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Pakistan Press ( 26 Dec 2020, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan Press on EU DisinfoLab, Benazir’s Doctrine and Biharis in East Pakistan: New Age Islam's Selection, 26 December 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Desk

26 December 2020

• EU DisinfoLab: While Pakistan Was Sleeping

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

• The Forgotten Biharis In East Pakistan

By S M Hali

• Suppressed Voices, Grand Dialogues

By Salman Akram Raja

• Hindutva Federalism

By A.G. Noorani

• Benazir’s Doctrine

By Mustafa Abdullah Baloch


EU DisinfoLab: While Pakistan Was Sleeping

By Farrukh Khan Pitafi

December 26, 2020

The recent exposé by the EU DisinfoLab pertaining to an Indian propaganda network functioning around the world is mindboggling. Since the publication of the report, many good commentaries have been written and I will not bore you with repetition. Suffice it to say that for 15 years some 750 fake media outlets and 10 UNHRC accredited zombie non-governmental organisations kept fooling various UN and international fora with their operations in 119 countries. The purpose of the disinformation campaign bankrolled by one mysterious Srivastava Group: to discredit Pakistan, build India’s image and impugn all actors it views as threats. The work of the DisinfoLab is proof that in an open society equipped with critical thinking such a massive charade cannot go unnoticed indefinitely. While a commendable work that is not what preoccupied my mind while reading the report. The single question haunting me since then is this: what was Pakistan, the main target of this campaign, doing to defend itself, and why it did not notice it for 15 years despite very clearly being on the receiving end of the effort.

I am not a paranoid man. But I learned early on that there can be healthy uses of paranoia. So, when it comes to matters of national security occasionally, I do let my imagination run wild for a bit before bringing sanity back to the system. In case you have not noticed the world is a broken place these days and something is seriously impairing the world’s judgment, not just Pakistan’s. Then why should we not be extra cautious and seek to understand what goes wrong? Therefore, I allowed my mind to take a deep dive into the world of the obscure. If an influence campaign was going on around the world against you and you did not notice, is it possible that a similar if separate effort was underway to ensure you do not notice? And if yes, how? There exists in this country a regular set of usual suspects, the bogeymen, thus branded fifth columnists, mostly liberal, even if your average, everyday whipping boys. This shouldn’t be that difficult. Right? Nah. The problem with this set is that no matter how vocal it is, it firmly remains a marginalised minority. It definitely does not control the levers of the country’s threat perception.

In my quest to understand this systemic failure I came across some remarkably blasé excuses. It was a very sophisticated operation and Pakistan did not have the resources to deconstruct it. Sure, but have you visited any of the websites in question? Half of their hyperlinks (mostly pertaining to other parts of the world) do not function. Their names are also often oxymoronic. You are telling me that as a chief victim of their vitriol you never came across these websites and never noticed anything funny about them? The entire scheme might be sophisticated but its public presence was not. And in the end, it was a Western organisation that unmasked it. We were left again in a reactive mode, redistributing the published work when it had already surfaced.

Speaking of paranoia, let us talk about the odd coincidences that have become a norm and nobody among us even thinks about trying to connect these dots no matter how random they might be. In the contingency planning class back in the college days we were taught that among other participants of the contingency planning committee there sits a person called the devil’s advocate whose job it is to discuss the most far-fetched scenarios just to ensure that no avenue is left unexplored. Are we left with none? Have you totally failed to notice that every time there is a horrid incident in India which brings the world’s attention to Modi’s authoritarian politics, something similarly awful happens in Pakistan almost immediately as if to balance the matter?

