Courage & politics

I recently read an article justifying Asfandyar Wali’s departure from Pakistan to the UK written by Gulmina Bilal of the ANP, dated Oct 27. That prompted me to write this piece to highlight Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s courage. On Ms Bilal’s article I shall only say that if Asfandyar, who has been a great friend of mine, had one good adviser, that person would have stood between him and the plane that took him to UK.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto’s security concerns increased manifold as the time for her scheduled return to Pakistan on Oct 1 of last year drew closer. She had herself realized that the threat to her life was real and despite all that she landed at Karachi on schedule. Little did she know that within hours bombs meant to kill her would kill over 170 people within yards of her vehicle. And even when that happened, she faced it with exemplary courage, visited the injured in hospital as well as condoling with the families who lost loved ones.

From my days as her intelligence chief I remember vividly that she would brush aside any fears expressed by law-enforcement agencies about her personal safety and would always say that her life was in the hands of Allah. She said she could not remove herself from the down-trodden because she was their leader.

Once, in early 1995, when we were to leave the prime minister’s chambers in the National Assembly for Sindh House, which had served as the Prime Minister’s House in her first tenure, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto started walking out of the National Assembly instead of going to the car park. We all walked with her with traffic flowing as usual. I am sure the people who saw her while driving past must have been pleasantly surprised to see the prime minister walking past them on the footpath. When we walked past Frontier House I remember having said, with reference to her first government’s dismissal, that walking towards Sindh House reminded me of the bad old days and she smiled and said: “You know Masood, they were not bad days despite all that happened, they were really the good old days”.

On August 6, 1990, when her first government was being dismantled and the army was taking over the then Prime Minister’s House (now Sindh House), I was with her. It was around 5pm and her face was full of fight and determination. I am proud that I served a lady who was, without the slightest doubt, the bravest of all political leaders of Pakistan. She would probably share that honour with only one other person, her father Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Both, towards the end, knew of the impending personal disasters awaiting them yet they chose to sacrifice their lives for the people. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto lived with the people of Pakistan and she died among the people of Pakistan despite the fact that she could, like many other so-called leaders, have stayed away from the dangers that were stalking her day and night.

Gulmina Bilal wrote that ANP ministers were being smart by not flying the national flag on their cars. I have to highlight here a grand old courageous man called General Nasirullah Babar who was Ms Bhutto’s interior minister. In 1995, during the counter insurgency operation in Karachi, I travelled many a time with Gen Babar in his car right through Karachi when violence there was as intense as it now is in NWFP. I had a huge organization to provide me with whatever security I would want and General Babar commanded the Rangers and the Sindh police. Yet, it was Gen Babar, I and the driver in that car which always flew the national flag. This was the first step towards restoring Pakistan’s lost writ over Karachi in 1995-96 because it signalled that Pakistan was strong and that it would fulfill its responsibility to ensure security for its citizens.

If the national flag has to be concealed in order to protect the ministers then what confidence can the people have in those who are scared of flying the great Pakistani flag? Some risks have to be taken by people handling the destiny of the nation. The national flag cannot go into hiding. If that happens too much is surrendered. The masses then feel abandoned.

I propose that the federal government award the Nishan-e-Shujaat to Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. It will only amount to a token of national recognition of her courage.

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