Farida Shaheed, one of the founders of Shirkat Gah (a women’s resource centre in Pakistan) and WLUML (the network for women living under Muslim laws), wrote in from Pakistan. With her consent, I share this. It seems clear that despite her shortcomings, Benazir represented a hope for Pakistan that has been horrifically snuffed out.
Dear friends thank you for all your notes of concern,
As a new year starts, I sit here still numbed by the events, paralysed by the events that seem to have shut down our ability to think and act, unable to concentrate (like many others).
Only after her assassination have we come to realize just how many of our hopes were pinned on Benazir, her presence and leadership of the only mainstream party that consistently speaks of the federation, of the poor, the peasants, the workers; spoke of equality for all, especially the minorities and women. The one party with supporters until now across a deeply divided and troubled country, who gave us hope that, maybe – just maybe we could turn this nightmare around, if elections were held and if they were not entirely rigged, and if we received some breathing space…so many if’s and still we dared to hope.
I met Asma [Jahangir] on the 29th and thanked her for having inviting Benazir that night last month as soon as they lifted the house arrest on Asma and Benazir both. Asma said ‘but no, I didn’t call the meeting. Perhaps she was meant to meet us all that last time because it was she who phoned and asked for a meeting with civil society’…A meeting we were pleasantly surprised at, that left us commenting on how much she had matured. She listened to all of us with great patience and grace, answered with patience and good cheer, even some of the sillier points made/questions asked. She reserved her fire for a short passionate intervention on how the fight with the extremists was our own fight not someone else’s agenda and on how precarious Pakistan’s situation was, and how it was time to act.
And yes, it was important that she was a woman, a woman of great courage of defiance and of passion who led from the front foot (as they say in cricket). I am old enough to remember the day she became Prime Minister in 1988 and how immediately – and I do mean immediately – after eleven years of brutal and increasing oppression of women (and others) under Zia, the atmosphere shifted the sense of oppression in the streets lifted and women felt the burden lighten. And if she didn’t always deliver (and often she didn’t), as peasants said of her father, at least she made us the promises, and gave us hope.
Right now, it is difficult to foresee the future, whether and when elections will take place – what will happen during Muharram and ashura, around the corner, when nerves are ragged anyway and the menace of potential violence lurks.
We can only hope that some sense prevails somewhere, that elections are held as quickly as possible and that we find a way out of this spiral descending to madness…
Image from the Wikipedia entry on Benazir Bhutto.