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Friday June 14, 2024

Legacy of courage

By Sherry Rehman
October 26, 2023
Picture of late Begum Nusrat Bhutto. — Pakistan Peoples Party-Shaheed Bhutto official website.
Picture of late Begum Nusrat Bhutto. — Pakistan Peoples Party-Shaheed Bhutto official website.

On October 23, 2011, Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s death marked the end of an era in Pakistani politics, leaving a void that was deeply felt by the Bhutto family, political parties, and the nation as a whole.

We all pay tribute to Madar-e-Jamhuriat Begum Nusrat Bhutto on her 12th death anniversary. Begum Bhutto went through one of the darkest periods of Pakistan’s history with her signature resilience and stoic brand of courage. This is the role model of bravery that the PPP universally adopted all over the country for years on end, led on by leaders who celebrated martyrdom in the service of a promise made to the people of Pakistan.

That is the promise many generations of the Bhutto family and jiyalas have been ready to live and die for. The promise of power to the people is no small one. Tragically it still requires sacrifice and struggle, which Begum Bhutto embodied, followed by her iconic daughter, who led from the front.

Her landmark role in the restoration of democratic and constitutional politics is truly unforgettable. From the inception of the Pakistan People’s Party to her leadership in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), her unwavering support for her husband Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and her steadfast commitment to democracy exemplify her courage and determination.

Begum Bhutto tirelessly campaigned for the reinstatement of the constitution and the return of democracy during Zia’s dictatorship. In following this path strewn with thorns Begum Bhutto faced egregious hardships, including imprisonment and exile, along with her children. Despite the tremendous persecution the Bhutto family and PPP charted new models of resistance during General Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship, when they emerged as symbols of resistance. Begum Bhutto’s role and leadership played a vital role in upholding the constitutional, progressive, and democratic politics in Pakistan.

Begum Nusrat Bhutto was a trailblazer in the male-dominated arena of Pakistani politics. After the judicial execution of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Begum Nusrat assumed leadership of the PPP. In a significant role during the Zia dictatorship, she led a major political party, despite the prevailing challenges faced by women at the time. After resuming the PPP’s leadership she played an active role in mobilizing supporters of the MRD and led protests against the Zia regime. These protests were crucial in keeping the pressure on the military government to loosen its grip on power.

Due to her compassion and bravery, party workers affectionately referred to her as ‘mother’. She remained steadfast in bridging social divides among the people, displaying extraordinary resilience that few political figures have matched. She had to endure immense hardships, including the loss of her husband and two young sons. She was in her hospital bed when her daughter Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was martyred at the hands of terrorists that she stood up to without fear in 2007. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto knew the dangers she faced, but stayed true to her parents’ legacy, and said that she must do what she had to for the country, since no other political leader was doing so.

Begum Bhutto was not only an outstanding political leader but also a prominent advocate for women’s rights and social justice, working tirelessly to improve the lives of marginalized and underprivileged communities. She was committed to empowering women and building constituencies of inclusion and empowerment in all sectors, including politics. This commitment led her to establish the Women’s Wing within the PPP, where she served as its inaugural head.

Begum Nusrat Bhutto also played a significant role in advocating for the establishment of women’s police stations in Pakistan. She recognized the need for dedicated spaces where women could report crimes, seek protection, and access services without fear or hesitation. Her advocacy for women’s rights and her commitment to addressing the unique challenges faced by women in the justice system contributed to the establishment of women’s police stations, which have since become an important part of Pakistan’s law enforcement infrastructure.

The PPP naturally continues with Begum Bhutto’s unwavering commitment to democracy and constitutional politics, advocating for the rule of law and the rights of the people. Her party is at the forefront of the movement, working tirelessly to promote gender equality, social justice, and women’s participation in all spheres of society, including politics. Her legacy of resilience and her role in the political landscape will continue to serve as an inspiration for new generations of political leaders and activists.

On the 12th anniversary of her passing, we honour Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s sacrifices and contributions, which have left an indelible mark on Pakistan’s democratic and constitutional history. She remains a powerful symbol of courage, tenacity, and the enduring struggle for democracy and justice in Pakistan. Begum Bhutto will always be missed.

The writer is the former federal minister for climate change and environmental coordination.