IN a country caught in a vicious circle, a good amount of time is spent pondering over ‘what could have been’. Just a few days ago, we spent Dec 25, the Quaid’s birthday, imagining what Pakistan’s founder could have achieved had he not died so soon after the country’s birth.
On Jan 5 — which is Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s birthday — the topic will be the late leader’s contribution to popular politics, his successes and blunders, and, of course, his unfulfilled promise.
Today, on Dec 27, on the seventh death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, the talk will focus on how we lost her just when she showed signs of a maturity worthy of national leadership.
It is not a question of comparison with other popular leaders of the past; the feeling, compounded by the wide posthumous approval of Benazir, is that she was brutally taken away from us at a time when the country was in dire need of her.
Much of this approval can be ascribed to our tendency to accept the merit of a politician when he or she is no more. All three politicians mentioned were less controversial, in fact the subject of unconditional reverence, when they were not there to counter anyone’s politics.
So what is it that we now surmise Benazir could have achieved had she taken up the reins of government in 2008? There is agreement that as the force behind the Charter of Democracy she would have shunned confrontation (of the 1990s, lest we forget) and promoted reconciliation. But then, despite all the respect that she has received in recent years, there is some truth to the argument that it was she who initiated compromise and a taming of the old PPP, manifest in her ‘deal’ with Pervez Musharraf.
Her heir, Asif Ali Zardari, it is argued, was only following her lead when he solicited partnerships with political opponents of all stripes and when he made ‘ideological adjustments’.
Yes, Mr Zardari lacked Benazir’s charisma, and even more importantly, her reputation. That has led to comparisons between his recent troubled stint, and how it could have been had Benazir been there to spearhead this country through a full term in office, something she was never allowed to do.
But more than that, what many are missing is Benazir Bhutto the opposition leader. It was a role in which she made so much sense — just like her party which has since been replaced by Mr Zardari’s passive PPP, which offers the people across Pakistan little in its latest avatar.
It is a more fearful than careful player who is too wise for its own good. Meanwhile, a very large number of Pakistanis would find it difficult to even imagine Benazir abstaining from opposition politics which had been the PPP’s forte. Every time Mr Zardari so proudly claims to be not doing politics he creates a longing for the past and for what could have been.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2014