[Image from the AFP]
More than 100,000 grieving Pakistanis gathered at the mausoleum of former PM Benazir Bhutto in honor of her death anniversary today. According to Dawn, “A sea of mourners, some wailing and beating their chests in a wrenching outpouring of emotion, flooded through security checkpoints into the mausoelum in rural southern Garhi Khuda Bakhsh for the commemoration.” AAJ Television cited statements made by President Asif Ali Zardari [Bhutto’s widower] during his address to the nation. He said, “In the tradition of a true Benazir Bhutto, she faced certain death rather than abandon her principles or the people…The tyrants and the killers have killed her but they shall never be able to kill her ideas, which drove and inspired a generation to lofty aims.”
Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and suicide attack as she left a campaign rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. At the time, she had been campaigning to bring her party, the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP] to power in the country’s parliamentary elections. According to Dawn, “Benazir is buried alongside her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former premier who was hanged in 1979 by the country’s military regime. Her brothers Shahnawaz and Murtaza, who died in violent circumstances, are also buried in the tomb.”
Some media outlets provided more personalized accounts of Bhutto’s mourners in their coverage. The AFP noted that Tariq Waseem, a 25-year-old student from Balochistan, walked about 400 kilometres (250 miles) over 10 days with about a dozen friends in order to be at Saturday’s event. But unlike his friends, he walked barefoot. He told the news agency, “These are not painful,” pointing with pride at blisters covering his soles. “These are a gift from my martyred leader.”
At the site, GEO Television reported, “Various stalls have been set up where the people are purchasing posters and badges with photographs of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Cassettes of her speeches and songs in BB’s and PPP’s praise were also on high sale.” The Nation added in its coverage, “One year on, Pakistan’s reverence for Bhutto continues unabated — television programs about her life have been running for days, and the government has issued a 10-rupee coin and stamps bearing her portrait.” An interesting article in the Daily Times, entitled, “BB Remembered through Songs and Her Speeches,” reported,
Since Bhutto’s assassination, around 56 audio and video albums focusing on her life and paying tribute to her have appeared in the market. Different companies, like KTN, Marvi production, Jan production, Naz production and Sindh TV, have produced these compilations. Ironically, the CD/DVD release of her last speech delivered at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, just minutes before her assassination is a major super hit. According to the records of the wholesale dealers at Rainbow center, “Daughter of the East” (an audio/video compilation) has sold more then 3.3 million copies to date.
The ceremonies today are expected to culminate with special prayers at 05:20 p.m. [PST], “about the time Benazir was attacked,” Dawn noted. Security precautions have reportedly been taken to ward off potential violence today. Dawn reported in its coverage, “A special wall has been erected around the mausoleum as part of a raft of precautions taken to safeguard President Zardari. Closed-circuit cameras have been installed, and mourners were required to pass through metal detectors.”
Benazir’s assassination was an immense tragedy for Pakistan, regardless of what your political affiliation or past feelings were towards the former PM. Her death was actually what inspired me to create CHUP. In my first post, written several weeks after Bhutto’s assasination, I noted, “Today, assassinations of former Pakistani leaders are a tragedy not just because of the person or persons involved but because of the moderate voice that was extinguished in the process.” Benazir’s return to the Pakistani political stage last year was without a doubt courageous, not just because she inspired supporters of her own party, but because she did it in the face of militant death threats and daily violence. She did not hide behind the safety of closed doors. She delivered many of her speeches in large rallies that inspired those at the grassroots level. Although this populist approach essentially ended her life [she was shot as she left her political rally], she became a larger-than-life figure after her death, evidenced by the countless numbers of people that have gathered to commemorate her death anniversary. So, today, remember what Benazir Bhutto symbolized – someone not afraid to stand up for her country and for her people, regardless of what forces stood against her.