The second anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in cold blood, which shook Pakistan and unleashed days of angry protests, is a momentous occasion. The late leaders' Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is still struggling to come to terms with her departure.

Benazir Bhutto's death continues to agonise Pakistan in an almost singular way, perhaps rivalled only by the 1979 hanging of the late prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir's father.

The anniversary commemoration today in Larkana, the hometown of the Bhutto dynasty in a remote part of Pakistan's dusty south-western Sindh province, will bring together the top leaders of the PPP, a party now led by President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower.

Bhutto's last speech was delivered with her characteristic authority and eloquence before a large crowd in the historic Liaquat Bagh (park) of Rawalpindi, just outside the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad, but Zardari is expected to speak behind the closed doors of the Bhutto family's palatial home in Naudero, just outside Larkana.

A band of PPP activists will likely also come together for a remembrance event outside Liaquat Bagh, named after Pakistan's first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, also assassinated there in 1951. It was just outside this historic setting that Bhutto rose from inside the relative safety of her bullet-proof jeep to greet her party's supporters, when she was fatally attacked.

Fearful that Zardari could meet a fate similar to that of his wife, given the security challenges facing Pakistan, the president's supporters are anxious to see him well protected.

This is especially true in a year of unprecedented bloodshed across Pakistan caused in a variety of ways, from suicide attacks and bomb blasts carried out by Taliban and their supporters, to the ruthless practice of militants slitting the throats of some of their opponents.

The party that Bhutto led for 28 long years after her father's hanging now needs her more than ever. The PPP's challenges have included controversy surrounding Zardari in the wake of a landmark recent verdict delivered by Pakistan's Supreme Court.

A controversial amnesty known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance signed into law by former president Pervez Musharraf gave 8,041 people including Zardari immunity from prosecution in cases of corruption.


While the Supreme Court decision does not mean Zardari will be tried in a court of law, his political stature has indeed been eroded. Under Pakistani law, Zardari has amnesty from prosecution for as long as he remains the president of his country. But his position has been weakened politically and morally in the wake of the verdict, which has only intensified calls for him to step down.

Yet, in spite of so many challenges, the PPP will likely survive the immediate political storm, in no small measure due to Bhutto's own legacy. To her credit, the late Bhutto remained a forceful opposition leader for many years, while giving strength to her party to fight back in the face of adversity.

There were many occasions when pundits were quick to predict an end to liberal politics in Pakistan of the kind practised by the PPP. However, these predictions were repeatedly proved to be unfounded. This had as much to do with the late Bhutto's personal commitment as it did with the fundamentally conciliatory nature of Pakistanis.

While movements such as the Taliban are eager to spread their influence across Pakistan, the reality of their failure to successfully present themselves as a viable political alternative speaks volumes about the country's aversion to hard-line ideas. The more conciliatory tone of politics practised by the PPP, which is still Pakistan's main liberal political party, is a potent antidote to fundamentalism.

Celebrating the PPP's survival through a long period of adversity also provides occasion to celebrate Bhutto's lifetime achievements in politics. As her supporters gather to commemorate her death, there is a danger that her achievements in difficult circumstances may be practically forgotten while her tragic departure is mourned by her political party and its followers. For a woman who sacrificed much in the service of her country, Bhutto deserves more by way of mourning than simply a commemoration of her tragic departure.

Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.