By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
The 11th martyrdom of Mohatarma Benazir Bhutto was observed last week (Thursday, December 27) by all those who believe in democracy and civilian rule of law not only in Pakistan but worldwide. Her vision of democracy and believe in democratic tule will remain a true guidance for all of us. Martyred Benazir Bhutto was perhaps the most outstanding leader of her time-nay all chimes. Like of her is not likely to be born again. She carved for herself a unique niche in the history of Pakistan not on the basis of her dynastic roots in glory but her long struggle against military dictatorship and forces of oppression. There is hardly a parallel when twice popularly elected prime minister and first among Muslim women– was not allowed by the usurper Establishment to complete her tenures.
Despite odds against her Awami poet Habib Jalib’s ‘Nihati Larki’ (Lonely unarmed girl) Benazir’s life shortened by a dictator was inspirational for the masses igniting in them a hope for a better tomorrow under democracy and an equitable social order. After the murder of her iconic father by General Ziaul Haq and later coup by General Pervez Musharraf –she inspired the hope by putting democracy back in place. Until her last breath she did not give it up and when she was shot dead by dictator’s hired killers (Dec 27, 2007) she had reached the pinnacle of her glory and on the point of fulfilment of her democratic dream.
No doubt Bhutto was not allowed to complete her two tenures yet she left indelible imprint on sands of time of remarkable socio-economic changes for the good of the people that would have transformed a bigoted feudal society into an egalitarian order ensuring greatest good of the largest number irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender. Her long periods in exile, her incarcerations in worst possible conditions in jails, intimidations, impediments at every step by the authoritarian forces did not dampen her spirit to do or die for democracy and Pakistan. All through her life she remained a threat to the Bonapartist generals hungry for power only to be silenced by her bloody assassination.
When Bhutto returned to Pakistan to a tumultuous welcome in 1986, analysts attributed the popular enthusiasm for her to massive sympathy that her father had earned by walking head high to the gallows in defiance of a dictator. Most certainly there was element of sympathy but it was more so because of her own popularity as a breath of fresh air in Pakistani politics in most depressing environment. Oxford-Harvard educated, she was inspirational in the mould of founder Quaid-e-Azam and her own father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had in his own time opened floodgates of change.
Despite heavy odds and almost insurmountable challenges, Benazir offered her nation hope by sustaining her commitment to the socialistic agenda of her father and the party founded by him, as the harbinger of socio-economic change, in a country under the stranglehold of an unyielding power troika; of usurpers and bigoted exploiters
Like the chequered history of Pakistan in which power troika comprising of generals, judiciary and the bureaucracy played dominant role in subverting democracy, some of the Supreme Court chief justices and judges shall always be remembered as more than willing partners in intrigues that would not let democratic dream of the founding fathers come true.
A Supreme Court judgement on merit of the case in 1988 following General Zia’s fall from the skies, restoring Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo’s sacked government could have changed the course of our history. While Junejo remained dismissed since the then Army Chief General Aslam Beg so desired, the judgement did strike down the law on parties’ registration which endorsed party-based elections. Its silver lining was enabling of political parties including so-far restrained PPP to contest polls. It made room for Benazir too to participate in elections in late 1988.
While her father’s murder was a joint sordid affair dictated to the Supreme Court judges from Punjab by Gen Zia, subsequent Supreme Court judgements in case of Benazir Bhutto were also questionable and far from merit. No doubt the Establishment allowed her reluctantly to be Prime Minister, the generals like Aslam Beg, Hameed Gul and others involved, would never be able to remove the albatross of shame for funding and pepping up opposition to Benazir to deny her absolute or reasonable majority in the National Assembly so that she could not bring about seminal reforms for the creation of a social welfare vision of the Quaid or her father’s replacing the Praetorian backed concept of a security state.
Unfortunately that tug of war is far from being over. Her murder was definitely catastrophic but yet it took us to her conceived goal of democracy. Now eleven years down the road despite having had three elections and peaceful transfer of power, moves now being made do not augur well for democracy. Hers was a daunting struggle but now we are about to face a well engineeredu-turn and it is said that it is once again going to be presidential form since the quarters that have the final say have already denounced 18th Amendment as worse than Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s separatist 6-Points. It is feared that it is going to be repeat of what we had in the twin era of previous dictators. Gen Zia switched the country form parliamentary to presidential system making it the most powerful chief executive in the world besides converting the country into a almost theocratic state.
Had Benazir being alive and allowed to be Prime Minister a third time perhaps Pakistan today would have been on a course to becoming a formidable member of the comity of nations playing a major role in promotion of universal peace and alleviation of global poverty. By the time she died she had established herself as one of the world’s top leaders respected and held in high esteem by the international community as complimented by British Prime Minister Theresa May in her address to the UNGA in 2018.
Despite heavy odds and almost insurmountable challenges, Benazir offered her nation hope by sustaining her commitment to the socialistic agenda of her father and the party founded by him, as the harbinger of socio-economic change, in a country under the stranglehold of an unyielding power troika; of usurpers and bigoted exploiters. I conclude my tribute to the greatest leader of our time from a quote by historian Dr Fatima Hussain as follows: “Amongst her many qualities, the most outstanding, in my opinion was that she successfully juggled motherhood and the Premiership of Pakistan with élan. Would the present and future of South Asia have been any different, had this visionary been alive? Perhaps — ?
Indeed. It would have been. In her political career of 35 years she had total less than five years in power, yet her achievements are not insignificant, most gigantic being her long arduous struggle against dictatorship like of which perhaps shall never be seen by us again.
(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)