My friend, my sister, my mentor, my leader, I was fortunate to be associated with her, leading a university named after her father, of which she was the chancellor. Having the privilege of travelling with her around the world, I wish to share her unique leadership qualities.
What is the difference between a politician and a leader? A politician asks for sacrifices, a leader gives one. She gave the ultimate sacrifice for her nation. One does not need power to be a leader. A leader needs followers, and she had plenty of them, even when out of power. How many prime ministers, presidents and generals can claim that? Power does not make leaders. History and followers do.
Determined to succeed and deliver the agenda of moderation and reform, she had the drive to put Pakistan onto the right track. Far bolder than any male leader, she told the Afghan president hours before her tragic assassination on December 27 that “life and death is in the hands of Allah, and that is why I have the courage to stare in the eyes of death without any fear.”
Her star power and striking beauty made her more charismatic than Princess Diana and John Kennedy combined. Her sophistication and diplomacy established a large network of friends and admirers around the world. At the World Political Forum in Italy in 2003, when she walked into the conference hall, almost forty world leaders stood up and applauded her. She would stop a conversation or an activity just by walking into a room. She lectured regularly at universities globally where she would dazzle a large audience.
Intelligent, wise, well-educated and well-read, her favourite shopping at airports were bestsellers, autobiographies, history and leadership books. Within minutes she would devour every newspaper on a flight. Her photogenic memory would remember every meeting and everyone by name. She was a genius and a decision maker. While others would fumble for weeks strategizing party policies, she would analyze the situation within seconds and come up with a creative solution and new directives. When reflecting over disagreements, time would tell she was always right. Her other interests in life included feng shui, astrology, health and nutrition. A talking computer and walking encyclopaedia, she had multi-tasking abilities. Very well-organized, disciplined, and punctual, she could bring any management guru to shame. She spent countless hours on the PC and the blackberry. Working with her on the election manifesto, each document was ripped apart with ink. The final manifesto is a full credit to her creative abilities, spelling out the five Es: employment, education, energy, environment and equality.
Empathetic, compassionate, generous and kind, she supported hundreds of desperate individuals and families around the country, people unknown or heard of, except through an email received. Once she received an email from a critical patient with six unmarried daughters, requesting a major hospital expense. With tears in her eyes, she opened her purse and asked to see the money reached its destination. I have witnessed tears in her eyes when talking of the assassination of her father and two brothers, and of the plight of the poor.
Hospitable and caring, she would remember her friends, relatives and admirers wherever she was and send them gifts regularly. I recall once in Germany, our attendant driver was stunned to receive the same gift from her which she had asked him to help choose for someone else.
A strong believer of reconciliation, she would forgive and forget. Many have accused her wrongly of adopting this policy of forgiving her father’s killers, and recently of reconciling with the existing setup, but for democracy she believed in healing hearts and forging unity. She was not vengeful. One can now see this reflection in Bilawal when in his first public address to the media after his mother’s assassination he stated that “democracy is the best revenge”.
When at home, she would exclusively dedicate her time to her children–discussing their interests in life as well as relating her own experiences. She would spend weekends with her family as well and take care of her ailing mother. Spiritual and pious, she offered prayers, did walks, practised yoga, went shopping and had a craving for chocolate and ice cream.
She was a jewel in the crown, a royalty who ruled hearts. This country will never be the same without her, at least for this generation. Bibi is gone but her legacy will continue.