December 27, 2020, marks the 13th death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto, who was not only a popular democratic leader of Pakistan but also a source of pride and strength for Muslims of the world. A charismatic woman, she went about articulating the collective human desire for global peace and progress during her proactive political career from the ’80s through the ’90s until the fateful day of December 27, 2007.
As the Muslim world’s first woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto was living proof of a Muslim nation’s willingness to be elected by a woman leader—a reality that is yet to be realized in much of the liberal world. She was a testimony of Islam’s compatibility with democracy and gender equality, and an advocate for reconciliation between Islamic and non-Islamic societies.
A graduate of Harvard and Oxford, also elected as President of Oxford Union, Benazir Bhutto led Pakistan’s democratic struggle for almost three decades after the hanging of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had laid the foundations of populist politics in the country back in the ’70s. In 1988, she was elected as prime minister of the second largest Muslim nation, the first such instance in over 14 centuries of Islamic history. In June 1989, Benazir Bhutto also got the distinction of being the first-ever woman leader to address the Joint Session of the US Congress.
During her second stint as prime minister, Benazir Bhutto’s fight for the right of subjugated Muslims in the world took her to Bosnia, where the Muslim people were facing the threat of extinction at the hands of Serbs. In February 1994, she accompanied Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller to the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, where they jointly called for the lifting of the arms embargo that prevented Muslims from defending themselves. She did not stop there, as Pakistan under her leadership financially contributed to the establishment of the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, where Karadzic stands trial for war crimes today.
Benazir Bhutto’s practical approach to finding lasting solutions to humanitarian disasters aside, when it came to the issue of women emancipation on the global stage, she was always at the forefront of the world debate. Women of the world would never forget her pioneering role at the September 1994 UN International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in prioritizing issues of family values and gender equality in its Plan of Action. The Action Plan of the Cairo Conference became the basis of subsequent UN initiatives, including the Millennium Development Goals, for alleviating poverty in poor countries, achieving sustainable economic development, and saving the planet from ecological disaster.
With her innate leadership charisma, personal charm, and global appeal, Benazir Bhutto was the best Pakistanis could offer the world in terms of narrowing down the gap between our reality as a resilient nation and our image as a dogmatic people. She was likewise the best of the progressive voices that the Muslim world could offer in the then heated global debates on the Clash of Civilizations, with her intellectual contributions to resolving the crisis within the world of Islam as well as the so-called clash between Islam and the West.
It is for these very purposes that Benazir Bhutto reportedly spent the morning of her last day finishing the final draft of her book Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West published two months after her tragic demise. This is the story of a courageous woman and her struggle for democracy and moderation in Islam. The work offers a bold new agenda for how to stem the tide of extremism and rediscover the values of tolerance and justice that lie at the heart of our great faith Benazir Bhutto’s zest for spreading the true values of Islam as a peaceful and tolerant religion and dialogue instead of Clash among Civilizations was reinforced by the terrorist events of 9/11. She offered a pragmatic, balanced, and visionary way to tackle terrorism and prevent clashes within the Muslim world and its relationship with the West.
Benazir Bhutto’s quest for liberal democracy, religious tolerance, and perpetual peace at home and at the global stage was a terrorists’ nightmare. She always believed that extremism and terrorism flourished under dictatorship, and therefore, castigated the West for supporting dictators in the Muslim world.
Democracy, to her, was the best antidote to terrorism. And her struggle for this very idea is what eventually cost her own life.
Now, each year, when we mourn Benazir Bhutto’s brutal assassination at the hands of obscurantist terrorists, perhaps the greatest tribute to her is to recall her glorious legacy and to remind us about what she stood for and finally died for. No one can fill the leadership vacuum in the People’s Party created since her demise. Benazir Bhutto’s legacy will continue to inspire not just Pakistanis and Muslims but all other people who aspire to live in a more peaceful and prosperous world. It is this legacy that will eventually defeat the forces of darkness
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