Here are some random coincidences for your kind consideration. On April 5, 2017, the Alwar mob lynching of Pehlu Khan brought global scorn to India. As if on a cue, on April 13, in a university named after the man often referred to as Frontier Gandhi, a flash mob lynches Mashal Khan on trumped-up charges. In India, every cow-related lynching is an instrument of the Hindutva policy of repression. Mercifully in Pakistan blasphemy-related lynchings have gone down substantially over the years. But I find it odd that many disruptions take place soon after something big happens in India. You inaugurate the Kartarpur Corridor earning plaudits from the Sikh community, visibly unnerving the Indian ruling elite and the next thing you know flash mobs start appearing at Gurdwaras to pelt stones and the Sikh community comes under attack in Pakistan. India is ridiculed internationally for the BJP’s ghar wapsi (forced conversion) drive and suddenly the reports of Hindu girls being kidnapped or eloping only to convert start skyrocketing. And this one might sound really really far-fetched but humour me. On September 7, this year, the world was shocked to learn that an 86-year-old woman was raped in India’s capital. We were trying to wrap our heads around this sad tragedy when lightning strikes our own home and on September 9, the horrendous motorway gang rape incident takes place and from the beginning to the very end it remains shrouded in mystery. I know the dates do not exactly correspond partly because the FIR was registered arbitrarily by the police in IIOJ&K obscuring the date of abduction but the Kathua gang rape and Zainab murder also took place too close to each other.

Here is another interesting angle. India bans TikTok to punish China for the Ladakh showdown and lobbies to get it banned in the United States. Suddenly we also start noticing that there is too much obscenity in the app. Likewise whenever the Indian government notices that Pakistani social media handles are hurting its image and they cannot be banned on its request, suddenly controversies emerge in Pakistan about social media giving way to emotive arguments in support of banning social media entirely. Right when India is again attracting global attention for its mishandling of farmers and its disinformation campaigns, out of the blue Omar Saeed Sheikh is cleared of all charges, and Bernard Henry Levi, a RAW adjacent French intellectual once again calls Pakistan a rogue state. And I don’t know whether you have noticed that in the past six years whenever the Indian government is confronted with agitation, unrest starts simmering in Pakistan too?

I know many of the above might be purely coincidental but they are only a few of the examples. Go through the last six years of any credible Indian newspaper and then one from Pakistan and you may come across enough incidents to convince you that we are trapped in a mirror world with a delayed impact. All of this brings me back to the original question. Why have we stopped questioning things? The questions may sound silly at times, but they are unlikely to harm you. Only indifference will.


The Forgotten Biharis in East Pakistan

By S M Hali

December 26, 2020

Bihari is a generic term, which implies the migrants from the Indian state of Bihar, who headed for then East Pakistan, after the partition of India in 1947. Later all Urdu speaking people, even the Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhi and Baloch from West Pakistan, who were posted to East Pakistan or settled in the Eastern Wing, were labelled as Biharis by Bengalis.

The mass exodus of Muslims from the province of Bihar, which was adjacent to Bengal as well as quite a few from UP and other Indian states, where Muslims were minorities, had to flee to escape the wrath of the militant Hindus, who attacked Muslim communities in repercussion to the partition announcement, looting, killing and raping their women.

It is a travesty of fate that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (then a student leader) but an ardent follower of one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy—then Prime Minister of Bengal in 1946—toured affected villages in Bihar with his relief team and touched by the plight of the Biharis, had asked the Bihari refugees to move to East Bengal in 1947.

Muslims migrating to East Pakistan, were initially welcomed by the Bengalis. According to the 1951 census, 671,000 Bihari refugees were in East Bengal; by 1961, the refugee population had reached 850,000. Broad estimates suggest that about 1.5 million Muslims migrated from West Bengal and Bihar to East Bengal in the two decades after partition.

The migrants were mostly educated and hardworking; they were easily absorbed in the fields of education, medicine, railways, police, armed forces and other important cadres. By dint of hard work, they rose to higher positions, replacing the Hindus that had migrated to India.

The first fissures between the two communities appeared as early as 1948 because of the language movement, when the Federal Government of Pakistan declared Urdu as the sole national language, sparking extensive protests among the Bengali-speaking majority of East Bengal. The Biharis, whose mother tongue was Urdu, did not join in the language movement, which was resented by the Bengalis.

Indian propaganda, which exploited the sense of disparity with West Pakistan and deprivation felt by the Bengalis, also alienated the Biharis. The Bengalis became resentful of the relative progress of the Biharis in various government slots.

Fast forward to the events of 1970 and 1971, when following the 1970 general elections and landslide victory of Sheikh Mujib and his Awami League, the military junta at the helm of the government and the west Pakistani politicians refused to ask the winning political party to form the government.

