By Khurram Husain
Every year on Dec 27 my mind goes back to the day I covered Benazir Bhutto’s funeral, watched as the coffin was brought out of the house in Naudero among a crushing crowd that stood in pin drop silence. In Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, her ancestral village where the Bhutto mausoleum is located, the funeral prayers were hurried and chaotic, nobody knew when they exactly began and when they ended. Then the coffin was placed back in the ambulance and the crowd moved towards the mausoleum. Inside was a scene of intense anger, a mob of people crushed together so tightly it was next to impossible to move, and constant chanting by thousands that echoed off the dome and swirled around so powerfully it was almost scary. It was tough finding a vantage point from where one could see anything, but eventually as I climbed atop a ledge, I was just in time to see the coffin pulled out of the back of the ambulance that was shaking as a fevered mob pressed in on it, trying to get one chance to touch the coffin before it was settled into its final resting place.
That was my last encounter with the phenomenon that was Benazir Bhutto. The first was on October 18th, when I was part of the team sent out by Dawn News to cover her return to Pakistan after a decade in exile. Once again, there was the crush of the crowd that assembled and waited on Shahrah-e-Faisal all day, and once again the crowd stood in pin drop silence as the approaching lights of her motorcade finally came into view as it crossed Natha Khan bridge, standing out in sharper relief as the street lights were switched off at that moment. I recall worrying how our footage will be impacted as everything fell dark around us. Not to worry, her convoy was well let and made for dramatic video as it passed and the crowd erupted in a joyous roar upon seeing her standing atop that container, waving, smiling. What heady days those were!
A little more than a kilometer down the road from my point, her motorcade was attacked by two suicide bombers. 134 people were killed, 400 injured, including one of our own cameramen. That bombing was not “sending a message”. They were trying to kill her and she knew it. Yet she stayed, campaigned, knowing full well she is putting her life on the line. People need to ask what it is that kept her here after that, why didn’t she flee and save her life when she had the chance?