By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Amidst full preparations for forthcoming elections in Pakistan and abroad, democratic minded people celebrated the 65th birthday of country’s first women prime minister Mohatarma Benazir Bhutto and historically the first Muslim Prime Minister of Islamic world. Unfortunately we lost a prodigy daughter of a legend father who was also unprecedented and sacrificed his life for the country and its people.
Mohatarma Benazir Bhutto – had she been alive today – would have been 65. There is a good chance that she would have been in power, and bracing for the upcoming elections in July 2018. It would have been yet another big leap forward towards the consolidation of democracy on the principles laid down in the Charter of Democracy. We would have been moving towards the strengthening of parliament, free press, independent judiciary and a culture of tolerance with guaranteed freedom to all religions. All Pakistanis would have had something to hope for, irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender. Promised dreams might have become a reality.
Sadly, fate had different plans. Like two other prime ministers, Liaquat Ali Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, she was killed in the garrison town of Rawalpindi. Yet, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) victory in the 2008 elections was still a triumph for her long drawn struggle against dictatorship. Though she was not there to lead, her party sustained democracy against all odds for five years, and managed to introduce fundamental constitutional amendments and transferred power to another government on completion of its term.
One had hoped that lessons would be learnt. At least the army that had reached the apogee of unpopularity under General Pervez Musharraf read the writing on the wall. It got the message loud and clear that options for a military takeover were minimal. For want of space one would not like to go into details of extra-constitutional machination from 2008 to 2013. It was because of the resilience of the people that the PPP was able to defy them all. Despite orchestrated propaganda by the wired media, the masses remained convinced that an elected government would be the best. The peoples’ memory is not too short to remember the consequences of previous dictatorships.
No doubt, the overall picture is quite dismal today, yet Bibi must be happy about the decade of democracy and the minimal chances of extra-constitutional intervention. No doubt, despite assurances from Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa that elections will be held on schedule, one dreads to think about the proverbial many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’ especially when there are already whispers that “the democratic decade is over, and a ‘soft’ military coup has already taken place.”
I feel this impression has come about because of the deplorable performance of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government and the government sponsored free-for-all in mega corruption, inclusive of the former Prime Minister (PM) who could not defend himself forthrightly. Moreover, Mian Nawaz Sharif and his army of crony ministers let down the Parliament, undermined its sovereignty and gave space to other institutions. By welcoming a Supreme Court (SC) intervention through Joint Investigation Team comprising of several security agencies, Mian Sahib dug his own grave and chose to place his fate in the hands of other institutions, not Parliament.
Pakistan has many bad memories related to elections. The violent deaths of three populist prime ministers, and many other leaders were directly related to the polls. Liaquat Ali Khan was shot in a public meeting when he was to announce the date for Pakistan’s first general elections. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was undone because he called for the 1977 elections earlier than scheduled. He provided an excuse to his ambitious Jihadist army chief – General Zia – to engineer a quasi-religious movement to oust and hang him on trumped up murder charges. Third was his daughter Benazir Bhutto. She was assassinated when she triumphantly returned home to contest elections. I don’t have to mention here how one particular organisation had earlier conspired to stop her landslide victories twice (1988-1990) by funding Nawaz Sharif and other opposition leaders. In its historic judgment, the SC has laid bare the role intelligence agencies have played in the subversion of democracy. In the 2013 elections, the secular PPP and ANP were made to bear the brunt of the wrath of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and other religious parties, while the powers that be did nothing.
It must be of big consolation to Bibi that overcoming insurmountable hurdles, the Pakistani people have proved their resilience by ousting a well-entrenched military dictator by force, a dictator who is now too frightened to return to Pakistan. Bibi’s blood has nourished the democratic will of the people and given it defiant strength to stand on its own feet to take on the extra-constitutional forces.
I would agree with the popular view that in 2008, Pakistani democracy was reborn – alas without the leader who lived and died for it. It was the confidence generated by Bibi’s determination that enabled civilians to assert their right to an elected Parliament, paving the ground for the blossoming of democracy.
This was supposed to be a memorial article to pay tribute to martyred Bibi on her 65th birthday anniversary (June 21st). Indeed, we have done her proud by sustaining democracy. I remember her calling upon all those who cared for her and Pakistan to save the country. I can recall her words, “did Shaheed Bhutto and thousands of others sacrifice their lives, walked to gallows, faced long and torturous incarcerations at the hands of dictators usurping democratic rights of the people to be pushed back into dark ages?” It is time for the nation to wake up from its deep slumber and save Pakistan from being swept up by a deluge.
The challenges are enormous, and both our internal and external enemies are increasingly formidable. We have to revert Pakistan to the liberal, secular and democratic vision of the Quaid and martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to protect pristine Islam – a religion of peace-from the horde of suicidal terrorists”.
(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)