Once one gets past the arresting beauty of the graveyard of martyrs in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, the realisation that it should never have been there sinks in. Indeed the mausoleum has tales of incredible courage and loss; however, it also is a story of shame. Our collective shame; had we not as a country, as a people killed them, there would not have been a graveyard of martyrs. The graves of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto are a scathing indictment of our murderous state and complicity of its people.
In my opinion, the best piece of writing by a Pakistani political leader is Dearest Daughter, the last letter written by ZAB to BB on her twenty-fifth birthday. It is written as a father, yet by a father who is also, perhaps, the greatest leader Pakistan has ever had. Read it and weep, not only because ZAB was ‘murdered’ soon after. Weep, not only because no Pakistani leader today can write or speak with this eloquence. Never mind that when it was written he had been in solitary confinement for 12 months and in the death cell for three. Weep, the daughter to whom it was addressed was to be murdered and the father knew that she probably would be.
There is disturbing prescience in that letter. Writing about Indira Gandhi and BB he writes, “One thing you have in common; both of you are equally brave. Both of you are made of pure damascene steel. But where will your talent take you? Normally it should take you to the very top. But we are living in a society where talent is a drawback and suffocating mediocrity an asset… if things do not change, there will be nothing left to change. Either power must pass to the people or everything will perish.” Nothing changed, suffocating mediocrity won, at least that round.
They never gave BB the chance to write that last letter. Yet, the message seemed to have been communicated and communicated well. I do not claim to be objective on the matter; neither do I feel the need to be objective on murder. Differences in political leaning and grievances with this government aside, Bilawal Bhutto spoke with moral clarity and fearlessness, a phenomenon becoming rarer by the day. Who else today can mention the Bashir Bilour, Sher-e-Punjab Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti or even Malala without apologetic fumbling? One major criticism that whiskered veterans can find is that he is ‘too young’? And that somehow is supposed to be a bad thing. Bhagat Singh only lived for all of 24 years. One would expect that ‘national’ political leaders twice his age would have been ashamed at their failure to condemn in the same tone and lucidity the murderers of Taseer, Bhatti and those who attempted to kill Malala. Yet, they have the nerve to mock him for being young. They did that with BB. The same frustration, the same burning is palpable today; the response now as it was then is “Dilan teer bija”. She was supposed to be too young to take on Ziaul Haq and his cohorts. She did and defeated them or at least went down fighting.
A more serious criticism is that of dynastic politics. Let us not pretend now that almost all politics in Pakistan is not dynastic. Those, whose kids are not old enough, have brothers and brothers-in-law at the helm. Admittedly, this is no excuse. Yet, it might be instructive to look at this dynasty. Is it a coincidence that all members of a family (barring one) are murdered? Even now, only members of PPP and the ANP are murdered. It is not because of their ‘corruption’ and ‘poor governance’; they have been punished and still continue to be punished for their courage. Whatever their other faults maybe, they die for affirming their resolve of looking the terrorists in the eye and not backing down. Unfortunately for them, and for us, we live in a country where cowardice is a virtue and valour punishable by death. In the words of Faiz, “Nisar mein teri gallion pay aay watan, ke jahan chali hai rasm kay koi na sar utha kay challay,” (“I give my life to your alleys, O nation, where custom now dictates that one walk with head bowed”).
It is a dynasty of blood. It is a cursed throne. Bilawal Bhutto knows that, he after all, was speaking in the graveyard of martyrs, all from his own family. BB did not inherit this country. Her father was ‘murdered’, she and her mother jailed and persecuted. She was ‘elected’ (helpful to remind oneself from time to time) by the people of Pakistan after a decade-long struggle. What smooth transfer of ‘dynastic’ power? Bilawal is too young and in politics because her mother was martyred. Some price to pay for the throne. Who would choose that for themselves? If we want to end dynasties in Pakistan, or as it seems more particularly this dynasty, we can start by stop killing the Bhuttos.
The speech of Bilawal Bhutto came soon after the circus recently conducted in Lahore and the general atmosphere of fear and confusion; this is fresh air. It was the best, most clear headed speech made in Pakistan in the last five years. This will not solve all the problems that this country faces. The legitimate grievances against the present government remain and have to be repeated. However, his speech does mean that the blood of Bilour, Taseer and BB has not been in vain. We are not completely dead yet. There still remains hope. He has giant shoes to fill and we will know in due course how he fares. Nonetheless, he is off to a very promising start. BB would have been proud. Let me end by quoting again from ZAB’s letter to BB, also something Bilawal Bhutto would hopefully remember. “Your grandfather taught me the politics of pride; your grandmother taught me the politics of poverty. I am beholden to both for the fine synthesis. To you, my darling daughter, I give only one message. It is the message of the morrow, the message of history. Believe only in the people, work only for their emancipation and equality.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2012.