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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: A Challenge to Status Quo

As a popularly elected political leader, Bhutto tried to move the power centre away from its colonial-era foundations. He was a man of intellect, integrity and honesty. As a tribute to ZAB, let's advance his struggle for a common man's freedom.

The first and only free election held in 1970, moved the power centre of Pakistan. Ayub Khan’s controlled democracy was overwhelmingly rejected by the voters in both the wings of the country. Mujib’s Awami League won 160/162 National Assembly seats in East Pakistan while Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party secured 81/138 seats. Failure to respect the mandate of the masses resulted in the breakup of Quaid’s Republic — rest is history, as they say.

As the majority party of what was left of Pakistan, Bhutto was sworn in first as Chief Martial Law Administrator before becoming the President under 1972 interim arrangement. Finally, after the promulgation of the 1973 unanimous constitution, he became the Prime Minister.

Read more: Bhutto was born to be ‘hanged’

Cost of freedom

As a popularly elected political leader, Bhutto tried to move the power centre with the help of his most prominent comrades, Dr Mubashir Hasan, Mairaj Muhammad Khan, Mairaj Khalid, Hanif Ramay, Hayat Sherpao, Sheikh Rashid (Sr), Mukhtar Rana, Raza Rabbani, and Taj Haider. In the early hours of April 04, 1979, the Quaid-e-Awam, despite his popularity was trapped, humiliated, convicted and sent to the gallows at the age of 51 (1928 to 1979).

Earlier, the first PM of Pakistan Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan met a similar fate on October 16, 1951. He was assassinated in Rawalpindi at the age of 56 (1895 to 1951). Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the fifth PM was found dead under mysterious circumstances on December 15, 1963, at the age of 71 (1892 to 1963). Abdul Qayyum Khan was also a staunch advocate of the freedom struggle — he did not fight back under an agreement to retire from politics — he was sent home. After the fall of the first dictator, he returned to electoral politics and became an effective Interior Minister in the first Bhutto cabinet. He died on October 23, 1981, at the age of 80 (1901 to 1981).

My late father Malik Nazir Ahmed took part in the freedom struggle. He was awarded the Tehrik-e-Pakistan Gold Medal in 1990 for his contribution to the movement. After migrating to Lahore from Ludhiana, life was tough for him. Initially, he remained active in politics but after the first martial law in 1958, he got disillusioned.

Growing up in a Muslim League (ML) family, I had the chance of meeting prominent ML leaders. They were men of intellect, integrity and honesty who served the new land with loyalty and dedication, but couldn’t move the power centre. As students of the firstborn free generation of Pakistan, the Governor’s house Lahore was the primary seat of autocratic, colonial authority that we challenged in the sixties.

Read more: Benazir Bhutto: A Phoenix that rose from Ashes

Efforts towards shifting power centre; towards Peoples’ rule

Amir Muhammad Khan the Nawab of Kalabagh ran West Pakistan as his fiefdom, while East Pakistan was controlled by Munim Ahmed Khan, a protege of the dictator. By 1968 street protests had started, the target was to reach the Governor’s mansion. First baton charge was at GPO, second at Regal Chowk and third at Charing Cross. Only once we were able to break through the establishment of defences and enter the property. Now, only one Police officer stood between the mob and the Nawab Sahib.

L.R. Niblett an Anglo Indian DSP with his official pistol in hand stood his ground. He issued a warning, he’ll shoot if we did not move back. It was an opportunity of a lifetime to dismantle centuries of colonial control but we were too young, immature and above all not revolutionary enough. Niblett saved the evil empire to rule over us. Later, he became a friend of mine. Niblett migrated to the USA after retirement and passed away last year at the age of 92.

The tide changed after the Bhutto’s Government came into power. With the new government, Governor Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar opened the doors of the mansion. As student leaders, we had unrestricted access. Public welfare legislation was done in days. The colonial bureaucracy had to serve not to rule. The Chief Ministers were brilliant, with Muhammad Hanif Ramay most outstanding. All the Arts Council in Punjab were built during his time in office. Public complaints were expeditiously resolved. There were visible signs of a power shift. When Police went on strike in Punjab and NWFP (modern-day KPK), they were served with an ultimatum to return or face dismissal from service.

There were other opportunities to move the power centre that were missed. In the 2007 Long March when the route and final sit-in was being discussed, I opposed going to the D-Chowk in Islamabad as the dictator was lodged in the Army House in Rawalpindi. To get his resignation the marchers should have surrounded him. Fearing bloodshed, the leaders shied away and the marchers had to return empty-handed. After over seven decades of partition, our journey to freedom remains seriously hampered as the power centres remain unchanged.

As a party of change, Imran Khan has also promised to move the power centre. He has given up the PM House, ordered that the four mansions of colonial authority should also be made public property. Governor Punjab lives in his own house, the offices can be easily moved to GOR or 90 Shahram Quaid-e-Azam. The nation is fighting coronavirus with unity.

Read more: Bilawal Bhutto or Bilawal Zardari?

Once again, there is an opportunity to move the power centre as was tried in the fifties and the seventies by the genuinely elected governments under popular leadership. It will be the finest tribute to the PMs who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. The struggle of Liaquat Ali, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy should not go in vain.

Dr. Farid A. Malik is Ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.