Bhutto was the harbringer of change
From the moment martyred Zulfikar Ali Bhutto crash landed on the political horizon of Pakistan, he was destined to be a colossus. His advent in politics was a turning point in Pakistan’s history. He was the youngest minister with revolutionary and modern ideas in the company of generals and senior civil servants in a government headed by Pakistan’s first military dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan.
For a young journalist like me who had been his fan from the beginning of his career, it was difficult to reconcile as to how a brilliant and charismatic person like him could become part of a dictator’s team. I knew that he was driven by his romance with democracy and freedom for the people as envisaged by the Quaid. Indeed, his idol too was Pakistan’s founder who sought to establish in his country an egalitarian socio-economic order, with religion having nothing to do with the business of the state and equality for all irrespective for caste, creed, colour or gender.
Bhutto acting on the advice of the Quaid, first concentrated on his education and then sought to learn the art of politics which according to him was not to be an end itself but a means to an end. Having plunged himself onto a platform that was not favourable to politicians of the pre-partition era, Bhutto chartered himself on a course that would give a new sense of direction to the country and a fresh meaning to politics—getting it out of the drawing rooms of the land lords into the streets, lanes and by lanes to the doors of the poor and toiling masses. Primary objective of his politics was the empowerment of the masses, not to allow Pakistan to become a haven for the rich to become richer, poor poorer.
In no time he became a major player by his own right casting his influence in all spheres of human endeavors—to give voice to the muted people and unshackling them from their feudal bondages. He was also harbinger of change. As Minister for Fuel and Power, he had diverse explorers tapping into Pakistan’s underground hidden energy resources. As Minister for Science and Technology he set Pakistan onto the path to match India’s advancements in the nuclear technology. And had he had his way Pakistan would have acquired nuclear capability much before India tested its atomic device in 1974. However, when destiny put him in a position where he could convert his dream into a reality, he wasted no time and gave Pakistan its nuclear glow at the cost of his life.
Bhutto Sahib had an extra-ordinary penchant for international politics. He freed Pakistan’s foreign policy from being tied with the apron strings of the West. Pakistan’s independence was rendered into a myth by Ayub (as is the case now). By his statesmanship he salvaged Pakistan’s independence by consolidating relations with China, European nations and the Third World. And the Islamic Summit that he held in Lahore remains to this day unsurpassed in glory and substance it achieved—the only time when the Muslim states proved themselves something more than zero plus zero equal to zero. By over throwing him and later hanging him on the fabricated charge of murder, General Ziaul Haq and his coterie abysmally damaged Pakistan and reversed the clock to 1947. “In the process Zia robbed the nation of the high ideals and spirit of fraternity the people shared and demonstrated in 1947.”
SZAB had learnt much earlier in the day to practice politics as the art of the impossible. Though a young Bhutto found his way into the corridors of power when the new military and civil oligarchy had nothing but contempt for the politicians, he outplayed them all. However, the most serious challenge for him came following the fall of Dhaka when as leader of defeated Pakistan he was assigned by destiny to snatch a sort of victory out of the jaws of defeat. He did the impossible at Simla in 1972. He got vacated, on the conference table, 5,000 sq miles of Pakistani territory surrendered in the battlefield by our generals.
His critics recognise that he had inherited an impossible situation when both Indira Gandhi and Shaikh Mujibur Rahman wanted nothing short of trial of Pakistani generals and other armed forces personnel for their alleged war crimes. They had refused to hand over General “Tiger” Niazi and others being held by them in the Indian PoW camps. It went to the credit of ZAB’s statesmanship that all of them returned home unscathed.
His second but more formidable challenge was to give the country a constitution that could resolve the divisive issue of the quantum of provincial autonomy and save whatever was left of the federation. The 1973 Constitution, unanimously adopted by the elected members of the four provinces, manifested the general will of the entire population. Bhutto established himself as the unifier as opposed to the wishes of the prophets of doom.
Notwithstanding the fact that ZAB was advised by his political colleagues from the smaller provinces that it was the best time to prune and cut to size the ambitious extra-constitutional elements since they would remain a serious threat to democracy and civilian rule, Bhutto turned a deaf ear to them. This advice, they used to say, emanated not only from political wisdom and self-preserving instinct but was the need of the hour due to downsizing of the country.
Bhutto had a different vision. Instead of downsizing the security apparatus, he preferred to re-equip and modernise it with dual purpose of national security and to be available for assistance to friends in need. The Islamic Summit in Lahore in 1974—yet another feather in his cap—was the fulfillment of his dream of bringing Muslim countries on one platform for the greater good and welfare of the Ummah. Bhutto became a thorn in the back of those who had a different road map for Middle East. His rush to convert Pakistan into a nuclear power proved to be the last nail in his coffin hammered by no person other than Gen Ziaul Haq himself who used to cry hoarse in complimenting ZAB as the “saviour of Pakistan” and “builder of the armed forces of Pakistan.”
A country’s strength lies in its people with an uncompromising sense of belonging to it and its economic viability. Bhutto gave a new thrust to Pakistan’s economy, industry and agriculture. He inspired hope in the masses and freed the national wealth from the stranglehold of few families. The foreign powers that opposed Pakistan’s nuclear programme were also against establishment of infrastructure industrial base like Pakistan Steel Mills, heavy mechanical and engineering complexes, fertiliser plants, nuclear power plants; aircraft rebuild factories, shipyard and development of newer ports, etc. Bhutto was Pakistan’s first hi-tech leader with a vision that could see much beyond.
SZAB was known for “enormous talents and intellectual energy, wisdom and foresight” and he built his “career as a man of the people, one who stood for the rights of the downtrodden”. Surely history would record that men like him are only born rarely. In his daughter Benazir Bhutto he left an heir that was larger than life and a visionary that showed the nation and its leaders a path for the country’s survival through national reconciliation and politics of consensus. Political heirs to both the Bhuttos must get down to restoring Bhutto Sahib’s vision as manifested in his everlasting gift to the people of Pakistan – the PPP – as left of the centre party soundly and stoutly bound to the sovereignty of the Constitution, the Parliament and principle of maximum autonomy.