Benazir Bhutto: Prospect and Retrospect
by Kamal Azfar – June 21, 2003
Benazir Bhutto was not yet twenty when I first met her at Harvard after the 1970 elections. She was dressed in black and simply stunning, Benazir Bhutto made waves at the Simla Conference but who could foretell the future that awaited her. Benazir Bhutto went on to make history at Oxford. Her eloquence led to her election as the ‘First Woman President’ of the ‘Oxford Union’, which had recently opened its doors to ladies. The salad days were hardly over when the coup of 1977 catapulted Bibi into the eye of the hurricane. Events propelled Bibi into the role of the ‘Leader and Chairperson’ of the ‘Pakistan Peoples Party’. The epic struggle on the long road to restoration of democracy is best recounted in the Daughter of the East.
During the 1980 decade Benazir Bhutto spearheaded the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy. In the formation of the broadbased movement magnanimity was required on many sides of the political spectrum. As flexible and inflexible as steel, Benazir Bhutto engaged in a constructive dialogue with many opponents of the PPP. The MRD movement of 1983 was the first blow at the harsh and cruel dictatorship of Ziaul Haq ,who not only executed his benefactor, but whipped and lashed and incarcerated the leaders of the democracy movement, including both Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. The triumphal arrival at Lahore in April 1986 was of the magnitude of a ‘Caesar entering Rome’ or the ‘Coronation of a British Monarch’. Benazir Bhutto was a living legend by 1988 when she was sworn in as one of the ‘Youngest Prime Ministers’ since the days of Pitt–and that too in a socially conservative Muslim Society, another first time in history.
During the 1990s Benazir Bhutto had two spells as Prime Minister and as Leader of the Opposition. Benazir Bhutto was subjected to trial by Kangaroo Courts and by State-sponsored Media Trial with the sole object of character assassination. Yet the poor masses continue to support her.
Now in the first decade of the new millennium the choice before the nation is Totalitarianism, whether led by the military or the clerics and open society, a trial and error democracy. Benazir Bhutto is the symbol of grace under pressure of enlightenment, of the courage to know and to act.
In retrospect the two administrations of Benazir Bhutto appear as a silver lining on the horizon in our darkly clouded history. If a strong and active opposition is a necessary condition of democracy the era of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto satisfies this criterion. Both tenures were characteristic of a balance of power. During the first administration Benazir Bhutto faced and defeated a motion of ‘No Confidence’ abetted by the Provincial Chief Minister of Pakistan’s largest province. During the second administration the opposition joined hands with the Chief Justice, who had unfortunately been appointed out of turn, and who himself fell prey to the Judgment in the Al Jihad Case, the high water mark of Judicial Activism in Pakistan’s troubled Constitutional History. With an eminence grise in the Presidency Benazir Bhutto contended with a full array of checks and balances.
Yet this hostile environment did not deter Benazir Bhutto from moving Pakistan forward into the digital age. It was during the administration of Benazir Bhutto that Pakistan took the first steps on the path of information technology. The country that was plagued with a chronic power shortage, without which no progress is possible, was endowed with a surplus of power thanks to heavy foreign investment in the IPPs. The number of villages electrified rose from 45000 to 60000 and, at that rate, all the 80000 villages of Pakistan would have been blessed with light had the second administration completed its term. Benazir Bhutto attended the Cairo Conference, unlike two other contemporary Muslim Women Prime Ministers, and made a bold commitment to population control within the framework of Muslim Family Values.
Above all Benazir Bhutto, as Chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party, unveiled the New Social Contract at the 25th Silver Jubilee Anniversary of the Party in Lahore in 1992. This was followed by the Agenda to Change, the manifesto of the Party, for the 1993 Elections. In both the documents Benazir Bhutto broke new ground veering the Party away from nationalisation towards Privatisation and Public-Private Partnership adopting market economics within the party. Under Benazir Bhutto the Pakistan Peoples Party emerged as a Social Democratic Party rather than a Doctrinaire Socialist Party.
In International Relations Benazir Bhutto’s government followed a policy of peace with honour. The Kashmir issue was brought to the fore without misadventures such as Kargil. The image of Pakistan was projected as ‘Modernising Islamic State’. Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto was the only Muslim country, which was bridgehead between the ‘World of Islam’ and a ‘Democratic Country’ in the 21st Century. Benazir Bhutto restored peace in Karachi.
The Pakistan Peoples Party today is the only popular party which has the capacity to reconcile Islam with modernity. The Muslim Ummah has to come to terms with modern Science and Technology. If we are really sincere in preventing the Talibanisation of Pakistan the only option is to give Benazir Bhutto another chance. This is the only ray of hope and let us hope that the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Benazir Bhutto can lead us forward into an Age of Enlightenment, so that the dream of Allama Iqbal and the magnificent achievement of Mohammed Ali Jinnah be not in vain.
So Happy Birthday Bibi and May you have Fifty more.