Just few days before she was brutally gun downed on that fateful day of 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto was able to finalize the manuscript of her last epic book, “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy & the West”. In the foreword note of the book per se, Mark Siegel – her friend of a long standing - mentions that this book was written under extraordinary circumstances and that this book was very important to her. He also adds that Benazir was convinced that the battles between democracy and dictatorship, and between extremism and moderation, were the two central forces of the new millennium. He also adds that she believed that under dictatorship, extremism flourished and grew, threatening not only her homeland – Pakistan – but also the entire world.
The whole of the last chapter of the book per se (from pages-275 thru 318) is dedicated to the subject of reconciliation - in broader sense and perspective. In this chapter she focuses on the ways and means of bringing about reconciliation on both the fronts. She theorizes that there is much that Muslims can do to reconcile the internal contradictions that badly divide their communities in the twenty-first century. According to her, it can be achieved by charting such a course so that the Muslims can again become one of the central forces shaping the future of humanity. She suggests that the West too can bridge the gap between itself and the Muslim community by taking some concrete and specific initiatives. According to her, it is this widening gap of perception, values, and sense of compatibility which what threatens to explode into that feared epic battle of the twenty-first century. “The Islamic states, in my view, can both accommodate and reconcile with one another and with the West. It is an ambitious undertaking, but it can be done”, she opinioned.
According to her, the perception of the West by the Muslims of the world is deeply problematic. The problem is particularly intense concerning their feelings towards the United States. An abundance of data shows a steady and dramatic deterioration of approval of the United States in Muslim societies spanning at least five years. Benazir mentions in her book per se that the Pew Research Center has done consistent work on this topic demonstrating how formidable the problem of reconciling Islam and the West will be, in particular Muslims and the United States. The more detailed data are equally disturbing. The U.S. led war on terror is perceived, right or wrong, in much of the Muslim world as a war on Islam. The long-range problem seems to basically occur on the restoration of trust.
It is however heartening to note that President Obama and his administration are quite alive to cognizant of all of the above. This is the reason soon after assuming the Presidency of the United States of America; he chose to address the Muslim nation at large – and which he did in his historic speech from Cairo-Egypt on 04 June 2009. The political critics had observed then that in his 55-minute address he was able to connect to the Muslim world largely because of the fact that he was bold enough to speak the truth. And, it was also so because of the fact that he was able to relay signal of reconciliation. It was also opinioned by some experts then that the entire tone & tenor of his speech was set against the theme of reconciliation with the Muslim world as is also suggested and focused in Benazir’s book per se.
Benazir Bhutto has always been a firm believer in and proponent of the policy of reconciliation. All her life she worked to prove the one fact that the politics of vengeance and vendetta was not her cup-of-tea. This is very true as can be witnessed from her endurance of pain and sufferings at the hands of General Zia (and his henchmen), the military dictator who had captured power on 04 July 1977, after toppling her father and the democratically elected Prime Minister of the country – Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Ever since she, her mother and other close relatives were witch hunted against, jailed and maimed during the Zia regime so much so that she was even not allowed to attend the funeral of her father who was hanged by him via what is now termed as a judicial murder. However, when her Party returned to power in 1988 and she became the youngest and the first Muslim women head of an Islamic State (after Zia’s death in plane crash) she shunned the politics of hate, vengeance, and vendetta. She adopted the course of reconciliation instead. It is now a part of record and history that all the Zia cronies, protégées and the henchmen continued to live peacefully and take active parts in politics during her regime. All of them even ganged up against her once again by forming IJI (Islamic Democratic Alliance) – a front of the right-wing and the pro-establishment political parties. They all continued to make her life both difficult and miserable. However Bhutto never ever turned to vengeance against them all. Vengeance and hate was not in her blood.
The gory tale of the witch-hunting, malicious campaign, false politically motivated court cases, and all sorts of organized injustices meted out to her and her husband Asif Zardari (now President of Pakistan) by the joint conspiracy of her political adversaries and the so-called establishment is no secret. All of these had caused great pains and mental torture to her and her family. And, because of which her husband had to spend most part of his best life in jails and she and her small kids were forced to live in self-exile – she without her husband and her kids without their father.
It’s now a part of history and record that in December 1971 General Yahya Khan had sent a plane to New York to bring back the senior Bhutto (Benazir’s father) to pick up the pieces of a broken and devastated Pakistan then. Fast forward to the last years of General Musharraf. – Yet another military dictator and power usurper. When found in abyss, Musharraf now kneeled down before another Bhutto – this time Benazir Bhutto to bail him out. Being the largest political Party, PPP and Benazir had all the political power and support to dislodge Musharraf’s government. But for Benazir Bhutto, the larger interest of the country and the region was in her mind. She very well knew that paralyzing the Musharraf government by means of mobilizing supporters on the street was a very risky thing to do. It would have done immense damage to the peace and stability of the country and at the end the poor people of Pakistan would have suffered the most. More over, General Musharraf would have easily exited, and go in exile, by handing over the reign of the country to another General; a la Ayub-Yahya model in 1969. So, despite all opposition from many (including some from within her Party), she once again opted for reconciliation with her arch foe – General Musharraf. Thus a broad reconciliation was reached with Musharraf in the larger interest of the country to get the political affairs of the country going. This explained why the now-defunct National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was passed and promulgated by Musharraf’s the then government
But alas, the enemies of Benazir Bhutto and the enemies of Pakistan and its people had some other game plan in their mind. When she reached Karachi-Pakistan on 18 October 2007, after ending her long self-exile, she was greeted with over 3 million of her supporters and a huge bomb blast planned and executed by those who hated her guts. She was not cowed down then so they finally eliminated her on that fateful day of 27 December 2007 after her impressive political rally in Rawalpindi. Benazir Bhutto is no more with us today. However, on her 57th birthday (falling on 21 June) it is relieving to note that her message of reconciliation now lives on. President Asif Zardari has strived and endeavored long enough to pursue the policy of reconciliation with all and sundries. Due to this, it has brought political stability in the country and the nation has risen up from the ashes, in the aftermath of the assassination of his wife and our leader – Benazir Bhutto. No wonder her killers silenced her – the messenger of peace and reconciliation – but could not silence her message of peace and reconciliation. BB’s legacy of reconciliation thus lives on!