By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
An archival picture of an Independence Day march by the first contingent of Pakistan Women National Guard in 1947 is a manifestation of Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan and the role that he had envisioned for Pakistani women.
Women’s National Guard established by the widow of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan had earned laurels for carrying out successfully biggest rehabilitation and relief work after partition when PAKISTAN faced the influx of millions of refugees from across the border.
The historic picture shows leading with the National flag Begum Pasha Haroon, Yusuf Haroon’s wife, leading young artist Sughra Rababi (aunt of Deputy Chairman Senate Saleem Mandviwalla) and young Nusrat Khanum later Begum Nusrat Bhutto, widow of PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The Quaid had believed much before Pakistan came into being that without women – there could not be any progress. Looking at the gigantic relief operation, Quaid had complimented that when a nation has such gritted and gifted young women, it can’t fail in its endeavour to built Pakistan on sound foundations of egalitarianism.
No doubt our women despite enormous hurdles and opposition by the mullahs and bigoted forced have achieved much but still they have a long way to go. They have to demolish anti-gender taboos, religious inhibitions imposed by bigotry of the powerful mullacracy and restrictions embedded and imposed by feudalistic customs that continue to straightjacket space for progress of rural women while their urban counterparts have been competing with men in politics, education and every field of socio-economic endeavour. Our heads hang in shame when we come across stories of cruelty such as parading in the nude village women to revenge crime by their men by the feudal class.
Indeed, Pakistan’s history would not be complete without mention of those women who played a lead role in the struggle for Pakistan. And when the country found itself rudderless to face Field Marshal Ayub Khan in engineered Presidential elections in 1965 to perpetuate one-man rule, it was Quaid’s sister Madre Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah who took him on upfront in the Presidential elections.
During the life of the Quaid Ms Jinnah had nothing to do with politics. However she knew well why her brother had chosen a democratic, secular and progressive future for his country. And when she realised that President Ayub Khan was out there to destroy her brother’s Pakistan, she challenged the dictator.
Her decision to challenge him in presidential election was timely. Combined Opposition Parties (COP) could not find a strong male candidate to take the bull by the horn. Had she not challenged Ayub, course of Pakistan’s history would not have changed after 1965. In the rigged polls, she was defeated but she set the ball of dictator’s decline rolling leading to his ultimate political demise.
Not that Pakistan did not have other courageous ladies, those that need special mention and who proved to be catalysts – are Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, martyred Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, giant of human rights activist Asma Jehangir and of course Nobel Laureate Malala Yusufzai. Each one has contributed immensely for the education, emancipation, empowerment of women and less privileged in Pakistan.
Begum Bhutto was an exception. Destiny chose to give birth on 23rd March (1929) eleven years before the historic Lahore Resolution was passed paving way for the establishment of Pakistan. Indeed, her long struggle, her blood and sacrifices carved a unique niche for her in Pakistan’s history. She took on two military dictators, one more ferocious than the previous, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was incarcerated by them for his opposition to military dictatorship. She led Pakistan People’s Party founded by ZAB in 1967 to uproot the forces of status quo. PPP was his vehicle for change in Pakistani politics, unshackling the chained masses, giving them a voice and respectful existence.
Begum Sahiba’s greatness could be linked to the legendary Kurd hero Salahuddin Ayubi. I had known Begum Bhutto from the time when she was the graceful and dignified wife of Pakistan’s most dynamic foreign minister. In 1947-48 as a young member of the Women’s National Guard she spearheaded gigantic relief operations to provide shelter and succour to the millions of the uprooted refugees at a time when Pakistan had no resources. In that hour of crisis, she stood tall among the tallest that had plunged themselves in one of the biggest relief operations ever undertaken.
The true strength and greatness of her character manifested itself in times of stress and strain. When Ayub Khan jailed ZAB, Begum Bhutto kept alighted the flame of her husband’s struggle for democracy. She, however, gave her best when Bhutto Sahib was removed in 1977 coup by General Ziaul Haq. She had her head battered by Ziaist bullies, yet she led the masses, kept alive their democratic aspirations, galvanised the opposition parties in Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) through hell and high water. Though she was not alone this time as her equally gifted daughter Benazir was by her side as pillar of strength, it was her profound commitment and affection for the party workers and the masses that garnered unprecedented popular support to the democratic movement ever when General Zia had to resort to scotch earth policy to save his power. He committed worst possible genocide in rural Sindh to tame the democratic movement.
Not only did Begum Bhutto aided by her ‘dearest daughter’ foiled General Zia’s machinations but also buried deep down conspiracies by Quislings and Trojan horses who had been bought over by Zia to hijack the PPP. Bhutto sahib from behind the prison bars could foresee their intrigues in his absence. She saved the party from the vultures within and kept the party flag high in defiance of a ruthless martial law and state oppression.
Later, due to deterioration in her health condition she passed the mantle of PPP leadership to Benazir. No single political family in modern history has given so many lives to the cause of democracy and people of its country as did the Bhuttos. Indeed, only a woman and a mother as strong as Begum Bhutto-could have survived judicial murder of her husband, agencies-plotted killing of her two sons and cold bloodied assassination of Benazir Bhutto by yet another dictator now on the run – all in the prime of their lives.
