“My return heralds for the people of Pakistan the turn of the wheel from dictatorship to democracy, from exploitation to empowerment, from violence to peace.” These were the words of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto before landing back on her homeland on 18th of October, 2007.
The fearless and visionary leader of Pakistan was about to start the second chapter of her political struggle but the then dictator was uncomfortable on her return and did not provide her adequate security. Her welcome was turned into a devastating sight after terrorists targeted her motorcade.
No matter how many years may have passed, the grief of the Karsaz attack has not faded away. The ‘Daughter of the East’ dressed in patriotic green and white landed in Karachi after eight long years of exile. Her return stimulated a sense of hope amongst the people of Pakistan. Almost one million people were on the streets of Karachi to receive the brave woman who had challenged a dictator who considered himself irreplaceable. “Bibi aye gi rozgaar laye gi” was a very popular phrase amongst the working class.
The scene of her return was quite an emotional one, similar to that of her return on 10th of April, 1986 in Lahore. It was like déjà vu for all those who had witnessed the scenes of her reception earlier in Lahore. Despite fear looming large, Karachi looked festive on her arrival – with hopes for a peaceful and better Pakistan. No danger or threat could ever stop the brave Bhutto as she never stepped back from her commitment. She was of the belief that Pakistan and terrorism cannot go together.
The optics of her return were quite emotional. It was definitely a tough time for a leader of her stature to stay away from her country for such a long time.. Before her return she expressed her concerns while addressing a press conference in Dubai: “The internal situation is very dangerous and there is tension and danger on our frontiers. My heart hurts seeing [our] poor people without bread, clothing and shelter.”
I still recall the October 18 event as I was accompanied by my father who led a rally towards Shahrah-e-Faisal to welcome SMBB. Slogans of ‘Welcome BB’ were raised all around and there was a sense of celebration in the air. SMBB was waving and smiling towards the people while on the truck; the rally was moving slowly as the road was jam packed. Nobody could imagine that a peaceful procession would turn into a devastating nightmare; around 180 people losing their lives with 500 injured.
The twin deadly blasts that shook the nation was a cowardly attack by terrorists, but the brave leader reached out the next day to the grieving families for condolence and also visited hospitals to inquire about the health of the injured victims.
The Karsaz attack did not take apart her courage but rather she went all out campaigning vigorously for the 2008 general elections. She reached out to each and every corner of Pakistan and gathered massive public support. Despite threats, she remained committed to restoring democracy in Pakistan; her connection with the public was phenomenal.
Musharraf started to feel the heat as he became unpopular with each passing day. It was written on the wall that SMBB would win the 2008 general elections and become prime minister for the third time. Despite all the obstacles and threats, she dared to face the hostile dictator. In 2007, her children were young and needed her most, but she decided to return to her homeland for the sake of democracy. There are few leaders in history who have sacrificed their lives for their country, and SMBB is one of them. She was indeed a resilient leader; when Musharraf imposed emergency on Nov 3, 2007, she immediately returned from Dubai and faced the challenge.
Even after 14 years of the heart-wrenching Karsaz attack, the grief is still there and the wounds are still raw. Later, in Rawalpindi the magnificent leader was martyred by the same terror group to which today PM Khan wants to give amnesty. It is appalling to see that.
Today, Bilawal Bhutto is the torch bearer of his mother’s vision; each year on the same day he pays homage to the martyrs of the Karsaz attack. Therefore, before even thinking about giving amnesty to such terror groups permission must be sought from the people of Pakistan who lost their leader and the families of 180 martyrs of Karaz attack and Bilawal Bhutto whose mother was a victim of terrorism. Musharraf who said that the politics of Benazir Bhutto was over is himself living in obscurity whereas SMBB is still living in the hearts of millions – proving that history only remembers the brave.
The writer is a columnist and social activist.