Book Review: Reconciliation by Benazir Bhutto

I return with a new Book Review, again related to Pakistan. Pardon my obsession with this nation, but it really does intrigue me with its long history of violence and relatively short history of democratic politics. And who else is better to talk about it other than a Bhutto? Yes, after Fatima I’m back with her aunt, the late Benazir Bhutto’s memoir Reconciliation addressing the one question that is in the back of the minds of almost everyone: Can Islam and Democracy ever go hand-in hand?

This question contains gravity, especially as it comes in the backdrop of President Trump targeting Pakistan in his new Afghanistan Strategy.

Now, to the Review.

The aftermath of Second World War has seen the wave of democracy hitting almost every nation on this Earth, including countries which have Muslims as a majority number in their populations, with Turkey as a prime example.

Now, in the 21st Century, the foundations of this wave are being threatened by Religious Extremism and Fundamentalism.  And Benazir Bhutto, back in 2007, had noticed this disturbing trend and writes about it in her Reconciliation, talking about the Muslim-majority Nations around the world that have embraced Democracy and Constitutional Rule with open arms but are now more inclined towards letting their Religious texts be the final say.

First, let’s talk about Benazir Bhutto. Some of you might wonder: who is this lady? Well, she’s the First Female Premier of a Muslim Nation (Pakistan, to be more specific). She was the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was himself a Prime Minister before being executed following a coup by the Military Dictator Zia-Ul-Haq. Benazir had been voted Prime Minister twice and also served as the Leader of Opposition, before being overthrown in a coup by General Musharraf and sent into exile.

She was assassinated in 2007, on return from exile.

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This book was written days before her death, and that’s what led me to read it with an even more critical eye than I would have otherwise. Benazir was a woman who’d already lost her father and two brothers and survived two assassination attempts before eventually dying in the third attempt.

She navigated the murky world of Pakistani Politics with ease and added some dirt herself. But that’s another issue (discussed in Songs of Blood and Sword).

In this book, we get to see her journey through her own words: the dreams she has for her nation and every Muslim nation out there.

She starts strong, addressing the issues that trouble most Islam-majority countries: majorly terrorism and distrust in the so-called “Western Legal System.” Most of these countries prefer to follow the Islamic Sharia Code of Law rather than their Constitutions that most of the times provide more basic human freedoms than the Sharia Law.

She talks about each country individually, giving a brief account of how these countries have succeeded in turning to democracy and so on. She also talks about how Pakistan managed to rise above all of its internal problems to become the first Muslim-dominated “Democratic” (I use this term with a lot of cynicism with respect to this nation) Country which developed its own Nuclear Arsenal, albeit with help from USA and China.

But, this is where most of us find a problem. It’s a well-known belief that Pakistan sponsors terrorism, due to several political factors. It has spent several years under the rule of different dictators and extremists. Even now, the government refuses to bring several terrorists to the book (read: Hafiz Saeed).

In Pakistan, it’s considered political (and literal) suicide to criticize any radical element in the society. While there are positive headways being made due to the rise of the new Tech-driven Generation, the situation remains mostly desolate. The minority population, which was 23% during the Partition of Pak and India, now stands at a frightening 6%.

Couple that with rising killings of minorities and women, and brutal suppression of human rights in Balochistan, we may have a recipe for a new State of Violence.

The Pakistan which Benazir talked about in her book is a victim. But Pakistan is now, in reality, the hotbed for Terror Activities.

Benazir continuously invokes how Western Nations have plundered poor Muslim Nations for minerals and Oil. However, she doesn’t further elaborate, perhaps fearing a backlash from their Governments.

She also mentions her “dear brothers”, Shahnawaz and Mustafa both of whom were assassinated in cold blood. But not once does she refer to the fact that there’s a rift running between herself and her niece Fatima (Fatima even alleges that Benazir may have had a hand in their assassinations.)

While Benazir sounds faux-convincing when talking about Political Issues, her words seem detached and voiceless when she talks about her own family. This reader felt as if she’s just paying lip-service to her family and its legacy. That is what, this reader believes, is the most disappointing aspect of the book. Especially as the Bhutto family has seen a lot of violence and has been part of many an intrigue that shaped the course of their homeland, her commentary on personal issues seems almost clinical.

Even when she described previous assassination attempts made on her life, her words, somehow, felt… detached. She described the event – the bomb explosion, her supporters’ mutilated bodies lying around her, wounded men and women crying out in pain and yet hailing her “Jeeay Bhutto”. And all that she says is that their bodies will be buried in the same graveyard as her father’s, which is an honor, of course. But what about her feelings? They definitely must have gone beyond sad and disturbed, right? A single page was all that was dedicated to her supporters who had died because they’d come to receive her from her exile.

But, oh yes, she did go into detail about her suspicions that the Musharraf Govt. was behind the attack.

Bhutto glorifies her family in her book, without trying to objectively observe whether her kinsmen’s actions held any major ramifications. It’s not only her family that she tries to whitewash but also her years in power. It feels like she suffers from some sort of victims’ complex: as if any negative comment about her is all just a rival’s plot to bring her down. She doesn’t like to look into herself and see whether she might have made a mistake during her rule. All the corruption scandals during her tenure are swept away under the rug in the name of Political Defamation.

However, her commentary and ideas on Muslim Nations embracing and thriving in Democracy do hold some merit, despite many flaws. Maybe I’ll discuss them in detail in some other post (or maybe not). The first half of this book is quite good as an academic’s observations on the state of the Islamic World.

But, for a Memoir, Reconciliation is shockingly impersonal.

 

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