Bhutto: get over it!

This afternoon during my lunch hour, I had an MSN conversation with someone in Sindh, the home region and power base of the late Benazir Bhutto. Naturally, since I knew where she lived (not to name the place, but it’s about a hundred miles from the Bhuttos’ home area of Larkhana), I was interested in what the situation was there and what she thought about the whole situation. The brief conversation we had shocked me.

I asked her the situation where she lived, and she told me that it was “bad” and that her mother had not eaten for three days. I told her that was a bit much for the death of a politician, and she replied with reference to a “family member”. I asked, not quite believing that she was referring to Bhutto, whether Bhutto was literally her relative or whether they had lost a relative as well, and she told me that they are Sufis in Sindh, and that I did not understand their culture, and that she was not in a mood for discussion. I did not pursue the matter, and left shortly afterwards as I had business to attend to.

Several aspects of this attitude are disturbing to me. The first is that this woman is not an ignorant farmer’s wife, but a university teacher who has worked abroad, including in the United States. She has no excuse to heroise a politician, particularly one as flawed as Benazir Bhutto, to the extent that when she is killed, she displays the same grief as if a close relative had died. The second is that she associated this attitude with Sufism. The worst I have ever heard of Sufism concerned the attachment of the people to saints and departed shaikhs, and Benazir Bhutto was neither. Many of the Muslims I know, “Sufi” or otherwise, distrust politicians.

As other commentators have noted, Benazir Bhutto was quite unlike the majority of Sindhis anyway; her command of their language, even, was very limited. Her son, when he inherited her leadership of the so-called Pakistan People’s Party, made his first speech in English, which was also his mother’s first language. She was not one of them in any real sense, she was the darling of foreign potentates who wanted a tame Pakistani leader, and her achivements in her two terms in office were not great. What does anyone see in her? I can understand thinking her better than the competition, but not breaking down just because she’s died.

If there’s something about this affair which looks bad for democracy in Pakistan, it’s not the assassination itself, but this attitude, along with the spectacle of her party’s leadership being inherited by her husband and 19-year-old Oxford undergrad son.

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