During the times when Pakistan and Bangladesh were still one and this journalist was still a young beginner of the profession, there was a Pakistani journalist, Hossain Shahadat, who spared time and energy to explain the deliquescence of souls in the Indus River...
Hossain was the foreign news editor of what was then the Turkish Daily News. He had taken over from another Pakistani journalist, Aktar Cemal... A while later I took over from Hossain when, like Aktar, he decided to return to his homeland. Aktar in the meantime had become not only an important contact for Turkish journalists travelling to Pakistan but also a senior journalist in Pakistan. Following the sad execution of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 by the military regime – a very unfortunate development that Turkey strived to prevent a lot at the time – at the age of 29, in 1982, Benazir Bhutto was pulled into active party politics as the first Pakistani woman undertaking such a role in the history of her nation. From the first day, Aktar was with her.
Reading through an excellent work, “Benazir” by Yaşar Seyman, I revisited not only the traumatic journey of the author herself, but more so what Turkey and Pakistan went through over the past almost six decades.
The 1980 coup and the then National Security Council ruling the country with an iron grip might be a nuance to the current political Islam clan the Turkish nation reelected with almost fifty percent of the vote to a fourth consecutive term in governance. When Gen. Kenan Evren and his gang of generals were in power, back in Pakistan there was a pal of Evren, Gen. Zia ul Haq, busy converting the brotherly country into an Islamist country. In that atmosphere and with the memory of a father slain by a military coup, Benazir Bhutto was compelled to walk in politics, a journey that she stayed on course right to her murder at a political rally – which now has become clear for many as yet another work of another military coup.
The Indus is a source of life and often devastation for the Pakistanis. It waters fertile lands and brings prosperity but every now and then it devastates and ruins lives with merciless flood waters. Only after seeing the Indus, walking through the streets of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, the beautiful Lahore and Karachi, could one understand Pakistan. Like in her other books – and she wrote many including “Göçmen kalem” (Refugee pen), “Yangın yeriydi yurdum” (My land was on fire), “Fındık çiçek açınca” (When the hazel tree blossomed), “Fırat’a mektuplar” (Letters to Euphrates), “Umut gün ışığında” (Hope under sun light) – the reader feels the personal touch of Seyman as she floats on the pages. How lucky I am that I have such a talented friend, who is not just a writer but also one of the most prominent personalities who devoted a life to the labor union movement of this country.
It is impossible to understand the affection between Turks and the Muslims of the subcontinent. It cannot be just the Khilafat Movement and the golden coins collected and donated to Turkey to help finance its war of liberation (the money came late and was used as part of the first capital of the new republic’s first bank, Iş Bank).
Was Seyman’s “Benazir” a “biography” or a “novel” or both? I think it is neither but beyond. Besides being a biographic novel, it is at the same time a mirror of the recent history of each other’s life, our two countries and perhaps in a way how the “Green Belt” doctrine of Zbigniew Brzezinski gradually helped the spread of religious conservatism in this part of the world.
In her book, Seyman is not just telling a story. She is questioning herself and everything around besides telling the story of Benazir with her typical rather straightforward style.
It requires technique, talent and skill to bring together so many sad things, from the execution of a father to the traumatic and unfortunately revanchist murder of Deniz Gezmiş, Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin İnan in Turkey (to avenge the hangings of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and Finance Minister Hasan Polatkan by the 1960 coup in Turkey).
There is no need of course to say how the book ends, as it is a skillfully written as a biographical novel and even if the writer might want to embrace Benazir as an idol of the “women of the east,” the life of that refined soul was cowardly ripped away in a bomb blast on a political campaign tour.
Does not eastern philosophy preach “nothing dies?”