Saturday, December 27, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 28, 2014

BB remembered At the time of writing these lines, the PPP was commemorating the seventh death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto (BB) in Garhi Khuda Buksh, Sindh, her ancestral home where she lies buried along with her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB). The commemoration, despite being arguably the most important date in the party’s calendar since 2007, has been more or less reduced to an annual ritual of affirmation of loyalty to the party, but the content of the speeches and statements emanating from there leave more questions than answers. While co-chairperson and former president Asif Ali Zardari and other PPP leaders are treading furiously in the water to defend the party against criticism and continue to claim the mantle of its legacy of struggle for democracy, thoughtful souls both inside and outside the party are casting doubts about the present and future standing of the party. One fact that stands out undeniably is that the PPP, for all practical purposes has shrunk to Sindh, thereby losing its long standing mantle of the only federal party with support in all four provinces. How the party has been reduced to this pass bears reflection. First, a word about BB’s achievements. Amongst these must be counted first and foremost her long struggle against the Ziaul Haq dictatorship after the 1977 coup that overthrew ZAB and introduced the dark night of obscurantism that Pakistan has yet to fully recover from. Her suffering, imprisonment and eventual exile are all documented in her book Daughter of the East. That period experienced a historic turn with her return to the country in 1986, an occasion that mobilised all the anti-Zia dictatorship forces, not just the PPP, in what could be likened to the second edition of the unsuccessful Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in 1983. Zia’s unsolved assassination in the 1988 crash of his plane cleared the way for the restoration of democracy. BB was elected the first woman prime minister of a Muslim county at a young age. However, the continuing legacy/legatees of the Zia dictatorship turned the democratic throne into a bed of thorns, leading not only to BB’s government’s dismissal in 1990 after a series of conspiracies, but arguably laid the precedent for the same fate for Nawaz Sharif’s first government (1990-93) despite him being considered a blue-eyed boy of the establishment. The final defeat of this phase of BB’s struggle for democracy arrived in 1996, poisoned immeasurably by the murder of Murtaza Bhutto and the betrayal by then president Farooq Leghari. Time-honoured methods of harassment were then unleashed through politically motivated cases against her, finally forcing her to go into self-imposed exile. Meanwhile the ‘revolving door’ of 1990s politics brought Nawaz Sharif back to power with a two-thirds majority, which proved both a blessing and a curse. Blessing because it permitted his government to remove the notorious Article 58(2)(b) from the constitution, curse because that very (correct) removal motivated, amongst serious differences with the Sharif government over Kargil, the military to stage its coup in 1999. General Musharraf, our last (hopefully) military dictator had relatively smooth sailing till 2007, not the least because our liberal intelligentsia initially supported his coup in the mistaken belief that he was a ‘secular liberal’, spiced up beyond measure by 9/11 and the changed situation in Pakistan and the region. It was not until Musharraf dug his own political grave by creating the 2007 judicial crisis that his weakening indicated new space for political manoeuvre. BB in exile (now joined by Nawaz Sharif) produced the Charter of Democracy to end the manipulation of mutual differences between political parties by the establishment and spelt out clearly the break with reliance on any undemocratic forces/institutions. Before her final (and eventually tragic) return to Pakistan in 2007, BB also delineated her new paradigm of reconciliation, which idea arguably paved the way for the PPP’s (and PML-N’s in tow) re-entry into national politics. However, at the very moment of her greatest comeback and when she was poised to perhaps lead Pakistan to a brighter future, BB was cut down by cruel, dark forces whom even the PPP government of 2008-13 proved unable to unmask and bring to justice. That stint in power under Asif Ali Zardari’s leadership ironically sounded the death knell of the PPP as a party of the future, a fate now reinforced by the failure to reconcile the old and new culture of the party and allow Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to take charge. While it may be premature to sound the funeral dirge of the PPP, its current crisis does not inspire confidence in its present leadership’s ability to once again resurrect the party to somewhere near its former glory.

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