Slain Bhutto turns saint, wish-giver, money-spinner

May 25th, 2008 - 2:51 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Benazir Bhutto
By Manish Chand
Rawalpindi, May 25 (IANS) They light lamps, chant prayers and sprinkle flowers. Some even slash their wrists and scatter blood at a makeshift memorial of charismatic Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated here nearly five months ago. In her death, Bhutto has become a ‘pir’ (holy saint) for many people and her memorial - near Liaquat Ali Bagh where she addressed a huge election rally minutes before she was killed by unidentified militants - a place of pilgrimage.

“People come here like to the mazaar of a saint. They light lamps, offer their prayers and ask for their wishes to be fulfilled. They come here at all hours,” Khalid Mahmood Butt, a diehard loyalist of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), tells this visiting IANS correspondent.

“Most people come here in the morning. But many come in the evenings also,” said Butt, sitting next to a stall that sells relics, portraits and odd photographs of Bhutto in myriad moods.

Butt spends at least a few hours everyday manning the portraits stall and says he does so purely out of love and devotion for the slain leader.

“I do it out of ‘pyar-mohabbat’ (love). It gives me mental peace,” says Butt, pointing a finger at Hotel Akbar a few metres away, when “Bibi”, as she was fondly called by the PPP faithful, was killed in cold blood.

Naveed Mir, the owner of the stall, too insists that he set up the shop near Liaquat Ali Bagh, named after Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, out of love for the deceased Bhutto.

But he doesn’t seem to mind the uninterrupted flow of money that has come his away after her martyrdom.

Mir Ashraf Badda, another enterprising man, also downplays the money factor.

“I now sell Bibi’s portraits worth Rs.5,000 every day. Soon after she was killed, I earned double to triple that amount. I don’t count the money. It gives me ’sukoon’ (peace of mind),” said Badda.

Common people also point out that the souvenir sellers are not the only ones capitalising on Bhutto’s resurrection as a martyr and saint.

“I have all my sympathy for Zardari Sahab. But he is the big gainer. Today he is the most powerful man in Pakistan because of his wife,” says Javed Khan, a 40-something businessman getting down from his car in front of the stall.

Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of Bhutto, is now co-chairman of the PPP and the power behind the present civilian dispensation in Pakistan that emerged victorious riding on a Bhutto sympathy wave in the Feb 18 elections.

Javed picks up a few pictures of Bhutto, showing her in different settings and capturing the myriad facets of the two-time prime minister who became the first woman head of government of a Muslim country two decades ago.

“She really loved her daddy,” he smiles fondly, pointing at a picture of the younger Bhutto with her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister of Pakistan who was ordered hanged by Zia-ul Haq in 1979.

“How sad the whole of her family had to die violently,” he remarked, while alluding to the deaths of Bhutto’s two brothers, Shahawaz and Murtaza under mysterious circumstances.

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