As the cold steel of the tall gate started piercing into my skin, the reality dawned on me. There were hundreds of women pushing me. The cameraman, five police and a couple of security men who had formed a protective hand circle around me to save me from the mob were failing to stop the shouting and clamoring women. Their chants were not “Jiya Bhutto” as they had been all day and the night before, the mantra this time was, “Bahir wanj”, Sindhi for “We want to go outside”. As the horror of an approaching stampede emerged on me, a cold wave of panic traveled up my spine. There were hundreds of them and were eager to smash anything in their way if they were not allowed to get out. With the maximum strength of my lungs, I screamed at the policemen and security officials. “Open up the door, NOW” As if they could read the panic my eyes, or maybe they could finally foresee the madness of the bizarre incident, that they instantly complied and the big door opened with a loud clutter. Some divine intervention of intelligence guided me to start running as fast as I could ahead of the maddening crowd zealously following me finding their way out. The moments that followed have almost been wiped off from my memory due to the frenzy but all I can recollect is that as I regained my senses I realized my bag had been lost. But I was safe apart from the few glistening scars on my arms and ankles. And that is what mattered at that time.
The date was twenty seventh of Decembers and the time was quarter to four pm. Just less than an hour before Bilawal Bhutto’s speech was to be delivered at the mausoleum where his mother and grandfather were sleeping eternally. The feted heir to the grand dynasty that had been bestowed upon him precisely five years ago almost at the same hour when his mother Benazir Bhutto, two time former Prime Minister of Pakistan, had been killed in a bomb blast miles away in the city of Rawalpindi. Benazir, in her place, had bequeathed her position from her father, also a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
It was here, in Larkana that Benazir’s remains were brought after her tragic death just as she had predicted. Benazir Bhutto writes in her book, The daughter of East, that her father Zulfikar Bhutto would always remind her during their visits to the family graveyard that her bones belonged to Larkana. She could travel the world, but bones remained a keepsake for Larkana. And as a true martyr who shone above all her contemporaries in her death, she was brought back to these grounds where five years on, the preparations for her son’s takeover of the party made by her father was underway on a grand scale. But the price of these bones result in the frightening reality of what we call dynastic politics in Pakistan.
Five years ago, Bilawal Bhutto was a teenage undergraduate fresher at Oxford University planning his Christmas holidays with friends, as students will indulging in “usual” and “normal” activities of boys of his age. But that one moment in time which resulted in the murder of his mother, transformed him from obscurity to becoming the leader of his murdered mother’s party and a key player in the future of Pakistan, a country he hardly lived in with a national language he never made his priority to learn. The party was conferred on his mother in eerily similar circumstances in 1979 with the unnatural death of his grandfather. In such dynastic politics, it was now the son’s time to rise.
The women who I have mentioned earlier were the locals but they can also be called mere threads in the large network of dynastic system plaguing Pakistan. Like herds of sheep, they had been sitting in the grounds waiting for the blessed son Bilawal Bhutto to unravel the divine design which will make their future. However, also like mere humans which they were, they had wanted to go home for a few minutes or so they claimed. One of them had a sick daughter, she told me, and another had an ailing mother. Some were afraid of their in-laws, some were just tired and had wanted to call it a day. They were a small number compared to the thousands crouched inside, and one would have thought it was their human right to take a break or retire. Someone as educated and well versed with modern norms of life like the young Mr. Bhutto would have understood their obligations but the policemen and security officials were thinking otherwise. They were not even allowing me to go outside let alone the “escapers”. While I negotiated with them at the Iron Gate, the women had started crowding behind me in the hope to sneak out. This is how the mob which I later escaped had started building up.
Yet while the voice of dissent was outside, it would have been lost in the loud and sky reaching chants of jiyay Bhutoo and Long Live Bilawal that rang aloud in the huge grounds inside the iron gate. It was almost an ethereal experience. As I had stood recording there, I heard Benazir Bhutto’s recorded voice blasting out of huge speakers planted there, “Zinda hay Bhutto, zinda hay”. The voice sounded so forceful that despite standing with the graves of Benazir’s and Zulfiqar Bhutto’s, even I felt for a moment that the Bhuttos were actually alive. But why do we have to keep the name alive rather than the philosophy and the teachings? Why much ado about the name?
None had the audacity to ask this question that afternoon. Bilawal Bhutto’s career kick started with an impassioned speech rife with reminders of who he was rather than what he would do for the people.” I, Benazir’s son, ask you, where are my mother’s killers?”, he asked the enthralled crowd. “With Benazir Bhutto as my witness,” he declaimed, “I promise you that the [Pakistan People’s Party] will never fear terrorists or bow to dictators.” The crowd roared, his father, the President of Pakistan beamed with obvious pride and senior PPP officials eagerly hailed him like King’s men would hail the Prince in a Kingdom. Everything seemed almost perfect. The past was glorious like the lustrous dome shinning behind Bilawal, the future beaming like the sun in front and the faces of the PPP leaders glistening, and the people all chaperoned in one direction, willing to wherever their leader may take them. The jarring sound came when the Prime Minister of Pakistan Raja Pervez Ashraf said: “Bilawal will lead the caravan of the nation and the democracy,” why did he just have to “remind” us it was a democracy.
A democracy which earlier Bilawal had warned was the “best revenge”. The democracy, for which his mother had struggled all her life! The democracy, which Jeremy Paxman had sneeringly reminded him five years ago at the memorable press conference in London, would questions his position as the Chairman of PPP.
Bilawal Bhutto was only 19 years old then when he held his first press conference as joint leader of the PPP. I was present there too. The British media was a bit different than the crowd Bilawal faced at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. They had posed some tough questions about his lack of experience.
Seeking to pre-empt the obvious question, Bilawal had said then: “To those of you who consider it odd that a 19-year-old should assume such a position as the chairmanship of a political party, my response is [that] my position was based on the collective will of the party - unanimously endorsed by 50 to 60 members of our central executive committee and the federal council of the PPP. I urge you to accept that for the greater good of the party, the continuity of my family’s involvement was considered best.”
It did not stop the questions, of course. Using the incredulous tone, Jeremy Paxman almost snarled asking him what on earth the young man thought he had to offer Pakistan. Bilawal answered politely that he had been asked to do it and had been raised to it by his mother.
“He had never lived in Pakistan, so how could he have aspirations to lead at only 19? “ Paxman continued with his inquisition.
Bilawal remained composed. He never had the aspirations, he said. He had been called to do this in a moment of crisis.
He added: “If they don’t want to vote for Bhuttos, they will not vote for them. It was not my choice to live outside Pakistan, it was made impossible when my mum went into exile.” And with that word - mum - the young man almost affirmed his immaturity and with that unsuitability for the job.
The was Bilawal Bhutto five years ago.
Much has changed in the last five years yet so much remains the same including the clutches of dynastic politics around Pakistan’s future. However, what remains evident is the fact that Bilawal’s young shoulders are now also burdened by access baggage of criticism of bad governance and corruption charges against his party. While it was inequitable for a novice to be given the golden thrown of leadership, is it also fair to make him carry the burden of the crimes he never committed? That is the question the young Bhutto will have to find answer for himself. At the moment the son only rises.
The writer is the host of Eight PM with Fe’reeha Idrees on Waqt News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org