February 4, 2013 By Pp Najiya

Benazir: The Question of Women and Power

benazir“When I first became prime minister I wanted to show a woman can be as good as a man. I think it is important to be a woman because woman brings nurturing aspects”
-Benazir  Bhutto

Even five years after Benazir Bhutto- the first ever woman to become the prime minister of a modern Islamic nation- died, we don’t know who was behind it. A suicide bomber fired shots on her and blew himself after at an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. A range of Government officials failed profoundly in their efforts first to protect Mrs. Bhutto and second to investigate with vigor all those responsible for her murder. A formal investigation by the United Nations commenced on 1 July 2009. The report concluded that the security measures provided to Bhutto by the government were “fatally insufficient and ineffective”. Furthermore, the report states that the treatment of the crime scene after her death “goes beyond mere incompetence. Police actions and omissions, including the hosing down of the crime scene and failure to collect and preserve evidence, inflicted irreparable damage to the investigation. the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms. Bhutto’s assassination were, in most cases, deliberate” it declared. Pakistan’s streets roared the day after her death “ America trained its dog, the one in uniform”.

Zulfikhar Ali  chose Benazir to carry his political mantle over the family’s eldest son. After father’s death she led and kept the PPP(Pakistan people party) alive against many odds during and after the dark years of the obscurantist dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. Apart from the military, bureaucrats, police and politicians of the Zia establishment, religious organizations and various opposition parties were not in favour of the leadership of a woman. Many times Islam used as a weapon against her by Zia and both his religious and political allies. He could not use anything other than her gender against politically established, moden educated, popular, inheritor of Bhutto- that islam doesn’t allow women to rule the nation. She was confronted opponents and detractors many times on the ground that women are treated by the Quran as inferior to men and cannot function as a ruler under Shariah even though she was politically entrenched.
In his book, ‘The trial of Benazir’, Dr. Rafeeq zakariya narrates arguments of both her supporters and opponents in a court room presenting the trial as in a theatre. Legendary figures in theology, scholasticism and politics from Islam’s past and present including Muhammed Qutub, Ali Shariati, Yusuf Ali, Maryam Jameelah, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan come up with their arguments. Supreme Sharia Council for the trial constitutes imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi, Imam Hanbel, Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim and Imam Gazzali. A. K Brohi who appears on behalf of sayyid sulaiman nadwi and the 40 ulama of Pakistan defending their opinion that the head of an Islamic state must be a Muslim male. He brings a number of scholars and theologists like Abul a’la maududi, Ihthisamul Haq, Fareed Wajdi etc for whom  Benazir is not a proper Muslim in the sense that she has violated every known canon of Islam by her conduct and her style of living; also , as a woman she is debarred by Shariah to be ruler. Though the book is part fictional, it projects certain facts about the views on satus of women in islam. At the end of trial a verdict comes in favor of Benazir but only in the story, not in reality.

However, she decided to face the system and accepted the challenge to guide people in the transition from military dictatorship to the management of democracy.  Declaring “democracy is the greatest revenge”, her government gave a high priority to social sectors like health, education, clean drinking water, sanitation and energy.  The budgetary allocations in these sectors were increased so that fruits of democracy and freedom could reach the common man.  Similarly, in the domain of foreign policy, her government pursued an aggressive and dynamic policy. Twice she became the Prime minister(1988 and 1993) but both the governments didn’t last long. Corruption and nepotism deeply ran inside the Cabinet and financial crises including huge debts in IMF led her way out. But her failure was not the failure of a woman, but rather that of a politician who had to rule one of the most corruptible states in the subcontinent along with a hostile president and suspicious military.

“Bhutto” a documentary directed by Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara packs an impressive amount of information about Bhutto, her family and Pakistani history into its 111 minutes. Her western friends including Mark Siegel, Ariannna Huffington, Tariq Ali, Christina Lamb, Amy Wilents, Shuja Nawaz, Reza Aslan etc appear in this biographical documentary with their experiences and views on pakistan politics and Bhutto. Somewhere in the documentary we see Pakistani walls with Posters saying “She is a princess and he is a play boy”which appeared when she became the prime minister for the first time. They spoke the very same opinion that he, Asif Ali Zardari(Benazir’s husband) is less masculine since “he” had a position which was inferior to “her”. Complexities of gender question come repeatedly when we go through different events of her life. Asif Ali Zardari quotes the army chief who told him secretly that “army doesn’t like saluting a woman. So if she could make you the prime minister we could accommodate and there wouldn’t be a problem”. Nobody could defeat her by portraying as “incapable” and “disqualified” by using gender as a weapon. Nothing less than bullets could stop her from fighting for democracy.

Posted in: Woman