Begum Nusrat Bhutto – symbol of courage

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
AS I sat down to write memorial article on the death anniversary of  Begum Nusrat Bhutto (Died on Oct 23, 2011), I found my eyes dried of tears. Before me rolled a life of sacrifices that cannot be measured in words. Not many suffered as she—as a wife, mother, mother-in-law, grand-mother and god mother to an entire nation especially those under-privileged found in her a voice for themselves.

Begum Sahiba’s life was a tragedy worst compounded. She continued many years to suffer in silence– unaware of the brutal  assassination of her dearest daughter Benzir Bhutto and the mortal threats that were faced by Pakistan—a country for which she had insatiable love and commitment.

It was few years before death when I saw her in Dubai. She sat overly blank but there was an aura of deep melancholy blanketing her beautiful face that continued to retain its noble grace. Each wrinkle that ran across her face told tales of saddest experiences in her tragic life. Indeed, when she died her life was much more of the same—sum total of the crimes of undemocratic rulers that have scarred the pristine face of her country.

Begum Sahib was from an Iranian Kurd heritage; her 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 outstanding foreign minister.

I had found her then as well as until her later years when she finally slipped into an incommunicable world of her own. She was humane to the core being surfeit with compassion and generosity, dauntless determination and courage. Her affection for the poor and the party workers had blossomed her as the most outstanding female leader of her time. The head wound from the severe baton charge by General Ziaul Haq’s hounds in Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium did leave her with crippling consequences, yet she did not surrender to the dictator and continued her jailed husband’s mission for the restoration of democracy with her brave daughter Benazir Bhutto by her side.

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. At that hour of crisis, she stood tall among the tallest of ladies that had plunged themselves in one of the biggest relief operations ever undertaken.

Her marriage to SZAB was also a great turning point in his life. Though himself qualified and richly endowed scion of an illustrious parentage, stability at home provided to him by Begum Sahiba, enabled him to harness his energies in the service of the nation to the best of his abilities. As the youngest minister he was seen as a great man in the making and the woman behind him was Nusrat Bhutto.

The true strength and greatness of her character—manifested itself in times of stress and strain. When Ayub Khan jailed Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 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 lead the masses, kept alive their democratic aspirations and hopes when her husband was incarcerated. Though she was not alone this time as her equally gifted daughter Benazir Bhutto was by her side.

While in jail Bhutto Sahib handed over the leadership of PPP to Begum Sahiba as he could foresee the intrigues and machinations manipulated by Zia through some of the top PPP leaders for the takeover of the party 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 worsening health condition she passed the mantle of PPP leadership to Benazir Bhutto.

Indeed, no one 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 Nusrat Bhutto—though tragically ill—and committed to the service of the masses—by blood—could have survived judicial murder of her husband, killing of her two sons and cold bloodied  assassination of her most illustrious daughter—all in the prime of their lives.

SZAB, Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto were committed to reviving Quaid’s secular, liberal and progressive Pakistan.  Now their legacy PPP under the leadership of her grandson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is overly committed to reviving PPP to counter forces of obscurantism and opportunists to save Pakistan from take-over by scavengers mortally threatening the very existence of the country.

Mr Jinnah’s vision was regretfully distorted by self-conceited power troika in league with the clerics who had opposed Mr Jinnah and Pakistan. His liberal ideology was replaced with one infested with obscurantism aimed to making Pakistan a theocratic state.

The best tribute to Begum Bhutto would be to reshape through tough decisions that could ensure Pakistan’s safe and progressive future. The poor need to be provided instant relief since they cannot make their sustenance possible because of the policies of the rulers making the rich richer and poor poorer. Bilawal and PPP shall have to re-strengthen the nation’s will to fight odds including terrorism through a battle that would mostly require winning the hearts and minds of the people and making the masses genuine stake-holders as has been attempted through 18th  Amendment in the Constitution and the NFC award. Politics is a game of uncertainty especially when egomaniacs hijack the institutions. The best response to their machinations rests in unity, discipline and faith.

(The writer is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)