VIEW: Remembering Ms Bhutto —Imtiaz Alam
Like Mr Bhutto, BB was no less intelligent, charismatic and dynamic. The biggest difference was that she was a conscientious woman and viewed the world with feminine eyes and had to make her place in a patriarchal Muslim society
These Bhuttos were in a great hurry. So was Ms Benazir Bhutto, who in a span of just 53 years fulfilled all her roles, some finished and some unfinished, and left an undiminished mark on the history of this country. Ms Bhutto’s 57th birth anniversary was celebrated across the country with nostalgia and admiration this year. While she made it possible that we have democracy today, she left behind an unfinished fight against terrorism, religious extremism and no less powerful authoritarian structures. It seems, in her absence, the PPP is left without a cause and a leader with charismatic appeal. What is her legacy and what is the new cause that the PPP needs to follow?
Ms Bhutto, or BB as she was affectionately called by all and sundry, epitomised Pakistan’s most tumultuous history from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s masculine authoritarian populism to her own feminine, liberal humanism and civil society’s protracted struggle against General Zia’s obscurantist authoritarianism to the phoney-liberal dictatorship of General Musharraf. She represented multiple transitions both at national and international levels and her own transformation from a beloved daughter to a besieged leader and an exiled mother and torch-bearer of democratic values to a most courageous voice against religious fanaticism and terrorism.
Above all, transcending the strong legacy of her father she was instrumental in bringing a most complex metamorphosis in the body politic of populism that was championed by her father, whom she adored and even saw his image in the moon. No doubt, BB was greatly inspired by her father who lived in his own revolutionary times, but she proved much more than an inheritor of the legacy of the elder Bhutto. She did eulogise the great traits of her father and reproduced them in terms of charisma, mass appeal, intelligence and passion for the poor and dispossessed.
Mr Bhutto, after coming into the limelight as the most popular foreign minister in the modernist authoritarian regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, started his political career with the “1,000 year war against India” and by opposing the peace agreement brokered by the former Soviet Union between India and Pakistan at Tashkent after the 1965 war. By the time he left the Ayub regime the country was rife with social stratification and regional inequality under the decade of “functional inequality”. He launched his party amid an international upsurge of youth and when the current of socialism and populism/nationalism in the third world was reaching its peak.
These were the times of Gemal Abdul Nasser, Soekarno, Patrice Lumumba, Peron, Ho Chi Minh, Mao and other revolutionary leaders who were challenging the hegemony of the imperial powers. Parallel to world communism, which was a very well defined doctrine, a variety of socialist and populist movements sprang up on the landscape of newly independent countries that centred around the charismatic appeal of populist leaders who tried to articulate the demands of the masses in order to demolish or recreate new structures of power blocs. The great divide of the Cold War provided necessary external conditions for these leaders and movements to flourish.
Being a most shrewd and imaginative politician, Mr Bhutto introduced his own version of populist mass politics. Centred around his charismatic appeal, he mixed anti-India ‘nationalism’ with building a Muslim bloc equipped with a Pakistani bomb and third world solidarity against American hegemony, and mobilised the mass of peasants, workers and youth on socialist slogans. He built the broadest front of the urban and rural masses and aristocracy against the famous 22 business families while excessively relying on and building the public sector at the cost of the private sector. On the one hand he built a consensus on the federal, democratic and liberal 1973 Constitution, on the other he provoked ultra-reactionary forces backed by the clergy and bazaar, which finally brought his government down in collusion with the military establishment. Tragically, the military junta that took over hanged its great benefactor, who gave the military establishment not only its still surviving security paradigm, albeit in degenerated form, but also the nuclear bomb.
Like Mr Bhutto, BB was no less intelligent, charismatic and dynamic. The biggest difference was that she was a conscientious woman and viewed the world with feminine eyes and had to make her place in a patriarchal Muslim society. Unlike Mr Bhutto, she had to start her politics in most adverse circumstances and in a rapidly changing world when the Cold War was close to an end. Pakistan was in the grip of right-wing reaction under a very reactionary military junta that became instrumental in waging jihad and Islamic militancy, first against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and later across the Line of Control (LoC) against India. After passing extremely torturous years in Zia’s prisons, she was exposed to a changing world while living in exile and becoming a hope for liberal democracy in Pakistan.
Ms Bhutto had closely watched the rise of Thatcherism, ‘New Labour’ and Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika. With the rise of globalisation, the information revolution and an end of communism and the Cold War, Ms Bhutto could not get stuck with the platforms of the 1960s and 70s that still fascinate the old guard and the left of the PPP. She also learnt the lessons from her father’s follies of mistreating dissent and adversaries, excessive nationalisation and reliance on the public sector, and his obsession with anti-India chauvinism and creating a Muslim bloc. She could never send the dissidents to Dalai camp, order a military operation against the Baloch, nor could she succumb to the pressures of religious extremists to the extent of declaring Friday as the weekly holiday or constitutionally declaring a sect as non-Muslim.
In her drive for the restoration of democracy in the spirit of reconciliation, she even made joint cause in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) with those who had joined hands with General Zia, signed the Charter of Democracy (CoD) with her worse detractors to bridge the pro-Bhutto and anti-Bhutto divide, and even talked to Musharraf to pave the way for free elections and the return of both the major leaders. She abandoned a self-defeating course of confrontation with India, while promoting the idea of a South Asian Union, starting with Kashmir, by making borders irrelevant. In her new manifesto in 1993, seeking a new social contract, BB opted for public-private partnership while retaining a pro-poor social democratic stance that she inherited from her father.
In her last drive at public mobilisation and at great risk, she emerged as the most influential voice against obscurantism, religious fanaticism and terrorism. Those who had written her off had to eat humble pie when she received a much bigger reception in Karachi than she had earlier received in 1986 on her return to Lahore. Revival of her popularity and the campaign she launched against the state and non-state actors to defeat fundamentalism and terrorism caused panic among a block of rogue elements within or close to the establishment and numerous jihadi outfits. And after failing to kill her in Karachi, they got her in Rawalpindi in complicity with those who did not provide her necessary security and also washed all signs from the place of occurrence.
The PPP, which still retains the populist politics of the Bhuttos, is without a leader of charismatic appeal and without a cause after the debacle of socialism and populism in the third world. The PPP has turned into a crowd of mourners or leaders not very concerned about the cause BB has left unfinished for them to pursue. If it follows BB’s last campaign for a secular, liberal, democratic, peaceful and progressive Pakistan, the PPP can create a liberal progressive pole against the religious right that wants to keep Pakistan as a hotbed of contending sectarian, medieval, terrorist outfits, which is at war with itself and the world around. Let the PPP have anew a fresh cause of a liberal, democratic and progressive Pakistan, which is at peace both within and without. And substitute the charisma of a leader with a more realistic and collective effort at good governance. What else can be a better tribute than this to our BB?
Imtiaz Alam is Editor South Asian Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org