Tuesday January 18, 2022

A continuing tragedy

December 17, 2021

This is the time of year when sadness returns with a vengeance and reflection too. I allude to our painful surrender, loss of half the country and the creation of Bangladesh. Sadness, wishful thinking and reflection happens but will not suffice. What we need to do is to learn the truth and stop making excuses.

I have had a long time to think about it to try and determine who was responsible. Many things were responsible but the one that stands out the most is the role of one Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the whole disgraceful affair. Visionless leaders in Pakistan afforded him the opportunity of becoming a minister when president Iskandar Mirza included him in his cabinet – and Ayub Khan continued with it.

Iskandar Mirza we are told was an honest man yet he could never see through Bhutto who then also became Ayub Khan’s foreign minister. Though Ayub was not foolish, he could not see through Bhutto who was busy trying to consolidate power. He betrayed Ayub Khan, was thrown out of the cabinet too late, formed his own party and caused the 1970 elections to be held which led to Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rahman’s party to win the largest number of seats, all in East Pakistan, which made him eligible to become prime minister. But Bhutto would have none of it and insisted that it would lead to the breakup of Pakistan if Mujeeb’s agenda was followed in the yet to be formed constitution.

President General Yahya Khan also couldn’t see through Bhutto. He succumbed and thus started a civil war in East Pakistan. The number of deaths on both sides and the tens of thousands of refugees to India gave Indira Gandhi just the chance to attack Pakistan, something she had been working on for years and years. The politicians of West Pakistan and indeed most of the population of West Pakistan supported Yahya. The politicians themselves were extremely stupid and short-sighted. The result was loss in East Pakistan and the breakup of the country. It’s a long and sad story.

But Bhutto was not done. He still had history to make. West Pakistan became the new Pakistan and the military leaders of the country removed Yahya Khan, and Bhutto got the chance to make history. He became the first unelected president of Pakistan, the first and only civilian chief martial law administrator. Under the cover of democracy, he proceeded to become the first civilian dictator, which cost the country dearly. He launched a war against the press, the smaller provinces which had not voted for him. He went on to make the 1973 constitution, which contains numerous flaws from which we suffer to this day. His sins are endless and to recount them all would take up all the space I have at my disposal.

In the end, another general, one Ziaul Haq, took over and declared martial law and eventually hanged Bhutto whose family are continuing their demented politics to this day. We got Bhutto’s daughter and son-in-law as the rulers of Pakistan for a dreadful decade and more – and the family is not done yet. The successor will be Bhutto’s grandson who is still waiting to come to power, which at the rate we are going, he may still do. The tragedy does not end. It is a tragedy for Pakistan, not the Bhuttos.

Bhutto destroyed Pakistan’s economy with his wanton nationalisation and introduced violence in the country which still continues. It is a story of blood, tears and a tragedy which goes beyond being Greek. In the meantime, we have been convinced that the security arm of the state is the culprit for Pakistan’s predicament. It certainly has played a dire role. This tragedy will require a whole tome to be told.

But if the security apparatus is as bad as Bhutto made it out to be – which it is not – then our predicament is: who do we follow in war? Asif Zardari? Nawaz Sharif? Who? My answer may sound simple and also a big dollop of wishful thinking. If Pakistan is to be saved, it can be saved only by its own people.

The writer is a veteran journalist, political analyst and author.