At the insistence of an old friend, this week, I have been listening to a most riveting and compelling podcast on BBC World Service dubbed The Assassination.
British journalist Owen Bennett-Jones goes into an expedition to unearth the secrets that led to the assassination of former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and the cover-ups after the murder. What follows is a captivating ten episodes of a superbly written script, diverse voices and thrilling sound effects.
Bhutto was a remarkable woman by all accounts. And nothing excites me than a story of a strong and powerful woman, confident in herself, brave enough to take on a military that killed her father and a dictatorship that eventually succeeded in getting her out of the way. Bhutto died in December 2007.
Ten years later, her story — and particularly the final moments when she bled to death — is a powerful reminder of the vanity of life.
Born in 1953 in Karachi, Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was a child of privilege. She was born into one of the wealthiest political families in Pakistan. Her dad, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan between 1971 and 1973 until a military coup sent him to jail, tried him and sentenced him to hang in 1979.
Educated in the elite schools in the world, Harvard University and University of Oxford, the student life was a crucible for leadership for young Bhutto who enjoyed the Western life.
At Oxford, she was a young and brilliant Muslim woman, enjoying the 70s life, dancing to ABBA, letting down her mane of jet-black hair, wearing high-waist jeans and boots and occasionally enjoying a glass of wine. She knew one day, she would be a leader.
That day came sooner than she expected when her father was hanged. At 25, Benazir became the leader of the Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP), a party her father had founded and led, joining the exclusive club of the world’s global elite.
Ten years later, at 35, Benazir became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was the first woman to lead a Muslim country, and also, the first global leader to give birth while in power.
It was amusing to know that Benazir managed to conceal her pregnancy from her entire Cabinet and returned to work days after delivering her first child.
She was loved and loathed in equal measure. She had as many enemies as she did supporters and had the capability to fill entire stadiums with supporters who saw her as a beacon of hope.
She also courted controversy, with numerous accusations of corruption and her husband Asif Zardari — to whom she got into an arranged marriage with — was known as “Mr Ten Per Cent” because of his corrupt tendencies.
Following a self-imposed exile in the US, Benazir returned to Pakistan in October 2007 to run for the Prime Minister’s seat.
She was viewed as a massive threat to Pervez Musharraf, who was the prime minister. Benazir survived many attempts on her life, until one day she run out of lives and died in the hands of a suicide bomber.
The politics of her death aside, it is the last moments of her life — as described by Mr Bennett that captured my imagination. She had just completed a successful political rally at the Liaquat Bagh stadium in Rawalpindi. As she left the stadium, she peered through the sunroof to greet her supporters.
The moment she was perched atop the car, a man shot her thrice in the head and then detonated a suicide vest.
The crowd dispersed. Bhutto fell to the back seat of her Jeep. What is amazing that the people who had accompanied her to the rally drove off immediately. Her chase cars drove off. In that moment of death, that moment of reckoning, when she needed them most, Benazir’s people abandoned her.
She was left at the back seat of the car, alone, save for a friend who was also in the car with her. Benazir’s driver was forced to drive her to the hospital in a Jeep on its rims because its tyres were ripped.
My focus is on those last moments of the life of an icon. As she bled to death, sighting the next world ahead of her, what could she have possibly been thinking about? More importantly, who was with her, in that final moment, when Allah called her home?
There was only one person, holding her hand, telling her to fight and not allow the pain to conquer her. Bhutto’s life was characterised with a lot of friends, crowds and people around her — as our lives are.
But in her last moments, she was fighting for her life on her own. My point is, are we investing our time and resources on people who will not be there for us at the moment we need them most?
Most importantly, do you have any idea of who will be there with you, holding your hand and comforting you at the back seat of the Jeep, as you bleed to death?