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General Zia believed in strong centre. In order to counter PPP and Benazir Bhutto, he ‘engineered’ ethnic and sectarian parties: by Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Once I was asked what was Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s most outstanding achievement. No doubt he left indelible imprints on the sands of time. As an admirer of Bhutto Sahib since my college days I could have easily said — his charismatic personality was too fascinating for the youth of the day — his dare, his swashbuckling style, his love and commitment for Quaid’s Pakistan and his courage and defiance against odds made him our hero.

Later in the years the more I came to know of him, the more enamouring his multi-faceted personality dawned on me. He was a statesman par excellence, his oratory held his contemporaries in awe in the United Nations defending Pakistan or speaking his populist language he moved millions of shirtless, down trodden masses in Karachi’s Nishtar Park or Lahore’s Moochi Gate into hitherto unknown ecstasy.

I was with him in Simla in 1972. It was significant for me on two counts. I was introduced by him to his ‘Dearest Daughter’ who would be leader of Pakistan, to live and die like him. Secondly, it was historically land mark event to witness an upright leader of a vanquished nation with 93,000 generals and soldiers rotting in Indian PoW camps, with over 12000 kilometres of its territory under the Indian occupation lost on the battle front — negotiate with honour with the victor — Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi riding high on the crest of popularity.

Negotiations with Mrs Gandhi were as difficult as any war could be yet the two great leaders — as equals — came out with an agreement that has given peace to our region for over 45 years. It was his masterly stroke of statesmanship and diplomatic skill that convinced Mrs Gandhi that it would be in the interest of peace to end being hostage to communal history, acrimonies of the past to seek peaceful co-existence. Infinite wisdom and burying of distrust by the two leaders needs to be emulated even now to bring to an end snake and ladder relationship. We should get onto a trajectory crossing uncertainties to usher in peace and harmony for the good of 1.5 billion half starved, shirtless and shelter-less masses of the two-nuclear powers.


Negotiations with Mrs Gandhi were as difficult as any war could be yet the two great leaders — as equals — came out with an agreement that has given peace to our region for over 45 years. It was his masterly stroke of statesmanship and diplomatic skill that convinced Mrs Gandhi that it would be in the interest of peace to end being hostage to communalism and other acrimonies of the past and to seek peaceful co-existence instead


I believe whether it was astounding success of diplomacy at Simla or Bhutto Sahib’s defiance of the Americans despite being threatened to be made ‘horrible example’ in pursuit of nuclear technology for Pakistan — each one was his great achievement second to none. However, as a student of history and politics, I had a different view of his unparalleled contribution in the form of his gigantic struggle for the empowerment of the masses and socio-economic change for seminal developments for the greatest good of the largest number.

His establishment of Pakistan Peoples Party in association with like-minded Left-of-the-Centre friends at a time when country was straight-jacketed in the stranglehold of a powerful rightist establishment representing forces of status quo including the well-entrenched feudal class and the bigoted mullahs -would no doubt be recorded as his singular achievement in the archaic politics of Pakistan.

Bhutto Sahib, being of sharp mind, an admirer and follower of the Quaid from his students days, having keenly studied his politics and raison d’être for Pakistan knew what direction to take. From the outset he sought answer to the fact as to why a pure Indian nationalist Jinnah having resisted for long, opted finally for Pakistan.

ZAB traced the plight of Indian Muslims in the roots of 1857 revolt that changed the power and socio-economic structure rendering Muslim ruling class and others into “hewers of wood, drawers of water”. He found that tug-of-war between Hindus and Muslims was not related to religion. It pertained to economic causes, Muslims outnumbered by Hindus in every field, no jobs, not much of education, in matter of wealth too poor to match. They could not compete even if they were the best.

A thorough-bred nationalist, known as Ambassador of Hindu Muslim Unity — Jinnah Sahib tried his best to bring around Nehrus (father and son) to an equitable formula for peaceful co-existence. His 14-points sought maximum autonomy for the Muslims in their majority areas and reserved quotas for jobs, education etc. where in minority. His proposal for keeping India united was rejected by Indian Congress.

Bhutto sahib knew that it was over the issue of autonomy and economic disparities that India was divided. And when Sheikh Mujib raised his 6 points, he wanted to resolve the issue through debate but Ayub with Altaf Gauhar has been the master planner — he would not let Bhutto Sahib go to East Pakistan. Once battle had been lost by the generals and Bhutto handed over power as legitimate representative of West Pakistan, he got to resolve the autonomy issue that had seeds for future implosion. And indeed, to this date Constitution of 1973 has proved to be stronger unifying and binding force than religion itself.

General Zia believed in strong centre, divide and rule. In order to counter PPP and Benazir Bhutto, he ‘engineered’ ethnic and sectarian parties. Thousands of PPP workers and leaders starting from Bhutto Sahib, Begum Bhutto, Benazir Sahiba, her two brothers — theirs was a struggle strewn in blood, toil and tears confronted by General Zia by raising brigades of ethnic and sectarian forces to counter PPP’s democratic march. Zia engineered much like today ethnic groups to divide PPP’s power of the people and to push back to burner issue of provincial autonomy in context of Pakistan with five provinces and resource sharing between centre and the federating units. Either General Zia did not deliberately or inadvertently understand the gravity of issue that had led to the partition of India in 1947 and later break up of Pakistan in 1971.

