Every year, as April 4 approaches, Zulfikar Ali Bhuttoâ€™s spirit and memory looms large on the hearts and minds of the Pakistani nation. As many expect, his 30th death anniversary is a time to recall his contribution, but also an occasion to reflect on the state of our political lives, agendas for change, and where we are headed. The PPP, the party that Shaheed Bhutto founded in 1967, has come a long way since its first electoral victory, and has survived the battering of dictators and the assassination of his daughter, the other cult-status leader Pakistan and the Bhutto family has produced. It is today facing yet another set of unique challenges that have perhaps never quite threatened the country in quite the same way.
ZA Bhutto understood one thing that perhaps others before him had not, as he led a movement that forced a transition from military to civilian elected rule in the country. He had grasped the need to root power in an electorate, and by creating a mass-based federal party, he trumped the rentier establishment that had taken hold of political power inPakistansince the death of Quaid e Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and the assassination of Liaqat Ali Khan. He also understood that the poor and the underprivileged ofPakistanneed urgent protections, and that these vast swathes of unadressed grievances were what needed attention at levels only governments can provide. His new Pakistan Peoples Party created a whirlwind revolution, as he toured the country, building public confidence in a renewed social and political equation. After that, ZA Bhutto and his PPP became an unstoppable dynamic, because for the first time inPakistan, the bottom of the social pyramid was mobilised as in most modern contexts, to provide the constituency for fundamental change.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Despite the fact thatPakistanstood truncated and defeated after the loss ofEast Pakistan, Bhutto achieved at Simla what no other could have done. He brought back 90,000 prisoners of war, plus 5000 miles of territory West Pakistan had lost in a largely asymmetrical war withIndia. The land was not what was critical, it was the confidence that the nation needed after such a life-sapping loss.Islamabadwas suddenly the hub of international Muslim state summitry, and the flag of a progressive, modernPakistanflew again with its leaderâ€™s vision of economic and social justice both at home and abroad.
Â Â Â Â Â Â The real social revolution, however took place at home. The government worked as if it was a war cabinet.Pakistandid not become a socialist haven, but for the first time a minimum wage was notified and a new deal for workers which provided dignity and a fair return to labour was encoded with the full force of the state. The goal of redistribution of land in the agricultural sector remained incomplete, but industrial labour actually shared profit with business for the first time, and earned its first right of bonus as well as security of employment, right of compensation, insurance and pensions. The so-called Green Revolution of the previous military regime had excluded an entire generation of agricultural labour, and widespread peasant hunger was actually stemmed by the first agricultural credit and resource policies of the first PPP government.
Â Â Â Â In 1973, Shaheed ZAB laid the foundation stone for the Pakistan Steel Mills (1973) that produced significant amounts of steel and provided forward linkages to new industries. Twenty-three new engineering and steel-based industries, were established as down-stream projects of Pakistan Steel. Through projects such as the Aeronautical Complex at Kamrah, the Heavy Mechanical Complex at Wah, and the Kahuta laboratories,Â SZAB laid the groundwork for a research-driven industrial base. Port Qasim and Tarbela Dam provided the vital infrastructural support so badly needed.
Â Â Â Â The remittance economy that bolstered the coffers of a profligate dictatorship after it overthrew the civilian government and committed the charismatic leaderâ€™s extra-judicial murder, was a spigot turned on by the SZAB government.Pakistanbegan exporting its human resource to the booming Gulf economy as a result of Bhutto Shaheedsâ€™Middle Eastdiplomatic coups, so that even during 1972-77, remittance flows stood at $ 1.4 billion.
Â Â Â The social sectors too were not treated as â€œsoftâ€ priorities, and a new health policy was announced, as well as a new education plan which if even partially followed through in the next decade, on sheer fundamentals of providing universal primary education, would not have left our young people as hostages of right-wing reactionary ideologies.
Â Â Â Â Â Â But SZABâ€™s singular, most stellar achievement was the building of a laborious consensus for the countryâ€™s new plan for a social contract. The 1973 Constitution which was enforced on August 14, gavePakistana federal parliamentary system, and the country’s women, minorities, and underprivileged their first constitutional rights. It upheld the rule of law, and most importantly, grafted a formula for division of resources amongst the provinces that protected rights both regionally and against a strong centre, which had spawned disaffection inEast Pakistan.
Â Â Â It is this very Constitution that was held in abeyance by two military dictators, bolstered by Doctrine of Necessity judgements provided by supine courts. Yet even today, in an over-populous and transformedPakistan, where provinces seek more autonomy, and parliament the sovereign right to rule, it is the same constitution that forms the backbone of the Charter of Democracy as well. One document was pioneered by SZAB, and the other by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, in partnership with the PPPâ€™s main political rival, the PML N League. These two are now the roadmap toPakistanâ€™s political salvation, if we are to make our decisions in accordance with institutional governance and according to a mandate that urgently demands policy reviews and appropriate legislation.
Â Â Â Â Â Â The challenges thatPakistanfaces today are unprecedented in nature and scope. The PPP is uniquely placed, with its consensus formula, to translate these challenges into opportunities. Terrorism, poverty, provincial imbalances are only some of them, but they are stalking the land like an enemy within. To focus on these issues, any government or political force will need time, resources and stability at home. The way forward should be very clear. The federation needs unity. The judges have been restored and a pivotal moment awaits concerted, stable, coordinated action to undertake clear multi-level reform that guards against social fragmentation and the open threats to the state arising from terrorism.
Â Â Â Â Â Now is the time to take such action, because if we are to survive as a stable federation there are no options except to embark on a new social contract forPakistan. Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has given us the 1973 Constitution. His daughter has given us the way forward with the CoD. The PPP and all its leadership and workers have given enough of their blood, sweat and tears, spent enough time in jails. It is imperative now for all political forces to reconcile their differences, because we donâ€™t have the luxury of time.
Sherry Rehman is a Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan from the PPP.