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October 23, 2017
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Democracy and Begum Bhutto

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October 23, 2017

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Pakistani politics—nay way of life itself—is outrageously discriminatory against women. Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah much before Pakistan came into being had time and again warned the nation that without women standing shoulder to shoulder with men—there could be no progress.

No doubt our women despite enormous hurdles in the way to empowerment—have achieved much but still they have a long way to go. They have to demolish anti-feminine taboos, distorted religious inhibitions imposed by bigotry of the powerful mullacracy and restrictions embedded and imposed by feudalistic customs that continue to straightjacket space for progress of rural women while their urban counterparts have been competing with men in education and every other field of socio-economic endeavour.

For whatever freedom Pakistani women are exercising today they should be thankful to their pioneering seniors especially those great women who can be counted on finger tips. Indeed, Pakistan’s history would not be complete without mention of those women who played a lead role in struggle for Pakistan. One cannot forget Bi Amma, widow of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar who in recognition of her contribution to the freedom movement, was given a place of equality as member of All India Muslim League Working Committee—virtually Politburo of the party led by MAJ.

Although there were many more that had deep impact, but one cannot undermine four or five of them on top of the ladder who proved to be catalyst--namely Madre Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah—sister of founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and among current leaders one can think of Asma Jehangir. Each one has contributed immensely for the emancipation and empowerment of women in Pakistan.

Ms Jinnah’s was a life devoted to taking care of her iconic brother who was consigned by Providence to create history single-handedly through a democratic struggle to establish Pakistan by vote—a state that would guarantee equality to all-irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender and where religion shall be essentially a private affair as Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa recently reminded us.

During the life of MAJ Ms Jinnah had nothing to do with politics but she learnt her basics of it in close companionship with him. She knew well why her brother had chosen a democratic, secular and progressive future for his country. And when she realised that President Ayub Khan was out there destroying her brother’s vision, she challenged the military dictator. Her decision was timely.

Combined opposition parties could not fund a strong male candidate to take the bull by the horn in the presidential elections. Had she not challenged the military dictator, course of Pakistan’s history would not have changed after 1965. I remember how Ayub Khan’s third rate cronies threw to wind all norms of decency. Two of his ministers Abdul Waheed Khan and Ahmed Saeed Kirmani (perhaps related to current PML-N leader) stooped to the lowest to question Ms Jinnah’s title of being Madre Millat (Mother of the Nation).

In the later years twice another fragile woman—Begum Nusrat Bhutto—took on two military dictators, one more ferocious than the previous, when her husband Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was incarcerated by them for his opposition to military dictatorship. She led Pakistan People’s Party - that ZAB had sprung in the national political arena in the face of strongest opposition by the forces of status. PPP sounded its death knell.

Nusrat Khanum was chosen by destiny to play the role of a crusader like her ancestor Salahuddin Ayubi. Her date of birth March 23 (1929) was not just coincidental. When she was eleven years old Lahore Resolution was adopted in Lahore on March 23, 1940 for seeking the political rights of Muslims of India.

It was again a strange coincidence that General 'Tiger' Niazi laid down his arms to Indian General Arora on December 16, 1971 in the city where in 1906 All India Muslim League was established. On the same day in 1977—Begum Nusrat Bhutto was brutally injured by General Ziaul Haq’s storm troopers during a Test match at Gaddafi Stadium. On seeing Begum Bhutto in their midst the teeming crowd broke into a deafening crescendo of “Bhutto Zindabad!

General Zia was not content by spilling her blood only. She was arrested and dragged out of hospital while her head wound was getting stitched. Six footer cops pulled her out of the hospital bed and despite resistance by doctors frisked her away. Her unattended wound had permanent impact on her, causing loss of memory later in life.

Bhutto Sahib’s mock trial and later judicial murder on the orders of four judges as against his acquittal by three judges — continues to hang like an albatross around the neck of Pakistan’s superior judiciary that is now trying to wash its sins of omission and commission committed during the last 70 years of misjudgments and justifying military and extra-constitutional interventions.

In the limited space here one cannot do justice to the life of struggle, blood, toil and tears of Begum Bhutto. It is a small tribute to her on her death anniversary (October 23) and to honour Pakistani women who stood by her when most of the male leaders of her party had preferred to indulge in the pleasures of life and new wives when politics had become a Herculean challenge to pursue under Zia.

Begum Bhutto kept ignited the populist aspirations of her husband and his devoted followers by keeping aloft the flag of defiance against the dictator. Initially in this fight she was alone but later Bhutto Sahib’s “Dearest Daughter” joined her. And that is when the team of mother-daughter served as the catalyst that transformed their peaceful efforts into ultimate return of democracy that has been rendered now once again into a mess by male leadership.

Begum Bhutto’s most outstanding contribution was towards formation of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against Zia’s dictatorship. She did not make it a matter of personal ego but for the larger interest of democracy she even forgave those in the opposition who had opposed Bhutto Sahib either on their own or in cahoots with Gen Zia’s conspiracy. Only a woman of big heart could sit with such people. But then for all the Bhuttos it is the cause that matters and not persons or personal egos. It was MRD’s resistance led by Bhutto ladies and unparalleled sacrifices by the masses especially in Sindh where Gen Zia let lose a reign of terror and resorted to scotch-earth policy—that grounds were laid first for non-party elections in 1985 and then party based elections in 1988 that brought Benazir Bhutto in power (twice) as prime minister—first ever Muslim and youngest too with Begum Bhutto –though fast declining in health—by her side.

Democracy once again is under duress and there is uncertainty about it too. Moves and countermoves are being made on the chessboard of power politics. PPP played itself well during its five years, sustained democracy by checkmating every move by powers that be to dislodge its government. Regretfully, while its successors got themselves busy in piling up ill-gotten wealth to fill up their own coffers and to counter the resources of the Establishment—it ominously seems time for its nemesis has come although PPPP President Asif Ali Zardari believes that the government must complete its five year tenure. This could possibly be the best homage to Begum Bhutto for her sacrifices for the langri-lolli democracy that we have today. Save it and move forward.

Author is former high commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.

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