Pakistan’s moderniser Quaid-i-Awam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto left deep footprints in the sands of history. To his lasting credit remains the 1973 Constitution of the country, the Simla Accord of 1972 which brought the longest peace between India and Pakistan, the social reforms to build an egalitarian society, the non-aligned foreign policy, the nuclear programme and the building of the social, economic and military infrastructure of the country.
Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was an intellectual of the highest order. He was a thinker, author and orator. He was deliberate, discreet, and competent; honest, upright and keeper of his covenants. He was a principled friend to the poor, downtrodden and oppressed. He was a man of the people, fearless in his beliefs who refused to bow before any man or power other than the Almighty. His courage was such that he preferred to face death for his beliefs and embraced martyrdom. Core to his belief was his faith in freedom and the liberation of humanity. Under his government, Pakistan gave overt and covert support to the African nations then under apartheid and minority rule.
Quaid-i-Awam was a Pan Islamic nationalistic. Many saw in his Pan Islamic vision the concept of the perfect modern Muslim man. As a Pan Islamist, he believed in one Muslim Ummah, with one Muslim nation and one Muslim army stretching from the shores of Europe to the tips of Africa and Asia. However, he was a moderniser and saw nationalism as the key to unity rejecting fanaticism as such a route.
Quaid-i-Awam gave pride to every Muslim. He was a hero of the Third World who spoke boldly against racism, colonialism and imperialism. He fearlessly defended the right of nations to independence. When the 1973 Ramadhan War broke out, he sent Pakistan’s military to defend the borders of the Muslim countries including the Golan Heights of Syria. Quaid-i-Awam’s short life of fifty years was spent in the service of many international, regional and national causes. This essay is focussed on his contribution to democracy.
The most important and the most enduring legacy of the Quaid-i-Awam was raising the consciousness of the people for democracy. He awakened the masses, making them realise they were the legitimate fountainhead of political power. He enlightened the farmer, the industrial worker, the student, the woman and the rest of the common people of their importance and of their right of franchise, which is the definite means of bringing changes for the betterment of the lives of the common people.
Quaid-i-Awam deeply cherished the democracy and democratic values and in the end gave his life for freedom. Way back in 1969, when the common people of Pakistan were still to overthrow the Ayub dictatorship, he stood trial in Lahore High Court defending the lofty ideals of democratic rights for his fellow countrymen: “Yes, My Lords, democracy is certainly…like a breath of fresh air, like the fragrance of a spring flower. It is a melody of liberty, richer in sensation than a tangible touch. But, more than a feeling, democracy is fundamental rights, it is adult franchise, the secrecy of the ballot, free press, free association, independence of the judiciary, supremacy of the legislature, controls on the executive, and other related conditions, which are conspicuously absent in the present regime’s system.”
Tolstoy in the last volume of his War and Peace expressed that history is a movement of ideas in which political leaders play a minor role. I may add that sometimes the movement of ideas is indeed rapid. Yet, at times, the movement of ideas is slower than the melting of the glaciers. The movement of ideas is facilitated in a vibrant political and democratic culture, which gives room for dissent and disagreement. In dictatorial societies, history remains static in a cold freeze. And so it was in Pakistan before Quaid-i-Awam. He was the one who converted that static and decayed dictatorial polity into a vibrant and dynamic democratic society: the cost of which he paid with the most precious gift of his own life.
He opposed military rule considering it a cancer eating up a society. In the case of Pakistan, he viewed military rule as a negation of the very genesis of the country which came into being as a result of a democratic process. Living in the era of the Cold War when the warm waters of the Indian ocean stood temptingly before the Soviet Union while its ally India occupied Kashmir, he was determined to build a strong defence.
