March Events – by Wajid Shamsul Hassan

March is a landmark month for Pakistan. Notwithstanding the Shakespearean ides of March, it became a historical land mark for us as a nation when under the leadership of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah Muslim representatives of from all over the sub-continent decided to seek, strive and achieve a separate homeland. On March 23, 1940 Pakistan Resolution was adopted in Lahore and in seven years Pakistan was established through the power of the vote.

It was last year in this month–after having being waylaid for nearly a decade by a dictator–democracy was restored and a National Assembly went into operation with a unanimously elected Prime Minister. The road to democratic goal post was strewn with the noblest blood of martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. She had ended her self-exile and was forewarned that blood hounds were waiting to be unleashed upon her by those who had opposed her populist politics of empowerment of the people and who wanted her out of their way to devour and scavenge whatever was left of Pakistan.

Writing in March last year while predicting tough times for the nation, its democratic pursuits and increasing threats to its integrity both from within and outside, I had expressed apprehensions that many masquerading as champions of democracy would come out of their closet and under one pretext or the other-adopt a parochial and confrontationist line to shake the applecart of democracy to claim their pound of flesh especially when General (R) Pervez Musharraf had left a backlog of problems including that of judiciary. I had also forecast changes of far-reaching consequences.

Though March would be over soon and the controversial judicial issue settled to the satisfaction of the interested and affected parties, we can only look forward to a national turn-around if our leadership adopts singularity of purpose and devotes whole-heartedly to solving the excruciating problems faced by the common people and mobilises the nation to fight terrorism and extremism to save the country from being taken over by barbarians who are on the rampage to destroy Mr Jinnah’s Pakistan and convert it into a theocratic state.

The nation needs to be warned that these warring pagans are after our territory and want to destroy whatever progress we have achieved. They are in fact-hirelings of our enemies-out there to destabilize Pakistan so that there is excuse good enough for them for take over of our vital national assets.

The masses also need to distinguish between those leaders who are committed to the preservation of the federation for which Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and martyred Benazir Bhutto laid down their lives and those who do not get tired of pledging their lives for the country but only seek their survival through parochial slogans as were heard in 1988 when Benazir Bhutto was denied landslide victory in Punjab by General Hameed Gul who had created IJI and clobbered a gang of anti-PPP leaders. Much similar slogans invoking Punjabi chauvinism were raised recently during the judicial crisis. In this context what the nation needs to be cautious about is that the President who is the symbol of federal unity-ever since he ushered in an era of reconciliation and politics of consensus as part of Benazir Bhutto legacy-has been singled out as a target for character-assassination through a most volatile media blitzkrieg. Those hidden hands pulling the media strings to malign democracy and persistently coaxing men on horseback to intervene-are not well-wishers of Pakistan. They are quislings.

Pained by what is happening in and around Pakistan and being fed up sitting on the fence as a silent witness to the national failure to rise to the occasion, I decided to write about another March event that played a historic role in the shaping of Pakistani politics. It was a coincidence that on March 23,1929 to Isphanis of Karachi was born a daughter-Nusrat Khanum. She was chosen by destiny to be the great woman behind two great leaders of our time-Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto martyred Benazir Bhutto.

A victim of tragedy worst compounded Begum Sahiba continues to suffer in silence–unaware of horrendous assassination of her dearest daughter Benazir Bhutto and the mortal threats that her Pakistan faces. Now 80 when I saw her last her eyes were overly blank but there was an aura of melancholy blanketing her beautiful mien that continues to retain its noble grace in its fragility. Each wrinkle that runs across is full of tales that tell of saddest experiences in her eventful and yet tragic life. Indeed her life today is much more of the same–sum total of the crimes of undemocratic rulers that have scarred the pristine face of her country–Mr Jinnah’s progressive and liberal Pakistan.