Ultimately, thoroughly disgusted by the attitude of West Pakistan and the prodding of India, the Bengalis declared Independence on March 25 and started the barbarous slaughter of Biharis and West Pakistani bureaucrats and west Pakistani armed forces posted in East Pakistan. The Biharis being soft targets, being unarmed and living in specific communities, bore the brunt of the massacre. Recent investigations indicate that Indian soldiers and guerrilla forces masquerading as Bengalis along with some disgruntled East Pakistanis led the charge of atrocities of mass rape of the Biharis and other non-Bengalis.

Pakistan Army, which had a contingency plan, launched Operation Searchlight to save the Biharis and other non-Bengalis from the brutality unleashed on them and wrest back control of East Pakistan from the rebels. Unable to sit back, Bihari youth enmass joined volunteer groups along with Jamaat-e-Islami in East Pakistan, to fight alongside Pakistan Army to defend the motherland against Indian and insurgents’ incursions.

Nine months of the war against secession, being blockaded by India and the adverse international opinion against Pakistan owing to massive Indian propaganda, the endgame came in November 1971, when India launched a full-fledged attack against East Pakistan. Pakistani troops and the volunteer groups comprising Biharis and Jamaat-e-Islami Razakars, fought valiantly. West Pakistan failed to launch a retaliatory attack in the western theatre and delayed it till December 3rd. For the beleaguered troops in East Pakistan, the end was obvious, facing an external enemy ten times its size equipped with massive air cover with a surreptitious enemy within in the shape of Indian guerrillas masquerading as Mukti Bahini causing sabotage, disruption and sporadic hit and run assaults, a demoralized and battle fatigued Pakistan Army surrendered on December 16.

Pakistan Army and the west Pakistani bureaucrats posted in erstwhile East Pakistan were taken Prisoners of War but the Biharis, now devoid of any support were targeted by blood thirsty Indian guerrillas and some deranged Bengalis thirsting for revenge. Thousands were massacred and raped even after the Fall of Dhaka. It is to the credit of many God-fearing Bengalis who protected the Biharis by hiding them.

Ultimately, the Biharis, who were once a well to do community, were rounded up and herded into camps, where they continue to exist in squalor, poverty, disease and deprivation. Some managed to escape via Nepal or through India and managed to reach Pakistan, while the rest remain in Bangladesh.

A handful were formally accepted by Pakistan but the doors were shut for them.

Unable to claim United Nations refugee status due to a number of technicalities, this ethnic and linguistic minority was legally stateless, ‘officially dead’. Members of Jamaat-e-Islami have been tried for treason and hanged while the Biharis languish in the concentration camps, forced to eke out a survival, waiting for a messiah, who never came. Their only crime is that they stood for a united Pakistan.


Suppressed Voices, Grand Dialogues

By Salman Akram Raja

December 26, 2020

When, nearly two years ago, Meesha Shafi accused a prominent singer and actor of inappropriate physical contact on multiple occasions she walked onto a legal chessboard mined against her. Soon she, and the other women who came out with similar allegations, as well as those who sought to support her found themselves facing what the Guardian has described as the ‘asphyxiating vortex of litigation’ that awaits any woman in most parts of the world who has been harassed and has chosen not to remain silent.

It would be entirely inappropriate for this piece to attempt to comment on the veracity or otherwise of Ms Shafi’s claim. It is, however, entirely apt to examine the structure of the law within which her claim is being processed.

Pakistan’s criminal defamation laws are weaponized to silence, stifle and suppress. The burden of proof placed on the woman speaking out leaves her, eventually, in a desperate bid to salvage whatever dignity she can.

Two distinct attitudes towards defamation have come to exist in modern legal systems. The United States inherited its defamation jurisprudence from the English common law tradition but since the civil rights movement of the 1960s defamation law in the US has departed, radically, from that tradition.

The English tradition, that Pakistani law continues to follow, places the burden to prove the truth of an apparently defamatory statement on the maker of the statement. Federal and state laws in the US have, increasingly, come to require the complainant to prove the falsity of what is claimed to be defamation committed by the defendant.

