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Drawn Conclusions > blog

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer."

Henry Kissinger. New York Times, Oct. 28.1973


"The power of Shahid’s cartoons are acute. Take a close look if you dare. Instead of euphemisms, find direct statements; instead of evasion, find candor. The skill of illustration is matched by the acuity of vision..."

Norman Solomon







May 13, 06:38 PM

The Dream that was Benazir

“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”
- Marcus Aurelius

History has come about one full circle with Bilawal Bhutto being named the new Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Like his mother, Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal has been thrust into the frenzy of Pakistani politics at a young age.  And like his mother, and grandfather before him, Bilawal’s first public appearance was both polished and poised. He was articulate at the press conference where his father Asif Ali Zardari requested his son’s co-appointment as the Party’s Chairperson. But years before Bilawal there was the dream that was Benazir Bhutto. Picture - a young, articulate woman defying a military, which had sent her father to the gallows. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, she spent years in house arrest and exile before becoming the youngest person, and the first woman, to head the government of a Muslim-majority state. She was swarmed by a deprived Pakistani population and adored by Western governments. I too was swept-up in that initial euphoria and as a budding political cartoonist remember drawing my first Bhutto-cartoon for Karachi’s evening paper, The Star, in 1988. The editorial cartoon depicted an attractive woman, headscarf fluttering in the wind, tiptoeing across a political minefield that was Pakistan.

Twenty-years later, Bhutto is now dead – depressing both in its predictability as in its brutality. My views towards this ex-Prime Minister had changed - turning cynical soon after that first editorial cartoon. That first drawing stands unique in my Bhutto-cartoon-portfolio. Subsequent editorials, bar that first drawing, depict her with the virtues of an asp. That innocent, fluttering white headscarf that I had drawn years ago had metastasized into a symbol of excess and corruption for me - confirmed in a recent Telegraph headline: “Benazir Bhutto - a kleptocrat in a Hermes headscarf."  When Bhutto was sworn as Prime Minister in 1988 she very quickly began to flex her considerable hubris. Pakistan became her personal fiefdom, lorded by a Bhutto feudal - with her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, a man known for his unashamed corruption, appointed as the national exchequer.

It was around this time I started cartooning for Newsline an investigative-style newsmagazine whose editor, Razia Bhatti, was a 1994 recipient of the international award, Courage in Journalism. When Newsline published articles about Prime Minister Bhutto’s indifference and complicity in the widespread rioting, extra-judicial killings, kidnapping and looting - which had become daily occurrences in the country - Bhutto responded by banning Newsline from all Pakistani International Airline (PIA) flights. She then had the Newsline office ransacked and its journalists threatened. I had drawn several scathing images of Bhutto that were used on several Newsline covers. On the day one of these issues was released on the newsstands Razia called me to say Bhutto’s press secretary had called her. Along with threatening various journalists and editors Bhutto had taken serious offence to her spread-eagled cartoon pose on the Newsline cover.  Razia advised me to keep a low profile and stay away from the Newsline office for a few weeks. I remember, weeks later, Razia relating how Bhutto would, there after, send the police to harass her nightly at her residence in Karachi.

Bhutto’s heavy-handedness towards the press did not stop Newsline journalists from reporting on the flagrancies of her government. The magazine covered it all: Bhutto’s muddled foreign policy, rampant corruption, holding the press hostage, and a taxation system which permitted the wealthy to get away with paying little or no tax (the lower-middle class was expected to carry the entire tax burden). Bhutto was also implicated in providing the Taliban with both financial and military support. She saw the Taliban as a steadying force in the region that would facilitate bilateral relations between Pakistan and Central Asia. Bhutto provided a rich vein of drawing material for a cartoonist like myself. With such a steady stream of political incongruities she became one of the few people I could draw from memory – Gucci glasses, Hermes scarf and all. I was not alone – many Pakistani cartoonists chopped and diced her on their drawing boards over the years. Some of my favorites - Sabir Nazar and Khuda Bux Abro. Nazar who was with The Friday Times drew some contemptuously brilliant editorials of Bhutto - satirizing the absolute ineptitude of her administration. Meanwhile, Abro’s brooding illustrations for Newsline vividly critiqued Bhutto’s government for not guaranteeing women the most basic of rights in rural Pakistan. The fact that Abro hailed from Sindh, Bhutto’s provincial and constituent stronghold, emphasized the Prime Minister’s unpopularity at the time.

Tragically this struggle between Bhutto and the Press did not result in any change. Bhutto was, afterall, allowed to return to Pakistan in 2007. She was never truly held accountable in Pakistan while the international community needlessly backed her (she always looked the part even though she never fit the part). Bhutto’s death is the latest script in Pakistan’s narrative of political and social dysfunction. Had there been some semblence of scrutiny in Pakistan Bhutto would not have been killed. Instead, Bhutto would have been living her life out in exile. But that is not the case. Instead we choose to remember the dream that was Benazir Bhutto and applaud Bilawal Bhutto, her son and “boy-king”, who has been appointed as Chairman to the Pakistan Peoples Party. 


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