In 1972 with Jinnah’s truncated Pakistan, its once powerful army writhing in pain and shame of humiliating defeat, it would have been easier than done for the leaders of smaller provinces where nationalist forces had already raised their head of deiance, to declare independence encouraged by the establishment of Bangladesh. They would have been at once given recognition by the erstwhile Soviet Union, India and Bangladesh followed by many others including dozens of ‘brotherly’ Muslim countries. Bhutto Sahib appealed to the collective wisdom of the elected leaders of Balochistan, KP and Sindh to remain united for commonality of interest for survival in a region which shall always remain a bone of contention for super and regional powers either for its warm waters or for sitting at the mouth of the Gulf. We were lucky to have leaders who could understand the gravity of the situation and in the spirit of collective weal the 1973 constitution was passed unanimously. It resolved the most-thorny issue of provincial autonomy. Despite Article 6 General Ziaul Haq committed act of treason, judicially murdered ZAB and held in abeyance transference of concurrent list to the provinces by1983 as enshrined in the Constitution. Himalayan credit must be given to the PPP jiyalas for keeping alighted the lame of democracy in the darkest period of our history. When her husband had been murdered by Zia, Begum Nusrat Bhutto aided by her daughter Benazir garnered an opposition parties alliance — the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), burying their egos, to confront Zia’s dictatorship. Since Bhutto’s province — Sindh had taken upon itself the lead role, PPP and its supporters suffered most deaths and injuries, its people were singled out for genocide by Ziaist troops, his scotch earth policy destroyed one village after another.

On this, its 50th birthday — the PPP must re-enforce its commitment to secular democracy, constitutionalism, rule of law and a more vigorous reiteration for the socio-political and economic empowerment of the people irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender

Whatever, Zia had to surrender. First he held party-less elections, appointed Muhammad Khan Junejo as Prime Minister who cleverly nibbled his powers and brought about a crack in his constituency by appointing General Aslam Beg as Vice Army Chief without Zia knowing it. And Junejo would have sealed his fate and that of his coterie by exposing the mega corruption by President Zia and his generals by publishing the highly explosive indings of Federal Interior Minister Aslam Khattak Commission’s in the Ohjiri Arms Depot disaster of 1988 — much similar to that of Nuclear Supermarket under General Pervez Musharraf. General Zia dismissed Junejo fearing his impeachment.

In his most recent statement that he was proud of PPP for its correct conduct in the challenges circumstances and mysteriously engineered dharnas by the clerical brigade, ongoing tussle between convicted prime minister and the Supreme Court, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto has deinite reasons to feel pride that his party has remained unaffected by the temptations of the ‘Chamak’ master who was known for staging a judicial coup in 1997. It has done well to be cautious of the ‘engineers’ too. Though his party and its leaders have been at the receiving end of the highest judiciary yet they had not deied its decisions-howsoever biased. PPP’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani created history and not Nawaz Sharif, by resigning when he was convicted for contempt.

Pholan Devi and her ‘hum-nawa’ are projecting PML-N as an anti-establishment party despite being two-in-one — both in opposition and government. They cry hoarse in decrying PPP and accusing it of being switched over on the side of Establishment. No party has as strong and credible antiestablishment credentials as PPP.

If he were to get another chance to live in Saroor Palace, he should take with him his party and have a dip in the scented swimming pool to give a strong veneer of perfumery to cover up their stink as well. I feel PPP did right in not bailing out Nawaz again since his and Pholan Devi’s diatribe against judiciary is not for saving democracy but his and his family’s vested interests. He got trapped in the cobweb of his lies with no way out accept the current suicidal course to destroy the ediice of democracy painfully raised brick by brick by PPP.

I could go on regarding his anti-democratic role since his Zia-engineered advent in politics in the early eighties to this day, how he was funded and propped up by ISI under Gen Hameed Gul in 1988 to stem Benazir Bhutto’s landslide, under General Aslam Beg and his ISI chief General Asad Durrani — again to stop PPP in 1990. And the story continues. In 2013 too PPP was denied its rightful vote though PPP questioned the poll result but did not reject it to sustain continuity.

On 50th year of its foundation PPP must re-enforce its commitment to secular democracy, constitutionalism, rule of law and more vigorous reiteration for the socio-political and economic empowerment of the people including less privileged irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender. I was shocked and hurt on the failure of political parties — excluding PTI and those whose collaborative views are well known — to raise their voice against blackmail. The clerical dharna, the abuses and hate language used by their leaders in their speeches needed to be widely telecast live 24/7 so that the nation knows who the real enemy of Pakistan is. By muting their x-rated ‘galam-galooch’ and blocking their vitriolic telecasting — the government has not done any service to democracy as a matter of fact TV channels have done a great disservice.

Whoever engineered nearly three-week long dharna paralysing the Federal Capital with the motive of pressurising the judiciary to let Nawaz & Co go off the hook or to create such a law and order condition that the army would be forced to intervene — has been well-commented upon by the Islamabad High Court Judge Mr Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui who questioned the legal authority for army’s intervention to broker a deal between PML-N government and the dharna parties. It is regretted that both the PML-N government and military establishment were either conniving with them or were afraid of a violent reaction. On the surface of the matter both the Interior ministry and the Defence allowed the clerics to mock at the writ of the state. I would share the view that since army was involved in combating terrorism, it should have treated the miscreants who blocked the roads as terrorists and should have punished them accordingly.


The writer is former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalis


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