The Path Back
As I stepped down onto the tarmac at Quaid-e-Azam International Airport in Karachi on October 18, 2007, I was overcome with emotion. Like most women in politics, I am especially sensitive to maintaining my composure, to never showing my feelings. A display of emotion by a woman in politics or government can be misconstrued as a manifestation of weakness, reinforcing stereotypes and caricatures. But as my foot touched the ground of my beloved Pakistan for the first time after eight lonely and difficult years of exile, I could not stop the tears from pouring from my eyes and I lifted my hands in reverence, in thanks, and in prayer. I stood on the soil of Pakistan in awe. I felt that a huge burden, a terrible weight, had been lifted from my shoulders. It was a sense of liberation. I was home at long last. I knew why. I knew what I had to do.
I had departed three hours earlier from my home in exile, Dubai. My husband, Asif, was to stay behind in Dubai with our two daughters, Bakhtawar and Aseefa. Asif and I had made a very calculated, difficult decision. We understood the dangers and the risks of my return, and we wanted to make sure that no matter what happened, our daughters and our son, Bilawal (at college at Oxford), would have a parent to take care of them. It was a discussion that few husbands and wives ever have to have, thankfully. But Asif and I had become accustomed to a life of sacrificing our personal happiness and any sense of normalcy and privacy. Long ago I had made my choice. The people of Pakistan have always come first. The people of Pakistan will always come first. My children understood it and not only accepted it but encouraged me. As we said good-bye, I turned to the group of assembled supporters and press and said what was in my heart: "This is the beginning of a long journey for Pakistan back to democracy, and I hope my going back is a catalyst for change. We must believe that miracles can happen."
The stakes could not have been higher. Pakistan under military dictatorship had become the epicenter of an international terrorist movement that had two primary aims. First, the extremists' aim to reconstitute the concept of the caliphate, a political state encompassing the great Ummah (Muslim community) populations of the world, uniting the Middle East, the Persian Gulf states, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and parts of Africa. And second, the militants' aim to provoke a clash of civilizations between the West and an interpretation of Islam that rejects pluralism and modernity. The goal—the great hope of the militants—is a collision, an explosion between the values of the West and what the extremists claim to be the values of Islam.
Within the Muslim world there has been and continues to be an internal rift, an often violent confrontation among sects, ideologies, and interpretations of the message of Islam. This destructive tension has set brother against brother, a deadly fratricide that has tortured intra-Islamic relations for 1,300 years. This sectarian conflict stifled the brilliance of the Muslim renaissance that took place during the Dark Ages of Europe, when the great universities, scientists, doctors, and artists were all Muslim. Today that intra-Muslim sectarian violence is most visibly manifest in a senseless, self-defeating sectarian civil war that is tearing modern Iraq apart at its fragile seams and exercising its brutality in other parts of the world, especially in parts of Pakistan.
Excerpted from Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West. Copyright © 2008 by Benazir Bhutto.