|Benazir Bhutto at Liqat Bagh, Rawalpindi|
It was winter season in Lahore; December was as cool as it used to be. But politically it was election season. Election campaigns and lawyer movements were at their peak. Media was under threat; political statements and other election-related news were popping up from all sides.
No doubt the year 2007 was one of the worst years for the newborn media in Pakistan. Media houses were under threats; journalists were beaten down. They were protesting against the ban on different News Channels implemented by General Pervez Musharraf. On the other side, struggle of restoration of democracy had started. Exiled leaders had come back to the country.
December 2007 – I could never forget that time. It was early in my journalism career. Being a young journalist and learner, I was following every bit of news. Covering elections and writing about it has never been an easy task for anyone.
During that time Benazir Bhutto also came to Lahore Press Club to show her solidarity with journalists. I was there when she reached at Lahore Press Club. She was welcomed with an enormous enthusiasm. I was one of several dozen journalists standing and watching her closely. It was like a dream, even though I had seen her before once during my childhood in the 90s in a Jalsa at Liaqat Bagh, Rawalpindi.
But this moment was unforgettable. A foreign journalist asked me “Are you as supporter or a reporter,” to which I responded, “Reporter, but a supporter as well.”
We saw her, we welcomed her. She Smiled, she talked, she showed her love and solidarity with us.
December 27, I remember that day very well. I was in the Magazine Section of Daily Waqt, Lahore. It was Thursday, and we have to finalize the copy of Sunday Magazine. But the highlight of the day of Jalsa of Benazir Bhutto at the historical place, Liaqat Bagh (the park where Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan was shot dead), Rawalpindi, my hometown.
“BB is looking prettier than ever today”
“This lady has a charisma just like her father Bhutto Sahib”
“BB will clean sweep”
“No one can stop PPP from winning the next elections”
“She is the only hope”
These were comments I heard in Newsroom and Magazine section while Benazir Bhutto came up at the stage in her blue dress and white scarf. A perfect persona! A confident lady, there was no sign of fear on her face. Thousands of people in the crowd chanting, “Bibi Tere Janisaar, Beshumaar Beshumaar.”
Benazair Bhutto came up to the microphone, waving her hand in response to crowd’s chants. No body knew that I was a silent spectator. Physically, I was in the newsroom, but mentally I was in Liaqat Bagh.
She started her speech: “These are the slogans I have come to associate with Rawalpindi today. I understand this is a city of brave and sacrificing people; I consider Rawalpindi as my second home. When Bhutto Sahib was a minister, I used to live here; I used to go to a school at Rawalpindi. I have seen moments of joy and gloomy times in Rawalpindi. I must say that the brave people of Rawalpindi have been with me in moments of happiness; brave sisters and brethren of this city stood by me in hours of our sadness; they have never let me alone.”
She continued: “This is the same city that saw that when Yahya Khan was not leaving, they thronged to the Liaquat Bagh to hold a huge and powerful rally and that forced dictator Yahya step down; it was after that the government of the Pakistan People’s Party was established. Rawalpindi is the same city from where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto started his struggle against the dictatorship of General Ayub Khan and young Abdul Hameed sacrificed his life for democracy. This is the city which has defeated all dictators and Inshallah its people will once again inflict a crushing defeat on another dictator and usher in an era of democracy; the sun of democracy will again rise on the horizon of Rawalpindi.”
She came, she spoke, she smiled and she won the hearts of haters, too.
She was also aware of the fact that her life was in danger as she said in her speech: “I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis.”
Everyone in the Newsroom and other sections of the newspaper was excited, admiring her courage, her stance against Taliban, her criticism on Military establishment, her ambition to restore democracy!
Everything was going in right direction. And then…
Then we saw the breaking news of the attack on Benazir Bhutto and, later, her death confirmation
This was a big shock to everyone. Every person I saw at that moment was weeping, whether he was a supporter of Benazir Bhutto or not. Everyone’s eyes were wet – weeping and crying.
A hope was lost.
Later, I went to the Lahore Press Club, which was nearby my office. Scenes there were also horrifying. Most of the journalists were crying out loud. Police forces surrounded the Press Club as there was threat of violence in reaction. Two police vans were burnt down in front of Lahore Press Club.
We managed to finalize the copy of the magazine and left for home. I had never seen Lahore as dark as that day. It was dead silence roaming around The Mall and other roads. No lights, No Noise. Dead silence.
Heavy amounts of police were deployed on roads and other important places. It seemed like thaewhole city was mourning. That night, Lahore was not Lahore. Terror was in the air. Sorrow was in the blood.
Going back to my place from the office, riding my bike on those gloomy roads, my heart was echoing these last words of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto: “Go and spread my message that I have returned to serve masses and the country. What is Pindi’s symbol; what is workers symbol; what is laborer’s symbol; what is masses symbol; it is only an arrow. Thank you very much. Victory will soon bow before you.
Jiye Bhutto, Pakistan Zindabad.”