Bhuttos were committed to reviving Quaid’s secular, liberal and progressive Pakistan. One must give credit to former President Asif Ali Zardari who steered the nation to the democratic goal after Benazir’s assassination. Constitutional reforms under him have given strength to the federation. PPP under Bilawal Bhutto as successor Chairman to his mother is determined to keep the Party flag aloft and to bury forces of obscurantism, extra-constitutionalism and revert to making Pakistan peaceful, progressive, prosperous and egalitarian society with equality to all and religions having nothing to do with the business of the state.
SZAB, Begum Bhutto and martyred Benazir Bhutto were committed to reviving Quaid’s secular, liberal and progressive Pakistan. Now Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto- too are overly committed to the same goal especially when obscurantist and extra-constitutional forces under the cover of activism of dubious kind have been plotting to subvert democracy. Let that not happen at any cost – as befitting tribute to Begum Bhutto.
As we leave behind apprehension regarding the possible ides of March, the very fact that on 23rd day in 1940 All-India Muslim League adopted what has come to be known as Lahore Resolution laying pathway to Pakistan, we need to ponder profoundly as to how we have come to a pass that shrouds our future under a shadow of uncertainty despite the fact that we shall be soon completing decade of democracy by vote.
However, scary is the ongoing tug-of-war on the political front between a judicially disqualified prime minister and the establishment. With the dawn of electoral democracy in 2008 following the supreme sacrifice in blood given by martyred Benazir Bhutto, we find ourselves once again at a critical juncture.
Recalling the 23rd March dream one regretfully notes that whatever our founding fathers wanted Pakistan to be – it has been further waylaid and is under threat of being converted into a theocratic state if the mainstreaming of extremists is allowed. Instead of moving on the agenda of establishing egalitarian, liberal, progressive and secular Pakistan, there seems to be a deliberate design to unleash myopic forces of bigotry as clearly reflected in the sinister name of the game — a multi-faceted exercise in deception. First MML and now GPM’s MMA reborn with Labaik Party providing the steam-run up to elections seem dreary.
I should have confined this article to Begum Nusrat Bhutto and March 23 Lahore Resolution, however, the situation is more alarmist and threats to Quaid’s Pakistan are multiplying in dangerous magnitudes-from sublime to the ridiculous. Pakistan designed to be liberal democracy is being pushed to be a theocratic state. Even the Quaid is not being spared of the conversion brush. Short of claiming that he was one of the alleged founding fathers of Jamaat-e-Islami, its current leadership and the Ahraris mischievously do not hesitate to brand him as a fellow traveller on their gravy train.
Religious halfwits crusading against Quaid’s two-nation theory are hell bent in Talibanisation under the cover of the Punjabi-brand of Nazaria-e-Pakistan. The most dangerous development is emergence of so-called academics that question Quaid’s secular politics and claim that he was a sort of Maudoodi’s follower. What has added religious over tones to Pakistan’s post partition politics is the guilt complex of the Punjabi elite who are aware of the despicable role of their pro-British forefathers in helping the British with troops to quash Revolt of 1857 and to oppose creation of Pakistan until the last minute. The heirs to this mindset have been doing their utmost to establish that Jinnah was not what he actually was.
Two-nation theory – what it was and what it meant for us, would need a profound discussion, what is the need of the hour is to save the enormous democratic gains. The conspiracy to subvert Quaid’s Pakistan started as early as 11th of August 1947. In his inaugural address as President to the mother Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, he had laid bare his ideals of Pakistan in these words: It shall be a liberal democratic state; In it religion shall have nothing to do with the business of the state; All its citizens-irrespective of their caste, creed, colour or gender-shall be equal; Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is a personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.
No soon he left the Assembly Chambers for the Governor General’s House, the plot to subvert his dream was put in action. His historic speech was subjected to first ever censorship in Pakistan. As per the wishes of the Secretary General- Chouhdri Mohammad Ali of the government, it was officially ensured that the fundamentals of his speech as stated above were deleted from the text.
During General Zia’s martial law when even to report truth was an offence, if newspapers quoted from August 11, 1947 speech, it would be censored. Not only that, all government publications deleted it from their record. However, thanks to Benazir Bhutto who as prime minister in 1989 ordered its recovery from the archives and assigned Attorney General Yahya Bakhtiar to have a complete book of post-partition speeches of the Quaid printed and have it widely distributed both internally and externally.
If one were to go by the often heard foul language of the religious leaders used in their speeches (as of 24/7 during the Faizabad dharna), the future of Pakistan would no doubt look bleak, unless there is a collective national effort to revive Quaid’s concept of nation-state emphasising tolerance, accommodation and peaceful co-existence letting religion alone as a private affair. This should reflect in the pluralistic composition of Pakistani society, rather than monolithic visions of religious community that are allied to a concept of a unitary garrison state.
(The Author is the former high commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)