The relevance of the Bhutto factor

sherryrehmanBy Sherry Rehman, Islamabad
Please note: The writer is the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, MNA, and Member the Central Executive Committee, Pakistan Peoples Party.
If Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto were alive today, he would have celebrated his 81st birthday on January 5, 2009. The enthusiasm his followers demonstrate on every birth anniversary of the Shaheed leader, thirty years after his judicial murder, remains a challenge for those looking for an academic understanding of the phenomenon of ‘Bhuttoism’. Perhaps the reason leaders like Shaheed Bhutto continue to live in the national memory is because of the dedication they commit to their cause. For Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, people’s empowerment was a cause so important that he refused to make any compromises even when his life was at stake.

Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became known as the father of modern Pakistan, because he brought public issues out of the feudal-business combine that dominated political culture in Pakistan. His entry into the Pakistan’s political spectrum came at a time when politics had become synonymous with few names and even fewer power wielders. There was little reason for any entity to turn to the public for political strength. In such times, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s model for people-oriented political order opened a definitive chapter for Pakistan’s politics, not only for his own times, but also for the later years. His name holds cult status in many parts of Pakistan today because he drew an entire political class, from the darkness of the urban ghetto and the dirt-poor village, into the sunshine of public life.

One of the most important contributions Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made to Pakistan’s democratic order was his commitment to the politics of manifesto. Defying all assumptions about election manifestos being vote-generating tactic, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto devoted all his energies to the implementation of the pledges he made to the public that voted him to power. His introduction of issues that addressed mass-interests, fixed minimum wages and lowered land ceilings was what defined the iconic programme of the PPP. Within seven weeks of coming into office, the PPP government under Shaheed Bhutto announced, in February 1972, a new deal for workers, which provided dignity and a fair return to labour. His was the first government that ensured security of employment by making arbitrary dismissal challengeable in Labour Courts. Law made workers stakeholders in business by giving them a profit share. It was the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government that for the first time established an Old Age Benefit Scheme as well as Group Insurance Schemes for all permanent workers while a minimum bonus was made mandatory.

Unlike most political leaders who ride home to political victory through a normal transition, SZAB took over the reins of a shattered and humiliated nation, humbled by images of defeat. His first actions as the prime minister of a truncated country were to restore to it its lost morale, to re-build a shattered post-war economy, and to establish for the first time the writ of a popularly elected government in a land that had seen no public figure that could unite the nation since Quaid-i-Azam Mohmmad Ali Jinnah. Not only did the country need to be brought back on its feet after the loss of East Pakistan, it had to learn to live with the trauma of its soldiers surrendering to the Indian Army on 16 December at Dhaka. The clear and present danger of 5000 square miles of territory lying under enemy occupation was overshadowed by the bleeding wound of 90,000 soldiers trapped in Indian jails.

But foreign policy challenges that may seem insurmountable to another politician were like par for the course for the former foreign minister. All Pakistani baby boomers remember Mr Bhutto tearing up pieces of what was supposed to be the Polish Resolution of Kashmir and storming out of the United Nations after angrily affirming his country’s position on Kashmir, leaving an indelible image of a fiercely independent nation in the public mind. Later, as prime minister, when he went to Simla to negotiate the release of the POWs, everyone held their breath, thinking that he would have to surrender large swathes of the held territory in exchange, but almost miraculously his good offices with the shrewd Indira Gandhi yielded not just the territory but also the release of the prisoners.

Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s contributions to an impregnable Pakistan stand tall in the form of major industrial, commercial and military establishments that still serve as the backbone of the country’s economy. The Kamra Aeronautical factory, the Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila, modernisation of Karachi Shipyard, creation of precision engineering works, Pakistan Steel Mills, Port Qasim, Pakistan Automobile Corporation stand as a reflection of his far sighted vision where the nation’s progress and prosperity remained the sole premise of his economic policies. It is indeed the mark of his greatness that despite threats to his government, he did not compromise his economic reforms for political gains. Zia’s regime reaped the fruits of the solid support structure that was made possible by Shaheed Bhutto’s sound economic strategy.

There is no arguing the fact that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s influence spans four decades of Pakistan’s politics. However, it is not just politics but a host of areas that define the mechanism of the state that still refer to Shaheed Bhutto and the ideals he espoused. Shaheed Bhutto gave Pakistan the strongest institutional foundations by drawing up the 1973 Constitution, and building the consensus so vital to democratic processes in its signing. This was the first constitution to recognise human rights of the people of Pakistan. Today human rights stand as a major issue internationally, without which the dignity of humanity is compromised and the soul of a society destroyed.

The hostility of the establishment to Shaheed Bhutto is understandable in the backdrop of his uncompromising stand for people’s rule, for his agenda for establishing civilian supremacy over state structures, and for his deep commitment for political solution to issues that were strictly considered to be the military’s domain. Shaheed Bhutto was described as a President in a hurry. But his fast actions were always moderated by the power of vision that backed all his policy moves. He brought the FATA region out of their “backwaters” status boosting its development budget from Rs4.4 million in 1971 to Rs300 million by 1977, raising Pakistan’s stakes in the development of the area. He pushed for administrative and political changes in the region paving the way for a more inclusive arrangement between the state and the citizens of the FATA.

Sahheed Bhutto’s consistent battle for the cause of the federation was also an eyesore for those who sought their survival in political and ethnic frictions. At the time of tensions between the West and the East Pakistan, Shaheed Bhutto had made it clear that he would prefer a democratic solution to the crisis of power-sharing between the two wings after the election, in which the more populous eastern wing had united behind the separatist Mujib ur Rehman. On 31 October 1971, he made his position very transparent in an interview he gave to a Bombay newspaper, the Blitz, when he said: “If Mujib-ur Rehman had a federal constitution, we would be happy to sit in the opposition and work in a democratic arrangement. But he wanted a confederal arrangement, and in a confederation, both sides had to have representation in the government”. This and many other instances of his commitment to the federation and a representative political order is ignored in the litany of charges drawn up consistently in a media trial by his detractors.

Despite such media trials, it is ironic that Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, two leaders of global stature, both snuffed out in the prime of their lives; continue to stand relevant to Pakistan’s politics. The two Bhuttos had brought a consistent strain of democratic politics into the tumultuous history of Pakistani politics. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto carved his name in the national memory for his passion and refusal to compromise, – raising the bar for future generations of politicians in Pakistan. His is the party, which has paid a heavy price on the battlefield of ideas and politics. After the two Shaheed leaders, the Pakistan People’s Party stands committed to follow their ideals. It is the Bhutto ethos that has given our government the integrity, commitment and the courage to fight the onerous challenges in the way of a stable Pakistan. And we will continue to draw inspiration and strength from the Garhi Khuda Baksh’s legacy.

The Writer is the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting and the Central Information Secretary Pakistan People’s Party.

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