For decades, as a leader of social movements in Pakistan, Bushra Aitzaz has been an outspoken advocate on issues such as human and women’s rights, democracy and the rule of law.
And she certainly touched on all of that in a speech at a Wilmington Rotary Club luncheon held last week at the Hotel du Pont.
But recently, Aitzaz, an educator with 35 years of experience, has added another item to her agenda: defending the actions of her homeland in the aftermath of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden. She has deflected harsh criticism that, one, Pakistani officials knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts and, two, that her country harbors and aids terrorist organizations.
“Pakistan, in fact, is the victim of terror,” Aitzaz says. “The Taliban has destroyed the civil fabric of our society. They’re destroying our schools, they’re destroying our children, they’re destroying our military.”
According to Aitzaz, the Taliban has killed more than 30,000 civilians and more than 4,000 members of the military.
“Our army is engaged in active war with the Taliban and yet there is a perception that, somehow, Pakistan is a [supporter] of terrorism. That’s what angers us. We are the victims and this must be understood by the Americans.”
What also angers Aitzaz is the way the deadly raid on bin Laden’s home was carried out. While she says it is good bin Laden is dead, she considers the surprise attack a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
“If they had to do it, they should have had the Pakistani government involved,” she says. “And I’m sure Pakistan could do it for them because for us [bin Laden] is an enemy, he’s not a Pakistani.”
And the belief that Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was staying in Abbottabad? Nonsense, says Aitzaz.
“If they had it was communicated to the U.S.,” she said. “The raid did not happen in a vacuum.”
Aitzaz’s visit to Wilmington had been planned for months, with the main topic of her presentation to be women’s rights. While current events altered the program a bit, Aitzaz showed the more than 230 people gathered in the Hotel du Pont’s Gold Ballroom why she has played a leading role in the women’s movement in Pakistan.
Aitzaz says women’s rights laws exist in Pakistan, but they are not effective because the culture does not support them. For years she has been fighting to change that.
“Women’s rights have come to me because they are my rights that have been violated,” she said. “I do it because I believe no one can take my rights away from me.”
As for women in America, Aitzaz says their rights are much more advanced, but should not be taken for granted.
“Here they have a voice, and they must keep up that, and they must fight for their rights to keep them.”