The time is not far when Pakistan will be democratic state. The murder of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has created great resentment among the masses against terrorists and Taliban. Now they are the receiving end. Now the rulers cannot keep the world in dark as everyone wants the truth to come to the fore. Taliban and terrorists have also realised the gravity of the situation and this is the reason that they are the run. What will be the role of President Pervez Musharraf? At the moment he is the only option available to the United States.
A Pakistan writer while paying tribute to Benazir Bhutto stated that Benazir Bhutto styled herself as a “Daughter of the East”, but she was in fact one of those rare creative blends of tradition and modernity, assured of her eastern Islamic moorings and equally confident in the value of her western education and progressive politics.
Bhutto was the only woman leader with such a popular, mass support base in any Muslim country; indeed she enjoyed far more respect than any leader among the Islamic states today. She was truly a modernist person with a liberal and progressive vision for society, and she had the will to push for the social and economic change that Pakistan desperately needs.
The most important thing on her agenda was how to get the country back on the democratic track. This, she thought, was the most essential element in defeating the forces of religious militancy and extremism that the dictatorial regime of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf has bred during the past eight years.
Bhutto was mindful of structural obstacles in her way and also of the dangers she faced on the campaign trail. But she was not deterred by threats on her life and wanted to continue her struggle for the restoration of democracy and civility in Pakistan.
In doing so, she faced the twin problem of a military-backed authoritarian system and religious extremists attacking the state on several fronts, including suicide terrorism in our largest cities. Never was Bhutto comfortable with the reality that Pakistanis were squeezed between a dictatorial system and religious extremism; both being intolerant of dissent, democratic values and fresh ideas about the organisation of society along modern lines.
With her assassination, Pakistan has lost much of its hope for a liberal, moderate and progressive society that she wanted to create. These ideals are the longstanding legacy of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was sent to the gallows nearly 27 years ago in Rawalpindi by another military dictator, General Zia-ul Haq. She picked up where her father had left off — aiming to build a mass democratic movement with an ideology of social welfarism.
Under the harsh and oppressive political environment of the mid-eighties, she decided to confront the military regime. That confrontation resulted in her enduring long years of imprisonment, house arrest and exile.
Pakistan’s ruling establishment had hoped that the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto would eradicate all traces of his radical political influence. But those hopes collapsed when Bhutto resurrected his fragmented party, reviving its social support base. This is exactly what she began to do in October this year, after her return from eight years of exile.
Now Pakistan has been deprived of an outstanding charismatic leader with support in every nook and corner of the country. In a society divided along ethnic, religious and sectarian lines, and facing frequent outbursts of violence, Bhutto was a unifying force. Having a broad constituency of support in all provinces of the country, she was one of the few truly national leaders with mass following. In her tragic murder, Pakistan has lost a critical link among the federating units, diverse social groups and polarised political factions.
Her loss leaves many questions un-answered. Who will really pick up her struggle, mission and leadership of the party? How will Musharraf, his allies and opposition parties play out the political game in the coming weeks and months?
Nobody in Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party can match her charisma, talent and quality of leadership. But the party has very capable, intelligent and seasoned political leaders who can pull the party and the country out of the current uncertainty and the looming dangers of political chaos. This is evidenced by Asif Ali Zardari’s intelligent handling of a potentially explosive situation in the country where he exhorted PPP supporters to convert their anger into a victory at the polls. By presenting his party and the party programme as federal and democratic, he and the partly leadership behind him have allayed many fears in the minds of Punjabis and many others.
One of the silver linings, if any, in this tragedy is that democratic forces in the country represented by the lawyers’ movement, students, civil society and opposition parties are going to rally behind Bhutto’s party. Her party may find greater support and sympathy for its cause than ever before. But this greatly enlarged reservoir of support might also be a challenge for the new leadership of the party as it moves forward from this moment of enormous pain. Greater support for the party also means there will be more voices competing for various policy directions, and there will be no Benazir Bhutto to rally and unite those voices.
The People’s Party holds the key to Pakistan’s political future at this juncture, as the tragic assassination of Bhutto has placed it at the centre stage of Pakistani politics. More than that, there is a nationwide wave of sympathy that would translate into significant turnout of its own voters and millions more stamping on the electoral sign of its candidates.
The meaning of this sudden swing of public mood in favour of the PPP is not lost on the establishment and its allies. Knowing that time and destiny have turned against them, they seem to be seeking an escape route by suggesting postponement of elections on the pretext of “unrest”. What irony! The same circles were strongly supporting the holding of elections on schedule until few hours before the PPP’s decision. If that happens without taking the PPP and the PMLN into confidence, the nation might plunge into the worst kind of violence and unrest.