A pedigreed descendent of great Kurdish warrior Ghazi Salahuddin Ayubi, Begum Nusrat Bhutto proved her noble blood lineage by becoming crusader for democracy against two military dictators, one more ruthless than the previous, when her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was incarcerated by them for his opposition to military dictatorship.
In most difficult times she led Pakistan People’s Party – that ZAB had catapulted in the national political arena as the harbinger of change. He faced strongest opposition from the forces of status quo and Bonapartist generals and yet PPP after 50 years remains a formidable force that has thwarted all machinations, conspiracies and intrigues of powerful establishment to destroy it. Begum Bhutto was passed on the mantle of leadership in most challenging circumstances to carry on the dauntless struggle for empowerment of the shackled and downtrodden masses. And she did acquit herself better than most.
During ZAB’s incarceration, she braved the baton and the bullet and lead her brave followers against totalitarian oppression with courage and determination to put to shame male leaders many of whom holed in their comfortable homes to save their skin from the wrath of the ruthless military dictator. In my humble opinion Nusrat Khanum was chosen by destiny to play the role of a democratic crusader. Her date of birth March 23 (1929) was not just coincidental. She was eleven years old when Lahore Resolution was adopted on March 23, 1940 for seeking the political rights of Muslims of India.
It was again a strange coincidence that General ‘Tiger’ Niazi laid down his arms to Indian General Arora on December 16, 1971 in the city where in 1906 All India Muslim League was established. On the same day in 1977—Begum Nusrat Bhutto was brutally injured by General Ziaul Haq’s storm troopers during a test match at Gaddafi stadium. On seeing Begum Bhutto in their midst the teeming crowd broke into a deafening crescendo of “Jiye Bhutto! General Zia was not content by spilling her blood only. She was arrested and dragged out of hospital while her head wound was getting stitched. Six footer cops from Punjab police pulled her out of the hospital bed and despite resistance by doctors frisked her away. Her unattended wound had permanent impact on her, causing loss of memory later in life.
Shaheed Bhutto’s mock trial and later judicial murder on the orders of four judges from Punjab as against his acquittal by three judges from the smaller provinces—continues to hang like an albatross around the neck of Pakistan’s superior judiciary that is now trying to wash its sins ommission and commission committed during the last 70 years of misjudgments and justifying military rule and extra-constitutional interventions
In the limited space here one cannot do justice to the life of struggle, blood, toil and tears of Begum Bhutto. It is a small tribute to her on her death anniversary (October 23) and to honour Pakistani women who stood by her when most of the male leaders of her party had preferred to indulge in the pleasures of life and new wives when politics had become a Herculean challenge to pursue under Zia.
Begum Bhutto kept ignited the populist aspirations of her husband and his devoted followers by keeping aloft the flag of defiance against the dictator. Initially in this fight she was alone but later Bhutto Sahib’s “Dearest Daughter” joined her. And that is when the team of mother-daughter served as the catalyst that transformed their peaceful efforts into ultimate return of democracy that has been rendered now once again into a mess by male leadership.
Begum Bhutto’s most outstanding contribution was towards formation of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against Zia’s dictatorship. She did not make it a matter of personal ego but for the larger interest of democracy she even forgave those in the opposition who had opposed Bhutto Sahib either on their own or in cahoots with Gen Zia’s conspiracy. Only a woman of big heart as she, could sit with such despicable lot of politicians. But then for all the Bhuttos it is the cause that matters and not persons or personal egos.
It was MRD’s resistance led by Bhutto ladies and unparalleled sacrifices by the masses especially in Sindh where Gen Zia let lose a reign of terror and resorted to scotch-earth policy—that grounds were laid first for non-party elections in 1985 and then party based elections in 1988 that brought Benazir Bhutto in power (twice) as Prime Minister—first ever Muslim and youngest too with Begum Bhutto –though fast declining in health—by her side.
Democracy once again is under duress and there is uncertainty about it too. Moves and countermoves are being made on the chessboard of power politics. PPP played itself well during its five years, sustained democracy by checkmating every move by powers that be to dislodge its government. Regretfully, while its successors got themselves busy in piling up ill-gotten wealth to fill up their own coffers and to counter the resources of the Establishment—it ominously seems time for its nemesis has come although PPPP President Asif Ali Zardari believes that the government should complete its five year tenure.
This could possibly be the best homage to Begum Bhutto for her sacrifices for the completion of ten years of langri-lolli democracy that we have today, to save it and move forward to revert to Quaid’s original idea of a democratic and secular Pakistan in which religion shall have to be a “private affair” as Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa reminded the nation the other day.