By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Whenever Pakistan is in trouble, facing a challenge, people cry in wilderness- ‘if only Bhutto were alive today…’. And the situation is more often like that since the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has been responsible for nearly four decades of unease, rise of terrorism, ethnicity, divisiveness, sectarianism and unending tug-of-war between the military establishment and the people seeking to establish their inalienable right to be sole arbiters of power. Lately, this struggle has cast a shadow of doubt about its future course-will it be democratic or otherwise. Not only that, the recent onslaught of the Americans on our sovereignty should serve as a wake up call for the powers that be.
The two generals who ruled Pakistan with an iron fist for more than twenty years, serving the geo-strategic interests of Washington to the hilt, left us with the present predicaments and a government that is neither here nor there. Both General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf assumed the role of human condoms and sold Pakistan’s national interests for their own aggrandizement, pelf and power comprising the role of the military establishment.
It was Pakistan’s first dictator-Ayub Khan– who had allowed a foothold to the American soldiers on Pakistani soil when Washington was busy in its Cold War with the Soviet Union. The second military ruler-General Yahya– lost half of the country waiting for the American flotilla “Enterprise” to rescue him. The third-General Ziaul Haq-waged the American Jihad in Afghanistan. He earned for himself and his coterie trucks loaded with dollars for their personal benefits. The fourth-General Musharraf- out did all of the previous before him. He had rendered Pakistan into an American fiefdom making it impossible for any elected government to shake off the albatross.
There is a consensus that both Generals Zia and Musharraf pushed Pakistan into a quagmire of problems that pose now much more serious a challenge than that of 1971. Pakistan was fortunate enough to have a political leader who had the colossal capacity to “pick up the pieces” and re-galvanise them into a proud nation. There is no doubt that Pakistan today is at a cross- road. Since we are facing a situation worse than 1971, we need to go back to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who continues to be the most dominant political phenomenon in the post-1947 Pakistan.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Jan 5, 1928) had crash-landed on the national horizon at a time when vintage politicians were on their way out. They had become ineffective and made the task of filling the vacuum more difficult especially when their very survival had become impossible in the new ball game, with rules made to order, by players who represented the powerful Establishment rather than the people.
Bhutto was born to leave behind indelible imprints on the sand of time, which no military dictator-having tried his best– could erase. His role in international affairs being a subject of wider study to be discussed later, here I would like to mention what Zulfikar Ali Bhutto meant to the people of Pakistan, what has been his legacy, where it is today and what role it continues to play in the life of the masses.
Bhutto had emerged on the political scene at a time when social change in Pakistan had become inevitable and yet there were not many leaders who could take the bull by the horn. He was, perhaps, one single individual in the whole lot of Ayub Khan’s team who had foreseen the unleashing of the forces of socio-political and economic changes as well. It was left to his pragmatic brilliance to take command of them and harness them for national objectives.
In the process, Bhutto had also taken on the entrenched elitist oligarchy (representing the military, civil, judicial and the feudal class) since in its scheme of things, power did not flow from the ballot box but from the barrel of the gun. Being a politician much too shrewd for those who openly showed contempt for the civilians as state managers, he turned the tables on them when factors for change had blossomed into an effective force. He took charge of these factors and his electoral manifesto of ‘roti, kapra and makan’ ignited a fire to bring about changes of far-reaching consequences. He changed the whole complexion of Pakistani politics.
Bhutto’s revolutionary slogans, his populist politics–from drawing rooms into the muddy streets and lanes of unknown Pakistan– opened floodgates of social change that dealt the first severe blow to the forces of status quo representing the feudal lords, big capital, civil and uniformed bureaucracy. His Pakistan’s People’s Party emerged as the forceful harbinger of change.
Bhutto’s awami politics no doubt catapulted him into power but it was not to be bed of roses. He had taken over a defeated, humiliated and fractured Pakistan when the crestfallen and downtrodden masses expected him to perform a miracle to save it from further disintegration and to give them hope in the future. Indeed, much of the credit goes to him for spearheading the salvaging operation with the support of opposition leaders from NAWFP, Baluchistan, Sindh and Punjab who found a common cause with him in the efforts to frame the 1973 Constitution–an everlasting monument to collective wisdom of those on the two sides of the political divide.
Bhutto had believed that when a people lose power over livelihood, they are forced to accept a loss of democracy as well. It was massive unemployment, economy in shambles and loss of direction that had encouraged General Ayub Khan to take over as a ‘saviour’ in 1958. Bhutto, however, reversed the phenomenon in 1969 when he and his PPP became a major player in the movement that ousted a formidable dictator.
His political skill, his gift of the gab and his vision that had a permanent role for the masses to play, had singled him out as the archenemy in the eyes of the forces of status quo. As such, throughout his later career we see him pitched against the Establishment that was opposed to his politics of change, empowering the people, giving them self-respect and a full-throated voice. And this tug-of-war, besides factors other than internal including his total commitment to a nationalistic nuclear programme, led him onto the gallows– unbending and uncompromising on his principles.
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)