Benazir Bhutto's progressive ideas were defeated by a conservative establishment, a nationalist-minded media and a weak PPP media cell
Benazir Bhutto was the first politician of Pakistan who took a liberal stance on several difficult issues, which was vehemently resisted by the military establishment and its conservative partners in media and politics.
For example, BB wanted Pakistan to have better relations with neighbouring countries, and presented the concepts of soft borders in the region and a Commonwealth of South Asia.
I remember all those speeches and statements of BB shaheed during 1980s in which she used to talk about peaceful relations with India, Afghanistan and other South Asian countries. While reaction of our print media and other segments of civil society was very harsh at that time, I also found the party comrades and other pro-PPP circles uneasy with this stance of BB. Most left oriented circles in and outside the PPP were in trance of staunch nationalist line of Z.A. Buhtto.
When Benazir Bhutto (as an opposition leader in mid 1980s) decided to support the international community on Afghan issue, and supported the then Prime Minister Junejo, the inner circles of the PPP thought that BB should not go with that line.They were urging BB to not to participate in the All Parties Conference called by the Junejo Government.
But time has verified that BB possessed the right insight on these issues.
When BB came to power the first time (in 1988), she was forced to adopt a line of hawks of establishment on issue of Pak-India relations. But in her second tenure, BB returned to her original stance of reconciliation, and presented the idea of the Commonwealth of South Asian countries and free visa polices. She also stressed on making free trade agreements between South Asian countries. That was BB shaheed who was talking about trade not proxy wars between two main countries of South Asia.
BB asserted for a radical change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. In her second tenure, she tried to convince Pakistan’s military leadership to change its mentality which was formed during the cold war and before the fall of Soviet Union, but in vain. In those days our Urdu print media adopted very hostile attitude towards the stance of Benazir Bhutto.
To be fair, the PPP too did not make any coherent and organized effort to convince the masses on this issue. Due to this failure of the party on this account, masses could not be mobilized to pressurize the establishment.
BB had learnt many lessons from the era of her father. For example she changed her father’s policies on nationalism. Perhaps this seemed strange to many people but this is a fact that BB made more flexible and acceptable federalist politics for the people of Baluchistan, Khyber Pakhtoonkha and Sind and also for the Saraiki region. She made changes in the PPP’s notion of nationalism of party and time has proved that if such changes were not made, the party could lose its control in many parts of the federation.
Today, I think the current leadership of the PPP should take a bold stance on issues such as liberalism, secularism and should follow BB’s path. But for this to occur, it is necessary to mobilize the PPP’s media cell and disseminate its clear stance on issues such as liberalism, theocracy, sectarianism, and soft borders with neighbors.
It is a great tragedy that our society has not paid adequate attention to BB’s ideas which could help us build a progressive and prosperous Pakistan.