Remembering Shaheed Bhutto

                             Ye bazi khoon ki bazi hai, (This challenge is a blood-stained challenge)

                             Ye bazi tum he haro gay, (This challenge you are bound to lose)

                             Har ghar se Bhutto niklay ga, (A Bhutto will be born in every home)

                             Tum kitnay Bhutto maro gay (So how many Bhuttos will you slay)

The constant struggle of the Pakistan Peoples Party and its consistent sacrifices have proved that the seeds of the social democratic ideology sown by Shaheed Bhutto cannot be easily eliminated. Today, Pakistanis view dictators as evil, while the spirit of Shaheed Bhutto lives on through the 1973 Constitution drafted by the PPP.The fourth of April will always be remembered as a black day in the history of Pakistan. On that day, in 1979, a dictator tried to extinguish the flame of democracy, demolish rule of law, silence the voice of the poor and the dispossessed, and desecrated the Constitution of Pakistan. It is the day when Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was sent to the gallows after a show trial, with the help of a compliant judiciary — the most glaring judicial murder in recent history.

History conferred the honour of restoring the Constitution on the PPP just as the framing of that Constitution through unanimous consent of all provinces had been the PPP’s achievement. Under President Zardari’s leadership, the PPP helped peacefully remove another dictator, General Musharraf, and created broad political consensus to revert the 1973 Constitution to its original form.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s stature among leaders of the Third World is matchless. Shaheed Bhutto was prominent for his efforts against colonialism, imperialism and for national integration. He brought Pakistanis together and rebuilt our national identity after the calamity of the separation of Pakistan’s erstwhile eastern wing.

Shaheed Bhutto was undoubtedly the most charismatic political leader that Pakistan has ever seen. And the political party that he founded remains a popular democratic force to be reckoned with even today. Bhutto emerged as a powerful spokesman for the world’s Muslims. His leadership in strengthening cooperation among Islamic countries through the 1974 Lahore Islamic summit is now legendary.

Bhutto’s era can safely be described as the Age of Revolution. He mobilised the country’s first mass-based political party, which became the platform for the voice of people from across the country. The slogan of “Food, Shelter and Clothing” shifted the focus of Pakistani politics from theological to economic issues. Political discourse was transferred from the drawing rooms of the elite to the tharras in towns and villages — something the drawing room elite resents to this day.

Under Shaheed Bhutto’s leadership, massive transfer of resources towards the rural economy by setting higher prices for agricultural products improved farming. This process continues even today under the PPP’s stewardship. The credit for Pakistan’s nuclear capability also belongs to Shaheed Bhutto. The Karachi Nuclear Power Plant was started by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the end of 1972 when he was president but, prior to it, as minister for fuel, power and national resources, he played a key role in setting up the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. He also established the Kahuta facility.

Shaheed Bhutto was also a champion of human rights, especially the rights of women. His democratic regime had a very positive and liberal attitude towards women. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, all government services were opened to women, as were education opportunities at all levels. Most people do not realise this, but the huge Pakistani diaspora today is also a result of Shaheed Bhutto’s decision to recognise the right of all Pakistanis to a passport.

Shaheed Bhutto had the courage of his conviction to risk his life rather than compromise or seek the appeasement of a dictator.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th,  2011

Remembering Benazir Bhutto

Three years ago today, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It was a dark day that indelibly changed the direction of Pakistan and I am torn both by personal and political reflections.

I was blessed and honoured not only to assist Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in the field of communications but also to know her personally. So for me, December 27 is doubly tragic — I miss her skill, her leadership, what she could have accomplished politically for our people. But I also miss her laughter, her humour, her loving attention to her family and her friends. I miss her every day, and I weep for all the ‘might have beens’ if she hadn’t been so brutally assassinated ahead of her greatest electoral triumph.

Some in our chattering class, speaking from the comfort of their couches and their salons, gossip and criticise and dismiss her accomplishments. How many of them — if they had her brilliance, her education at Harvard and Oxford, her beauty, her youth, her family wealth, her loving husband and children — would have sacrificed everything out of personal responsibility and commitment to the people of Pakistan? She had everything to live for. She could have had a life that anyone of us would have only dreamed of. Yet she came back fearlessly to lead us because of her faith in God and the people of Pakistan.