His contributions to an impregnable Pakistan are seen in the nuclear programme as well as in the Kamra Aeronautical factory. He built the Heavy Mechanical Complex and revived the morale of the armed forces after the shameful surrender in Dacca. He brought back ninety thousand prisoners of war from Indian camps as well as Pakistani territory lost in the 1971 war. He prevented the war trials of the Generals who had committed genocide to protect the name and honour of the country. He saved the armed forces from getting a bad name for a few drunken generals that had wreaked havoc in their ambition to keep power at national cost.
Bhutto believed the army’s indulgence in political quagmire was harmful to its professional competence as an institution. He said clearly: “The Pakistan Armed Forces cannot afford a moment’s deviation from their real responsibility. For the sake of Pakistan’s integrity, they simply cannot afford to get involved or absorbed in the political life of the country. Those soldiers who leave barracks and move into Government mansions lose wars and become prisoners of war as happened in 1971.”
His words rang true in 1981 when General Zia lost the Siachen Glacier and again in 1999 when Pakistan withdrew unilaterally from Kargil refusing to even acknowledge the dead bodies of its soldiers. It rang true again in 2001 when Pakistan joined the War Against Terror only to see the Northern Alliance bring the change in Kabul over its own doomed efforts.
There were many who said West Pakistan would disintegrate after the emergence of Bangladesh. Pakistan owes its second rebirth in 1971 to the brilliance and leadership of a giant of a man. His greatness was such that he lifted a nation drowning in despair to Himalayan heights motivating them to reach for the stars and the skies. Pakistan became an epicentre of the Muslim world with scholars in science, culture, intellectual pursuit harnessing their energies for the greater good. He was admired by the leading statesmen of the world community who saw in this Muslim moderniser a man who could help reshape the world in the direction of peace and progress.
Quaid-i-Awam’s brilliant life filled Pakistan with energy and strength. There was a sense of purpose in the country which was buzzing with ideas and enterprises. The growth rate increased and money poured in from expatriates who got the universal right to passport. The Muslim countries were donating about$500 million annually to Pakistan, making it less dependent on international financial institutions. The people got jobs and opportunities. He introduced habeas corpus, or fundamental human rights. Women of the country were emancipated entering the police force, foreign service and subordinate judiciary.
Prophetically, he also warned of the ploys dictators adopt by interchanging democracy with basic democracy. He said: “We demand democracy, and they give us basic democracy. If basic democracy is democracy, then why does every country not have it? If this is such a good system then the whole world should have had this system. But, nowhere in the world is this system in vogue. Neither in America, nor in England, nor in France, nor in India, nor in China, nor in Russia. Even then we are told that this is a wonderful system.” Before him the legitimacy of a dictator was tailored through basic democracy where district councils become the electoral college. After his struggle, basic democracy lost its value in the eyes of the common people who saw it as a trick to rob them of the right to free franchise.
He was true to his values. When the time came he sacrificed his life but refused to compromise on his lofty ideals. He was fond of saying, “It is better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a jackal for a thousand.” He lived with the courage of a lion, defying death in embracing martyrdom. He said he would show “how a leader of the people lives and dies,” and he did. The world pleaded for his life wanting to save a man whose intellect and contribution to peace and progress was vital to the world community. But a frightened dictator, ignoring the unanimous call of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to spare the Quaid’s life, ordered the execution in the middle of the night. His last words were, “I am innocent.”
Prime Minister Bhutto went bravely to the gallows as the world learnt in shock that it had lost its most beloved son. There was widespread national and international condemnation. Bhutto left his world to enter the pantheon of history where he stands today with other towering personalities who shaped the course of history. His martyrdom sparked freedom movements in many countries as people gathered in capitals across the world to condemn his murder. As a student of history, he knew that eternal life remains in sacrificing oneself for a cause that is larger than an individual. And the most noble of all causes is the cause of the liberation of humanity from tyranny and oppression.
Quaid-i-Awam was born in 1928. He was martyred in 1979. Yet he lives in the hearts and minds of the people still shining like a star that brightens the sky motivating those caught in the prisons of oppression.
Today is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s 23rd death anniversary.