So great has been the distaste in the US for the English tradition that judgments of English courts in defamation cases based only on the defendant’s failure to establish the truth of her or his defamatory statement have been held by American courts to be against the public policy embedded in the speech rights guaranteed by the constitution of the United States.

It is the balancing in the US between the reputational rights of the accused and the speech rights of the accusers that has allowed abused women, and men, to come out against men, both powerful and sly, and survive with confessions by the abusers and convictions granted by the courts.

Pakistani law, it turns out, provides no plausible remedy to a woman, or indeed to a child or man, who has been molested or subjected to unwanted sexual advances, but not raped, at a place that is not the victim’s workplace. A woman who alleges sexual harassment becomes a hunted being. Consider.

An essential attribute of power in our land is the ability to ensnare an opponent in a criminal case through the registration of a first information report, the FIR, against him or her. The FIR transforms an indignant opponent into a cowering accused. The colonial state understood the profound efficacy of this degradation.

An FIR silences those who might have spoken to expose or protest inequity, injustice or sexual harassment. Apart from the civil wrong of defamation that may result in monetary compensation, criminal defamation and criminal annoyance came to share space in the colonial penal code with seditious speech against the state.

Criminal defamation was, and is, punishable with imprisonment. Around the world, prosecution for criminal defamation has become extremely rare – with state authorities refusing to register criminal cases. In other jurisdictions, criminal defamation has been removed altogether from the penal code. Not so in Pakistan.

Section 509 of the Penal Code of 1860, as amended in 2010, defines the offence of sexual harassment through verbal or physical conduct and prescribes the punishment of imprisonment up to three years or fine of up to five hundred thousand rupees or both. The same penal code also carries, since 1860, section 499 that defines the offence of criminal defamation with imprisonment up to two years. If the alleged defamation is carried out through an electronic information system the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act of 2016 kicks in and provides for imprisonment up to three years or fine up to one million rupees or both.

The Defamation Ordinance of 2002 also allows for money damages in civil proceedings, on top of the punishment for criminal defamation, against a person said to have committed defamation. All laws on the Pakistani statute book, criminal and civil, ultimately place the burden to establish truth on the woman who claims sexual or other harassment.

Ms Shafi wisely chose not to press charges under section 509 of the Penal Code. Proving the crime of sexual harassment imposes on the accuser the usual criminal law burden of producing evidence that establishes the ingredients of the crime, from groping in the dark to wilfulness on the part of the offender, beyond any reasonable doubt. Given the opportunistic circumstances alleged by Ms Shafi, such conclusive evidence would have been impossible to produce before a court.

Ms Shafi made her allegations on the electronic media and filed a complaint before the Ombudsman for Sexual Harassment, who acts in terms of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of, 2010. The standard of proof required in the administrative proceedings before the ombudsman is lower than before a criminal court.

The legal blowback that Ms Shafi now faces has scratched on the dark landscape of misogyny the need for an urgent redesign of the harassment and defamation laws of the country. Her complaint before the ombudsman stands quashed on the ground that the sexual harassment law only recognises harassment at the workplace between an employer and an employee, or by one employee against another. It was held that neither Ms Shafi nor her alleged harasser had an ‘employment relationship’ covered by the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of, 2010.

Ms Shafi and the women who have come out in her support must, however, face criminal defamation charges as well as civil action for monetary damages on account of the alleged reputational harm caused by them to the alleged groper. On September 29 this year, FIRs were registered against them under section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016.

The women have either left the country, capitulated and sought pardon, or have obtained bail in order to retain their freedom and dignity as the accused in a criminal trial. A successful defence in the trial would require them to establish through evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged harassment did indeed occur.

Defence of the civil action for damages also places on Ms Shafi the burden of proving the allegations made through evidence that satisfies the lower, but still onerous, evidentiary threshold of balance of probabilities. The situation is grim.

Prospects for the abused will remain bleak until the burden of proof is re-balanced between the accuser and the accused in matters of sexual harassment, and criminal defamation is removed as a threat to those speaking out.

Circumstances are bleaker for another set of victims. Children inappropriately touched, often for years, by relatives and tutors abound around us – scarred psyches and small voices muzzled by a mist of denial. Much before the law – defective as it might be – can be invoked, the awareness and courage to call out a predator is needed. Children need that awareness and overcoming of guilt to be instilled in them. Societal taboos are letting them down. Efforts to have awareness about sexual abuse included in school curricula have met with outrage.