Her ancestry leading to the legendary Salahuddin Ayubi–I have known Begum Bhutto to be a person surfeit with compassion and generosity, dauntless determination and courage. Her affection for the poor people and the party workers had blossomed her as the most outstanding lady of her time. The head wound from the severe baton charge by General Ziaul Haq’s hounds in Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium did leave her with crippling consequences, yet she did not surrender to the dictator and continued her jailed husband’s struggle for the restoration of democracy with her brave daughter Benazir Bhutto by her side.

In 1947-48 as a young member of the Women’s National Guard she carried out personally huge amount of relief operations to provide shelter and succour to the millions of the uprooted refugees at a time when Pakistan had no resources. At that hour of crisis, she stood tall among the tallest of ladies that had plunged themselves in one of the biggest relief operations ever undertaken.

Her marriage to ZAB was also a great turning point in his life. Though himself a highly qualified and richly endowed scion of an illustrious parentage and heritage, stability at home provided to him by Begum Sahiba, enabled him to harness his energies in the service of the nation to the best of his abilities. As the youngest minister he was seen as a great man in the making and the woman behind him was Nusrat Bhutto.

When he became minister her responsibilities multiplied–as a wife who had to accompany her husband on foreign tours, play perfect hostess to her husband’s dignitary guests, look after four growing children whose high quality education was her responsibility and then she had tremendous social responsibilities besides her commitment for the empowerment of women and less privileged.

The true strength and greatness of her character–manifested itself in times of stress and strain. When Ayub Khan jailed ZAB, Begum Bhutto kept alighted the flame of her husband’s struggle for democracy. She, however, gave her best when Bhutto Sahib was removed in 1977 coup by General Ziaul Haq. She lead the people and kept alive their democratic aspirations when her husband was incarcerated. Though she was not alone this time as her equally gifted daughter Benazir Bhutto was with her. Begum Sahiba was nominated by Bhutto Sahib as the party chairperson in his absence. She kept the party flag high in defiance of a ruthless martial law and state oppression. Later, due to worsening health condition she passed the mantle of PPP leadership to Benazir Bhutto.

Indeed, no one single political family in modern history has given so many lives to the cause of democracy and people of its country as did the Bhuttos. Indeed, only a woman and a mother as strong as Begum Nusrat Bhutto-though tragically ill-and committed to the service of the masses-by blood-could have survived judicial murder of her husband, state-plotted killing of her two sons and cold bloodied assassination of her most illustrious daughter-all in the prime of their lives.

ZAB, Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto were committed to reviving Quaid’s secular, liberal and progressive Pakistan. Now her widower–President Asif Ali Zardari–too is committed to the same goal especially when forces of obscurantism are mortally threatening the very existence of the country. Mr Jinnah’s vision was regretfully was distorted by self-conceited power troika comprising of the military, civil and judicial bureaucracy in league with the clerics who had opposed Mr Jinnah and Pakistan. His liberal ideology was replaced with a so-called Nazaria Pakistan something akin to making Pakistan a theocratic state. This is the objective of those now attacking our territorial sovereignty and integrity. This is also the hidden agenda of the obscurantist now masquerading as the real heirs to Quaid-e-Azam but who ultimately would like to become Mulla Omar II.

The task before the government is onerous. It will have to take certain decisions that shall make or mar Pakistan’s future. Immediately it shall have to provide instant relief to the poor who cannot make their sustenance possible because of the past policies making the rich richer and poor poorer. And along with that, it shall have to mobilise the nation to fight terrorism through a battle that would mostly require winning the hearts and minds of the people and making the people genuine stake-holders.

Politics is a game of uncertainty especially when egomaniacs are on the loose. Yesterday it was judicial crisis, tomorrow they will come up with yet another to put the government on tenterhooks. And one must also leave room for the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip. The best response to machinations of leaders parochially motivated is to unite the nation and collectively counter all obscurantist spanners effectively to keep the wheels of progress on the move towards a sound democratic future.

(The writer is current High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and former Advisor to former martyred Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.)