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Ides of March no more...


March 23, 2015

In his play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare uses ‘Ides of March’ to warn the Roman Emperor of the tragic fate that was in store for him. And ever since ides of March is used as a precursor to forecasting events of far-reaching consequences. In Pakistan’s history too, this month has great significance. Landmark event was the decision by the Indian Muslims to establish a separate independent homeland through a resolution adopted by All-India Muslim League on March 23, 1940 under the dynamic leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. His Pakistan was to be a secular, liberal, democratic egalitarian state with equal rights for all its citizens.
Mr Jinnah’s concept was waylaid by the powers that be, civil and judicial bureaucracy, and feudal vested interest in league with the Mullahs who had opposed the Quaid and Pakistan. His secular ideology was replaced with a so-called Nazaria-e-Pakistan (religion-based ideology) backed by those who saw in this conversion their monopoly over the country. Pakistan’s slide to the existing tragic pass is explained by the betrayal of Jinnah’s vision.
While that being a situation that has nothing to rejoice about (including the cricketing fiasco), blowing of churches and overall law and order situation, it was a historic coincidence that on March 23, 1929, the Ispahanis of Karachi were gifted with a daughter, Nusrat Khanum, who was chosen by destiny to be the great woman behind two great martyred leaders of our time—Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.
A little digression about her before one writes more about the situation in Pakistan. She was an Iranian Kurd by origin, her ancestry leading to the legendary Salahuddin Ayyubi. I had known Begum Bhutto to be a person full of compassion and determination. And her love of humanity turned her into a leading light among young women of her time.
Among many other qualities that make a perfect human being, she passed on this quality of compassion for the needy to

her daughter Benazir. In 1947-48, as a member of the Women’s National Guard, she carried out personally the relief operation to provide shelter and succour to millions of the uprooted refugees at a time when Pakistan had no resources. She stood tall among the tallest of ladies that had plunged themselves in one of the biggest relief operations ever undertaken. She showed rare qualities of leadership that inspired others and strengthened the young nation’s will to survive despite the odds—a fact recognised and acknowledged by both Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and Begum Liaquat Ali Khan.
Begum Bhutto kept alight the flame of democracy when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was incarcerated by Ayub for opposing him and founding the PPP. She gave her best when ZAB was overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq in a coup in 1977. She kept ignited his mission when he was imprisoned on a concocted murder charge. Though she was not alone at that time, as her talented daughter was with her, nominated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the party chairperson in his absence, she kept the party flag high in defiance of a ruthless martial law, to the extent that she received a head injury that led to her disability and ultimately death in silence. Despite her prolonged sufferings and personal tragedies, she had set example of tremendous forbearance and tenacity. Indeed, the emergence of the qualities of leadership among women of Pakistan today owe much to her.
March 1971 saw the beginning of the end of united Pakistan followed by the birth of Bangladesh. March, in 2008, once again plodded Pakistan onto a democratic course. Despite machinations, intrigues and conspiracies Pakistan continues to bring forth the need to revert to Mr Jinnah’s liberal ideology with a secular governance to save it from meeting Yugoslavia-like fate. On March 17, 2008 the nation proudly witnessed the coming into being of the elected National Assembly historically pitched to uproot the last vestiges of dictatorship and to usher in people’s democracy.
Democracy continues with a roller-coaster existence. It is threatened by terrorism, lawlessness, socio-economic problems and growing apprehensions of an implosion. The dictator that it ousted remains at large and poses a threat to Pakistan’s current democratic dispensation and Constitution although one feels that he can only bark and has no teeth to bite.
Had democracy been entrenched deeply, by now he would have been a footnote in history, tried for committing high treason and punished for being a party to the assassination of the most popular leader of Pakistan—Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
Just when March is about to end, dark clouds continue to occupy the horizon. Though PML-N government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has survived all sorts of conspiracies, the silver lining that has emerged is the resilience of all political forces to defy the ongoing machinations against the sovereignty of parliament and not to allow democracy become stronger. What was threatened to be a tsunami in last August and designed to sweep away the elected parliament, has ended in a ripple with the agreement on setting up of a judicial commission to dry the tears of those crying over the spilt milk.
Notwithstanding the incidence of rampant terrorism, there is a strange feeling of numbness and void. One had hoped that the Peshawar APC bloodbath would produce something substantive. Regrettably so far it seems to be much sound and fury signifying nothing. When it was decided that the government and the army being on the same page to fight religious terrorism and extremism, the logical way forward was to mobilise the nation by translating Mr Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947 into a National Action Plan.
(The writer is a former high commissioner of Pakistan to the UK)

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