Are our women and children to be restored their voices? In the season for grand dialogues, do we have an ear for such things?


Hindutva Federalism

By A.G. Noorani

26 Dec 2020

INDIA’S constitution is not federal with unitary features but unitary with federal features, a British constitutional lawyer remarked. But that was shortly after it came into force in 1950. Now that judgement stands validated. After the Modi government came to power in May 2014, it is the unitary not federal features that have assumed greater force.

The reasons are largely but not entirely constitutional, though the constitution itself paved the way for its own distortion. The union wields vast powers over the states. The centre appoints their governors, mostly without consultation. The union could oust the state government and take over their administration. Constitutional amendments made matters worse. Law and order is an exclusively state subject. But this was whittled down by an amendment empowering the centre to deploy emergency paramilitary forces in states ‘in aid of the civil power’ even without state consent. The centre enjoys wide powers of giving states ‘directives’.

By and large, the supreme court’s rulings were in favour of the centre. But in 1994, it imposed strong curbs on the centre’s power to impose direct rule, ie ‘president’s rule’. The court ruled that it had the power to summon and see the material on the basis of which central rule was imposed.

But the governor is an anachronism unknown to most other federations. Appointed by the centre, he can hold office for life. He is not removable by state law, even on grounds of proven misbehaviour. A hostile centre can keep him in office as long as it wishes.

Indira Gandhi appointed a commission on centre-state relations chaired by Justice R.S. Sarkaria who had by then lived up to his name. He had been used to ‘fix’ Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Karunanidhi, and was later appointed chairman of the Press Council of India, a reliable favourite. His colleagues on the commission were both ‘reliable’ bureaucrats. V.P. Singh appointed an inter-state council, only to let it wither on the vane.

One academic recently noted, “Having persuaded states to give up their constitutionally-mandated taxing powers … with the promise that their revenue shortfall will be made good, the centre has now coolly reneged on that promise. … Education … is in the concurrent list; but the centre has recently come out with a new education policy, without any consultation…. Agriculture belongs to the state list; and yet the centre has just rushed three bills through parliament….

“…[Any] state can cease to exist as a state and can be carved up into any number of fragments any time, by placing it under governor’s rule, and taking the consent of the governor who is handpicked by the centre as being legally equivalent to the consent of the state legislature. When the very existence of a state becomes a matter of central discretion, a substantial step has been taken towards a unitary state. Converting India into a de facto unitary state is the agenda of both the Hindutva forces and the corporate-financial oligarchy integrated with globalised finance capital; it constitutes therefore a prominent element on the common agenda of the corporate-Hindutva alliance that is currently dominating Indian politics.”

The Modi government has accelerated an old process and inspired it with the Hindutva ethos. The Jan Sangh and its successor BJP never felt comfortable with the concept of federalism.

But then, not one prime minister, regardless of political affiliation, was known for empathy towards the states. That includes Jawaharlal Nehru, who had decided on a planning commission in 1949 even as the constitution was being drafted, but refused to give it any constitutional status. States rushed to it for allocation of funds; the centre’s power incre­a­sed. Gover­nors loyal to New Delhi began thro­wing their weight about. The Sar­karia commission recommended that no governor belonging to an opposition party should be appointed; all ignored this. Modi’s regime has gone one better; it chose men hostile to non-BJP-ruled states who publicly criticise, even demonise, state governments. The West Bengal governor has begun acting as if he was the chief election campaigner of the BJP for the state election next year.

There is, however, a deeper malaise. The parties are centrist by their own constitution and none hold elections to party posts. Tickets for election to the legislatures are awarded by party oligarchs. Chief ministers need the approval of their bosses at the centre to select and remove cabinet colleagues. Chief ministers cannot recommend dissolving the state assembly without central party leadership approval. Their own ‘election’ by MLAs is a formality for they were themselves nominated by the party president in New Delhi. How much can such chief ministers stand up to the centre for their states’ rights?

India’s democracy is run by undemocratic political parties, and its federalism is warped by highly centralised political practices.


A.G. Noorani is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.