There are tens of thousands of primary and secondary schools across our country that were built during her government. There are thousands of villages that got electricity. There is healthcare in our rural areas because of her programme of 100,000 women health workers being trained in nutrition and pre and post-natal care. There are women abused by domestic violence who can now go to women’s police stations for help. There are computers, fiber optics, cell phones, access to CNN and BBC, an uncensored media and an independent civil society because of her vision. And there are 90 million women in Pakistan who refuse to accept limits on their futures because she broke the glass ceiling for all of us, shattering not only the glass but her very life in the process.

On her first day in office in 1988, she freed all political prisoners, she made student and labour unions legal, she made civil society truly ‘civil’ again, she uncensored the media and opened it, for the first time in Pakistani history, to the political opposition.

And all of that was on her first day. During the 1800 days that she served as our prime minister, she built on this record of human rights, not only in rhetoric but in practice. She appointed women for the first time in our history to superior courts. She freed Pakistani women and girl athletes to compete in international competitions. She created a Women’s Development Bank to provide loans to women to start businesses across Pakistan.

Her accomplishments are not recognised by obscurantists because they do not agree with her vision. Some others fail to appreciate the odds she overcame.

Benazir Bhutto didn’t fear dictators or tyrants. She threw down the gauntlet to jihadists and terrorists and was the face of a modern, enlightened and loving Islam to a world that had condemned us to caricature.

She alone dared to challenge Ziaul Haq in the 1980s and Pervez Musharraf in the new century. Because of her, Pakistan strives to build a thriving and robust democracy, with our constitution restored and the vestiges of dictatorship purged from the laws of our land. No one can take that away from her. And no one will ever be able to take that away from us. Benazir Bhutto was the bravest person I have ever known. She was also the smartest, the most visionary and the most selfless. She didn’t live for herself, she lived for us. And, tragically, she died for us. For me, for Pakistan, and for the entire world, she is irreplaceable.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2010.

Time to rescue the people of Parachinar

Parachinar used to be called ‘a paradise on Earth’. Despite its natural beauty and strategic importance, Parachinar is presently in a dire state due to sectarian violence initially instigated by the negative policies of former president Ziaul Haq. The residents of Parachinar, predominantly Shia, have been the target of jihadi entities and this has been the primary cause of sectarian clashes there. This violence has transformed the once beautiful land into ruins, completely destroying infrastructure. The main road connecting Peshawar to Parachinar has been blocked by sectarian extremists who have been brutally killing travellers to and from Parachinar.

 

Local people have been forced to travel through dangerous routes via Afghanistan and back into Peshawar just to purchase daily rations and essential items. Today, even that route has been closed, effectively cutting them off from the rest of Pakistan. This has caused local merchants to raise prices of staple foods such as flour, ghee, sugar and rice up to six times. There is also a tremendous shortage of basic medical supplies and essential life-saving drugs in Parachinar, in addition to a scarcity of proper medical facilities and staff in the area. The youth of Parachinar are worse off since the lack of even basic education has meant that most schools in the area have remained closed for a long time. In the past few decades, the Shias of Kurram Agency have suffered greatly. This started when General Zia relocated the local Kurram militia from Parachinar to other agencies, upsetting the century-old tradition of keeping a local officer in the militia’s hierarchy or as a political administrator.

 

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, the situation got much worse for Kurram agency. And, after their defeat in 2001, a large number of Taliban, along with al Qaeda members, fled to the bordering tribal areas in Pakistan, settling in regions in upper Kurram dominated by Shia tribes. This resettlement became a flashpoint and the oppression of the locals multiplied when, five years ago, the Taliban blockaded the only road that connects Parachinar with Thal — the first town in the settled area. This affected trade and downgraded the social life of the people, strangulating their livelihood. Consequently, they found it difficult to safeguard their families and find jobs, decent food and sometimes even basic medicines.

 

The situation of Parachinar is only getting worse. The people of Parachinar still remember, with deep affection, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as they focused on the betterment of this desperately poor and deprived area in order to strengthen its resources by the rehabilitation of its schools, colleges, hospitals and medical facilities. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto also directed PIA to have a flight connecting Parachinar and Peshawar on a weekly basis at an affordable fare. This stopped during former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s tenure and needs to be reinstated urgently. Currently, only a few wealthy residents of Parachinar are able to afford a flight to Peshawar through a private plane service and it charges a high fare. It is time for us to step forward to rescue the people of Parachinar.

 

Published in The Express Tribune December 25th, 2010.