour. The area was surrounded by the police and along with some other party leaders, I became part of the historic welcome procession that reached Minar-e-Pakistan for a jalsa. In the general elections of 1988, the PPP’s victory was a watershed moment when democracy won against terror and oppression. Shaheed BB became the first woman prime minister in the Muslim World, a proud moment for everyone who supported a progressive and democratic Pakistan.

Shaheed BB instructed her party workers to maintain an attitude of respect towards their rivals. She set a unique example for the future political leaders of our country, staying true to her great political stature by forgiving her rivals. Her legacy is a lesson that verbal or physical abuse, personally maligning opponents or other modes of vengeance should be discouraged by political leaders. They should remember the conduct of Shaheed BB and refrain from stooping to the level of common ruffians.

As I look back, I recall aspects of BB’s personality that I was fortunate to witness personally. Her generous and empathetic nature is evident from her behaviour with others. She regularly celebrated my birthday until December of 2007, the year she passed away, and now only her memories are left behind. In an international conference in Portugal, she was paid tribute in these words, “Amongst all the stars in the sky, you alone are the shining star.”

On this occasion of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s birthday, let us remember this great political leader and her legacy of selflessness, respect, and steadfastness on her ideology for her land where the tree of democracy is flourishing today, nourished with the blood of the Bhuttos.

The writer is the former press secretary of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.