The fourth of April is the anniversary of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder in 1979. Most people know it as the date when Pakistan saw its lowest. A wily dictator coerced the judiciary to illegally execute the most popular elected prime minister of Pakistan. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave his life but refused to bow down to the evil that Ziaul Haq represented.
But for the new generation that may have only read or heard about the 1970s, I would like to emphasise the significance of July 5. This was also the cut-off date when a prosperous and tolerant Pakistan was thrown into dark ages. The seeds of terrorism and violence that we see all around us today were sown in that very year when Zia plunged Pakistan into Afghanistan as a US stooge.
Pakistan under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was seen as the emerging economic and military power in the region. Tourists from all over the world came here to relish our tolerant society and fabled hospitality. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made us proud as Pakistanis by pushing us from the political periphery to the centre of the Islamic world.
I often wonder how Bhutto might have dealt with the multiple crises we face today. We are despised as the patron of militant Islamists. We stand isolated as never before, despite being the only Muslim nuclear power with the fifth-largest army in the world. We are intimidated by India in the east and face continued hostility on our western borders. We see the Middle East in utter chaos as Saudi Arabia and Iran fight through their proxies.
We miss Bhutto today more than ever before because now is the time when we need somebody like him. He had a great diplomatic sense and would have found a way to mediate between Muslim countries in rivalry with each other besides playing a crucial role to stabilise the Middle East. He did that precisely when he brought Iran and Saudi Arabia on a single table at the famous 1974 Islamic Summit in Lahore. This was how Arabs realised to use oil as a weapon and Pakistan cashed in by sending millions of its workers to Arab countries. Thanks to Bhutto, we survive on the roughly $15 billion remittances that come from the Middle East today.
It may require lots of space to enumerate Bhutto’s lasting contribution to Pakistan, but a few things stand out. The new generation may not realise in what difficult times Bhutto was asked to play his innings. Pakistan was absolutely demoralised after the separation of Bangladesh with its 90,000 troops languishing in Indian custody. Bhutto brought home its troops without conceding any compromise in Kashmir—or otherwise at Shimla. It was not a small feat. He got the phoenix of Pakistan rising from the ashes again by restoring our self-respect as Pakistanis. He brought everybody together to forge the much needed 1973 constitution and set the country on the path to nuclear security. But his biggest achievement was that he empowered the ordinary Pakistanis by introducing participatory democracy in this country. The men on the streets loved him and the world looked at us with respect and envy. Bhutto was respected internationally as a leader of great calibre and his achievements were acknowledged by prestigious newspapers, including the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor to name a few.
Yet the 4th of April had to happen. I still wonder, why? Perhaps our enemies got scared by our rising power; perhaps the West got threatened by Bhutto’s ability to gather Islamic countries within a common bloc; perhaps our ever growing relationship with China was a thorn in the eyes of our enemies. Here I sit in the old attic of Bhutto Legacy Foundation and sift through files to understand that crucial chapter of our history. I am convinced that, whatever the case, Zia connived with the foreign enemies to rig the institutions of the country to execute the great leader Bhutto was. I am proud that I got the chance to know him and then worked with his daughter Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed. And now I feel it is important to bring out the files from my attic to remind the third generation represented by Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the rich legacy of the Bhuttos.
April 4 also reminds us of that supreme sacrifice of great leader Bhutto. He spent his 51st birthday in the death cell of Rawalpindi. He was a courageous man and he faced this ordeal with dignity and calm demeanour, despite ill health. This day is a reminder for us to reiterate our commitment to follow Bhutto’s democratic ideals and political philosophy. The evil of terror and injustice that tried to erase Bhutto’s name failed miserably because the name is alive even today; the streets of Pakistan still echo with zinda hai Bhutto zinda hai.