December 27, India, Journal
I was writing about my time in Jaipur for this column in a chilly room
six thousand feet high in a hotel room surrounded by pine trees in Simla, a
mile away from my childhood home when the phone rang.
My Pakistan-born cousin Sonia, who lives in Bhopal, was on the line.
She asked if I had heard what had happened in Pakistan. Another bomb
attack? I asked thinking of yesterday’s news.
“No, it’s Benazir. She’s been killed.
“By two men who shot her five times with AK 47s after a rally in
Rawalpindi. She was getting into the car after the rally. We heard she saw
them coming. She ducked. She got a bullet in the neck. She was alive for 40
She said all of Pakistan was in a state of shock, whether or not they
supported her. Whatever she was, whatever charges of corruption she faced,
she didn’t deserve to die.
My questions ran into one another, as they do after a death, a kind of
magical thinking of deconstruction, as if a minor detail in the re-telling,
could restore her to life, roll back time to moments before her
assassination and keep her there. I asked the obvious.
“Who did it? Why?”
My cousin said it could be anyone. “It could be the fundamentalists, the
Taliban or al-Qaeda who are strongly against a woman being in power as
Benazir herself said a few days back.
Or it could be an extremist from President Musharraf’s party. She told
Musharraf she suspected some of his people were plotting to kill her.
In God’s hands
Or it could be someone from the army. At a time when there is so much
anti- American feeling in Pakistan Benazir openly sided with the west
against fundamentalism and stood for a democratic Pakistan.
Over dinner I informed my father Mahendra, who, only earlier in the day,
had recalled that he had met her years ago in this hill station in Simla.
She was a stunning 27-year-old Oxford graduate travelling with her father.
A former Indian army officer who has fought in two wars against Pakistan,
he was so shocked he couldn’t eat. My mother Zia who lived in Pakistan as a
child was speechless.
Bhutto’s assassination is a blow to women everywhere who believe they are
as entitled as men to take their place in the world.
It is almost a fatal stab against democracy in this shattered part of the
world where recent reports have indicated that American aid is going towards
buying more weapons rather helping the mass of poverty-stricken people.
That’s why we all take it personally. We will all remember where we were
when Benazir was assassinated.
In Delhi we visited the spot Mahatma Gandhi was shot. I peeped through
the bars at the spot where I met Indira Gandhi with my parents and brother,
it also was where she was shot.
With family both in India and Pakistan and witnessing the grief the
Indians have expressed on this assassination has made me realise yet again,
another deep contradiction of this sub-continent, Firstly, how knitted
together the people are and how artificial this divide between the two
countries is. Secondly, how corrosive fundamentalism is to democracies.
Bhutto was known to stand at her father’s grave and vow to return
Pakistan to democracy.
She said in various interviews that she understood the risk to her life
but believed she had a duty to fulfil and that God alone would decide on her
Her bravery is now her legacy to Pakistan.