Benazir’s Doctrine

By Mustafa Abdullah Baloch

December 26, 2020

July 3, 1972 – a historic midsummer day when the Simla Accord was signed between Z A Bhutto and his Indian counterpart Indra Gandhi. The Accord was a milestone success of Bhutto, who was accompanied by his young daughter who silently observed all the negotiation tactics of her father.

Hardly was she aware that 16 years after the Simla Accord she would be taking oath as prime minister herself. Benazir Bhutto’s struggle was not easy, facing the patriarchal political system and merciless dictatorship of Zia who hanged her father and imposed martial law in the country.

It won’t be wrong to say that Benazir Bhutto was a born leader, exhibiting all the traits of leadership which she inherited. This was reflected in her early days at Oxford. She showed all the signs of leadership since her days in student politics and an impeccable debating career.

“I never chose politics, politics chose me” said late Benazir – something Bilawal often quotes when he is asked by the media about how it feels to be in politics when he could have easily opted for a safer career. Benazir Bhutto converted the anger and anguish of her father’s loss into courage and determination; being a woman, she had to face multiple challenges as all the responsibility of her father’s party was on her shoulders.

It was not easy for her to bring the dead body of her younger brother Shahnawaz Bhutto, who was apparently poisoned in France, just a few years after losing her father. Both emotionally and practically it was a tough patch for a woman who was fighting the battle all alone. But her wisdom helped her revamp the party. The 28-year-old daughter of Bhutto brought together all the mainstream parties and formed the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against Zia. The MRD gave a tough time to Zia, especially since he got himself elected president in a dubious manner.

On her return to Pakistan on April 10, 1986 in Lahore Benazir was welcomed by millions, said to be the biggest political turnout in the history of Lahore. She was simply unstoppable; a month later she landed in Karachi and it took almost eight hours to reach the meeting venue near the Quaid-e-Azam mausoleum from Karachi airport which otherwise would have been a 15-20-minute drive.

In 1988, Benazir Bhutto won the general elections and formed the federal government and became the first woman prime minister of the Muslim world. When she came to power in 1988, after a prolonged struggle, she opted for democracy and never believed in revenge against the opposition which had given her and her party a tough time during Zia’s dictatorship.

The late Benazir was the only democratic leader who defeated two dictators in her political career. When Pervez Musharraf was calling the shots, she was in exile for the second time in her life while her husband was incarcerated in Pakistan and her party was in opposition – but she flew back to her homeland despite death threats by militants. Indeed, she was the force behind the revival of democracy in Pakistan twice; and her iconic personality and charisma brought attention to Pakistan on international forums.

Looking at the current scenario in Pakistan, it is need of the hour to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to acknowledge victims of politically motivated persecution. NAB must be replaced with an independent accountability commission that should allow zero influence by the sitting government and should investigate any malpractice impartially. Governance must be improved to help the common citizen, by giving access to quality social services like education, health, employment. Some of these points are also mentioned in the Charter of Democracy.

Democracy is facing turmoil in Pakistan where the opposition is being suppressed, the economy squeezed and the buying power of the people being crushed with rising inflation and weak governance. One thing Imran Khan must learn from history is that those who make peaceful revolution impossible, they make violent revolution inevitable.

Pakistan is asking for a leader like Shaheed Benazir Bhutto who could rescue the nation. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) has challenged Imran Khan over his incompetence and vengeful politics. The PDM must be taking inspiration from Benazir Bhutto who stood firm against tyranny twice.

“Democracy is the best revenge” – Benazir’s motto was for the larger interest of the country. She never resorted to vengeful politics but rather believed in inclusivity. She believed in an egalitarian Pakistan.

Today, Pakistan is experiencing economic crunch and political polarization, exacerbated by Imran Khan – but can the country afford this misadventure? For that, one would have to revisit history, which shows that there is only one way towards stability: by adopting Benazir’s Doctrine for a peaceful, non-polarized and economically stable Pakistan where political dissent is faced in a democratic way keeping personal differences aside.

Today when Zia, Musharraf and Ishaq Khan are irrelevant, the doctrine of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto still continues to emerge as a beacon of hope for a better, brighter and tolerant Pakistan.



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