Legacy and justice
ON Friday, Dec 3, the documentary based on Benazir Bhutto's tumultuous life and untimely death, was released in movie theatres in New York and Los Angeles. Reviewed widely in newspapers across the US, the documentary has already been slated as the 'official selection' at the Sundance Film Festival. Produced by Duane Baughman, an American political consultant, the film takes a view of an evocative journey through the life of a woman whose charm and courage captivated the world since her appearance at her father's side as a mere teenager.
The task of introducing Benazir Bhutto, and by default Pakistan, to an American audience is an endeavour marked by distinct challenges. First among these is the excavation of Pakistan from its status as the tag-along second-half of the Af-Pak equation, an uninvited afterthought in the American imagination, devoid of history or context. It is precisely such an archaeological expedition that Duane Baughman is able to undertake in the documentary.
As the story weaves through the felled heads of one, then another, then yet another member of the Bhutto clan, we see the fissures within the family, their diverse political views and the cavalcade of enemies that pursue them relentlessly. The picture of Pakistan that emerges is thus complex and nuanced and beyond the caustic 'nation of terrorists' stereotype that assails it on the international stage. Bhutto
Banking on the familiarity of celluloid among Americans, manages to make palatable to Americans the history that they should know but lack the motivation to absorb. Partition, the secession of East Pakistan, the Soviet invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan and the complications of Islamisation are awarded crucial cameos neatly accommodated within a comfortable two hours to suit the fragile American attention span. The vexing complications of Bhutto politics, the allegations of corruption and the coups are injected into the chronology muddling the boundaries between conspiracy and reality and mirroring accurately Pakistan's smoky political terrain.
Also commendable is the ability of the production team to draw together a diverse set of commentators. Figures not currently on speaking terms, former presidents, current presidents and estranged Bhutto relatives all appear in succession before the viewer, awarding the discussion depth and evading its casting as a prolonged dirge.
In dealing with the tense days between Benazir Bhutto's return on Oct 18, 2007 until her assassination in December 2007, the film presents to viewers the email sent by the late political leader implicating the former general in the lapses she saw in her security. Moments later, Gen Musharraf himself appears on screen, discounting unequivocally and specifically any allegation regarding his administration's omissions with regard to the provision of security. (Contrast this with the inability of the Federal Investigation Agency - FIA - taskforce that probed her death to obtain a statement from the erstwhile general.) Bhutto
The most poignant aspect of , and the one most likely to have the deepest impact on American moviegoers are the recollections of two generations of Bhuttos about their deaths of their parents.
Setting aside aversion to dynastic politics, the vagaries visited by the feudal system and other substantive disagreements one might have with Bhutto politics, it is nearly impossible to harden one's heart against the children, however, privileged, describing a last meeting with their mother as she set out for an uncertain and sinister political milieu.
These memories, with Benazir Bhutto's daughters showing to the camera the last note and the last gift and describing an early birthday greeting that became a final goodbye are the film's most powerful moments. Achingly heartrending, they provide a glimpse into the intimate human relationships that undergirded Benazir Bhutto's otherwise surreal and always public life.
As the memories of Benazir Bhutto are being conjured up thousands of miles away in the US, the investigation into her death in Pakistan continues. On Dec 4, 2010, a day after the film's release, the media reported on an anti-terrorism court issuing warrants for the arrest of two senior police officers charged with criminal negligence for ordering the washing down of the assassination scene hours after Benazir Bhutto was killed.
The 45-page report submitted by the FIA's Joint Investigation Taskforce handling the case has already absolved all "federal and provincial" officials serving at the time from any involvement, identifying instead Baitullah Mehsud, the deceased leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, as the mastermind behind the assassination. The developments demonstrate how the demands of Bhutto's legacy may themselves be an obstacle in pursuing the truth regarding her death.
Indeed, enabling the ascent of those closest to the murdered leader may require the pursuit of a lesser justice evaluated on the cold scales of political expediency. Dead perpetrators may thus be judged the ideal culprits, convenient targets for blame in their accommodating silence.
While these dismal thoughts may worry Pakistanis as they mull Benazir Bhutto's legacy, the latter's evocation on American movie screens fulfils quite another purpose. Just as Sept 11, 2001 was a day when the world most empathised with the United States, Dec 27, 2007 marked Pakistan's moment in world hearts.