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January 5, 2017

The legacy of Bhutto


January 5, 2017

Former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would have turned 89 years old today had his life not been tragically cut short in 1979 following a judicial trial.

The trial is now widely acknowledged as a judicial murder, even by independent jurists. A reference filed in recent years by the PPP to correct the course of history on Bhutto’s trial is pending with the Supreme Court. If history had taught us any lessons, Bhutto’s entire family wouldn’t have been gradually silenced and buried in their ancestral graveyard at Garhi Khuda Baksh – which, over the last four decades, has become a symbol of the family’s sacrifices and political inspiration.   

The political calendar of the PPP is marked with the birthdays and death anniversaries of all those Bhuttos who have left behind the tragic legacy of their lifelong struggle and passion which is written in blood. It is a legacy of courage and passion that continues to challenge dictatorial tendencies and strive for democratic order, despite all ideological and practical oddities.

Over the last 50 years, politics in Pakistan has been revolving around the pro-PPP and anti-PPP extremes. Both extremes have been taking various twists and turns, creating and shrinking spaces, leaving a broader room to look at Bhutto’s legacy, both in the personal and collective domains.

Besides the PPP, Bhutto also left another proud legacy – the constitution of 1973. Undoubtedly, this is his most towering legacy which the entire country continues to carry forward. The constitution, even after 22 amendments, is still very much valid and continues to bind the country.

Bhutto made all this possible at a time when – after the country was split into two in 1971 – the fractured western part of Pakistan was put under his charismatic leadership. By balancing the imbalances among the remaining units of the federation, he emerged as a chain that united Pakistan despite several grievances. 

He made our deterrence indispensable through a nuclear programme. Bhutto united the divided Muslim world of his times into a uniform entity. He championed the cause of people’s empowerment and raised a voice for the voiceless and marginalised masses within the realm of mainstream politics. Bhutto emerged as an equally powerful and popular leader at home and abroad. His command over local issues and international affairs was unmatched. A man of all shades and shreds, Bhutto has an unparallelled standing in the country.

Bhutto’s legacy still lives on. The liberal, secular and democratic credentials that he cultivated, make his party stand out in today’s radicalised Pakistan, where right-wing politics has taken hold, creating a huge political vacuum that the PPP has to fill. Bhutto challenged Ayub Khan till he surrendered politically. General Ziaul Haq tried to make him history. But instead of becoming history, Bhutto preferred to make history. It was Bhutto’s history that helped his daughter make history as well. Military dictators came and went but the Bhuttos stayed in history.

Over the years, Bhutto’s idealism has partly faded but has not entirely disappeared. In every decade, it has been revived. His daughter, Benazir Bhutto, the first woman prime minister of the Muslim world, marked the political rebirth of her father’s ideals. After she was assassinated in Rawalpindi, her young son seized the reins of that legacy and is struggling to revive and reform his grandfather’s vision amid harsher political realities.

Being a visionary, Bhutto realised the need to join hands with China to reap miracles for Pakistan as our population, afflicted with widespread poverty, can only be catered through economic development. Bhutto realised that China can provide a better guarantee for prosperity than any ‘Western masters’ who don’t need any friends to keep their superiority intact.

The legacy that Bhutto left behind needs to be rebranded. His personal charisma and institutional contributions still bears a strong resonance. All that is needed is a strong realignment with the changing realities of the contemporary times. The PPP, led by his Bhutto’s grandson, is trying to transform this political legacy and revive the glory that has been lost in the party’s birthplace, Lahore, and the entire Punjab. Bhutto’s legacy in the shape of the constitution has also been restored in its original spirit after 18th Amendment.

However, the constitution still needs to provide more safeguards as the democratic dispensation remains largely at threat, even after amending Article 6 has made the provision more robust. But it is not merely the constitution that protects you; it is the spirit and practice of the constitution that guarantees protection. Once this is regularised, protection can be guaranteed against any extra-constitutional threat.          

As a nuclear nation with a population of over 200 million and the lowest possible indicators of human development, our survival can only be guaranteed through democracy. Bhutto envisioned, struggled and sacrificed his life for democracy. Let’s pay tribute to him on his 89th birthday by recognising his contributions, irrespective of any political lineage.


The writer is an Islamabad-based
anthropologist and analyst.

Email: [email protected]


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