Though 21st June marks Birthday of one of Pakistan’s greatest leader the former prime minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, rightly named Benazir meaning unique. This year besides her birthday the month of June has significance of completing one year of operation Zarb-e- Azb in North Waziristan aimed at cleansing Pakistan from terrorism. Benazir Bhutto was a victim of terrorism and among 50,000 innocent Pakistanis who embraced martyrdom in war against terror. Today we salute Pakistan Army who under the able leadership of General Raheel Sharif is making sincere efforts to make our beloved country Pakistan safe and secure from internal and external threats.
Today when operation Zarb-e -Azb is bearing fruits by eliminating elements of extremism I wish Benazir Bhutto was alive to see the peace in the country she always aspired for. May be if such an operation had taken place earlier her own life could have been saved. I have the highest regards for her as a leader who devoted her whole life fighting for equality and justice for all.
My memories of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto span over nearly three decades and are packed with examples of her showing respect and concern for people of Pakistan irrespective of their cast and creed. She had the courage to speak for minorities and marginalized segments of society. Being an admirer of Quaid- I –Azam’s vision of a tolerant Pakistan, where people could enjoy equal rights irrespective of cast, creed, sex and age, I always waited for a leader who could revive those principles.
It was in BB I found a true reflection of Quaid’s philosophy both in her vision and action. She was committed to making country Quaid’s Pakistan in true sense. When BB was elected for the first time in 1988 I was Mayor of Rugby. In February 1989 I was honoured by her for having invited to visit Pakistan on aa state visit along with a delegation. There she introduced me to leaders of other political parties as well.
Till the time I met BB I had absolutely no idea that an Oxford educated leader of international stature, who was born with silver spoon in mouth, could feel with such intensity about the downtrodden segments of society. When she came to Birmingham on one event she saw me sitting among audience and personally invited me on the main table. She had the courage to touch and embrace which for most of us are untouchable subjects, human rights being one among them.
A closer look at Benazir Shaheed’s political life reveals that the concept of human rights was at the very core of her political philosophy and practice. Her commitment to human rights was beyond political leaning, sans political point scoring and anchored in real needs of people of Pakistan. It was inclusive and responsive aimed at progress of people and addressed wide range of rights of people. This is an area of her life where there is less to quote from her speeches and more from the practical measures she put in place.
Her initiatives to establish first ever government owned mechanism for addressing human rights issues in the form of Human Rights Cell (which later became a full Ministry of Human Rights) was a great leap forward in this direction which combined with numerous other steps such as creation of separate police stations for women, protection of followers of other faiths, recruitment of lady health workers for ensuring right of health and so on mark her actions for upholding rights of people.
In both her tenures, Benazir Shaheed tried to bring in lime light the notion of human rights as a means to protect rights of every one. She recognized the necessity of ownership of state for protection of rights of people. The beginning of a new paradigm of human rights in Pakistan was establishment of Human Rights Cell , headed by her adviser on Human Rights Syed Kamran Haider Rizvi ; a political prisoner for eight years under Zia’s rule, who was committed to human rights issues due to his own experience. In this paradigm, state assumed a responsive role for ensuring human rights , hand in hand with civil society rather an opposing force for such organizations as it had happened in past. Human Rights Cell was responsible at the government level to monitor and improve human rights situation in Pakistan. The cell later became a full Ministry.
One of the priority area of Human rights cell and Ministry was protection of rights of minorities, she took personal interest in the rights of minorities. It was during this period that two young Christian boys who were falsely implicated in blasphemy cases were helped by Kamran Rizvi to make a safe passage to a European country and their lives were saved.
No country can progress in real sense without investing in its human resources and fulfilling the basic rights of security of life, justice, food, education, health and dignity. It’s the time to revisit an apolitical approach to human rights. Everyone including political parties can pursue at least one theme unanimously and that is Human Rights. Respect of human rights for creating any civilized society is so important that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) sealed the task of conveying message of Allah in his last sermon by asserting significance of Human Rights. It was His last public address and the ultimate message for Humanity.
Every summer during her visit to London Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto made it a point to invite me for dinner or tea. I had the honour to host Begum Nusrat Bhutto in Rugby when she visited UK as senior minister. Her visit was covered by the BBC. During BB’s last visit I gave her video tape of Begum Saheba’s visit to Rugby. She was very excited and happy to receive the recording.
When she left for Pakistan in 2007 she informed me of her decision by an email from Dubai. I spoke to her and requested her not to go due to likely danger to her life. Her reply was my people are with me and they need me and your prayers are with me. I told her I will a fast that day for your safe return. She was barely saved in bomb blast in Karachi but due to her passion for people of Pakistan she could not exercise restraint of not going into public. She lived for ordinary people and died among the masses. If she was alive she would turned 62 this year. She died young but left behind a vision of Democracy in Pakistan which is alive and growing. I can not wish BB many happy returns of her birthday but can certainly make a wish for my beloved country “long live Pakistan, long live democracy. May peace prevail in Pakistan.”