Dear ZAB, this is what you have left behind
Dear Great Leader,
I’m writing to you to wish you a happy 87th birthday. Sorry I’m a bit late but, hey, it’s the thought that counts… Right? After all, in these sombre and remorseful times, it’s difficult to keep one’s head straight. Too much in today’s Pakistan is out of sync with the changing realities. It’s a sad situation, one that is testing people’s patience and crushing their souls.
You want to know what else is sad? It’s the political party that you created in the 60s that shook the foundations of a terrible dictatorship; the organisation that glued together a broken nation in the 70s; the institution that gave people hope to live another day; the revolution called the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that reinvigorated the length and breadth of the country with roti, kapra aur makan – a slogan that spread like wild fire. Yes, my dear leader, every good thing that PPP stood for seems to be lost in thin air.
Call me a dreamer or a hopeless romantic, but in my heart, I still remain a diehard jiala. I may be far away yet I feel so connected with the values that you believed in. I’m just disgruntled, disappointed at how matters have taken a turn for the worse within the party. I have neither met you nor do I think that I’ll ever have the honour and privilege to have a face-to-face interaction with you, but your stunning personality and oratory skills did mesmerise my young mind during my years of political evolution that compelled me to offer myself to serve the cause of PPP.
I remember drawing conclusions between you and Karl Marx, Stalin, Gandhi, Mao and several other great revolutionaries of modern times. I saw you as a rebel with a cause – the Freddie Mercury of politics. One who stood up to the establishment and stood for principles, people and social justice. The way you rallied the populace together after the East Pakistan debacle was an absolute education in motion phenomenon. Your commitment to the moth-eaten, truncated Pakistan that had been reduced to a convoluted replica of its creator’s nebulous vision was nothing less than impeccable.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, you did well. People said you were a bundle of contradictions. I can believe that. You were, after all, a human being, a people’s man and hence would be expected to act like one. You were eccentric for sure. You certainly sounded and acted like one. Your never-say-die approach resurrected an emotionally downcast country and brought back to life its devastated economy. You promised food, clothing and shelter, and you fulfilled that commitment. You emancipated the poor and the frustrated youth and provided opportunities for them to succeed in life. It was you who politically enlightened the people, took them out of the deep dark hole of ignorance and turned them into conscious and vigilant citizens.
Under your leadership, Pakistan, as a nation, changed for the better. Someone who knew you personally once told yours truly that due to your presence on the national and international scene, Pakistan became a power to be reckoned with. What you did for the masses at home and the way you re-strategised and recalibrated the country’s foreign policy elevated Pakistan’s status and standing on the world stage. Your sincerity of purpose and honesty of mission made the people feel that they were an important and integral part of the society and that power could no longer reside in the hands of a few rich, vain and pompous feudals. To you, it was the right of the people and the duty of the state to provide them the basic amenities of life. Under the prevalent set of circumstances, you did your best to positively impact the lives of teeming millions. ZAB, you were the hero of the people!
Beyond your years at the helm, it’s been an awkward decline, a zigzag road to nowhere. We, the people of Pakistan, have stood on the sidelines and watched the nasty circus of the boys and girls of the siyasi akhara make a complete hash of matters. Starting from your nemesis, Ghadar-e-Azam, Taliban numero uno, Ziaul Haq, down to whomever opportunist has come to power, Pakistan’s fortunes have essentially been doomed and destroyed. Every nincompoop who took over the reins of affairs in Islamabad has had their own personal agenda to push and gave a damn about the people and their needs.
Sir, I mean no offence to you or your political prowess, but the two stints as prime minister of Pakistan that your late daughter had were nothing but perfect failures. With all due respect to her, although Mohtarma was an incredible crowd puller, she lacked the finesse and tact of running the country. Kids, as they say, can never be as great as their fathers. Benazir inherited your oratory skills but couldn’t leave a mark as the leader of the nation.
Yours truly, in his capacity as a humble worker of the PPP, saw BB closely, close enough to understand that she had, unfortunately, mortgaged your legacy to disloyal party leaders who were nothing less than mercenaries and alienated the grass root workers who had carried on your mission and stayed devoted to your cause even during the worst days of Zia’s dictatorship. Beyond the euphoria, once Benazir was elected first time in 1988, she effectively filtered out and antagonised many who considered her the champion of rights and a defender of truth. Relationship building was not her forte.
Of course, my grumbling and grunting will be completely incomplete and out of line if I don’t mention your son-in-law, Asif Ali Zardari, as one of the biggest contributors and culprits of bringing down the fortunes of the party. Beyond Benazir’s extraordinarily flabbergasting decision to marry Zardari that left all and sundry in shock and awe, the guy basically turned PPP into a business enterprise.
Having been given a free hand to wheel and deal, he has been variously called Mr Ten Per cent, Mr Twenty Per cent and finally, Mr President. Yes, he has lived a charmed life, the highlights of which include spending several years in jail on charges of corruption and five years in Aiwan-e-Saddar (President House) as the country’s head of state. He cashed in on the Bhutto name big time and benefitted from his wife’s passing away for his own political gains. A first-degree rascal, he posed as a victim, and worked his way up soon after Benazir left us for her heavenly abode in 2007. Those who know say that he was instrumental in the killings of both Murtaza Bhutto and Benazir.
It’s all remarkably amazing, isn’t it? The way things stand today within the party ranks make me want to practically throw up. PPP has been taken over by the likes of crooks and scoundrels of the highest order. They’ve been let in and let loose, thanks to the fragile state of affairs. A party that is blessed by power brokers like Zardari has to naturally meet its downfall. There are no two ways about it.
As for the people of Sindh province, they hate your son-in-law. My Sindhi friends tell me that Zardari has sucked Sindh’s resources through his sister, Faryal Talpur and stepbrother, Owais Muzaffar. In return, he’s given the people a highly incompetent, dopey and drunk chief minister who is his ‘yes’ man. Ironically, Sindh, being a Bhutto power hub, abhors Zardari’s very existence.
Amidst all this gloom and doom, here’s a little glimmer of hope. Although your grandson, Master Bilawal, doesn’t know much about practical politics yet but it seems that he has shown some guts to stand up to his controlling father. I’ve heard him a few times. He seems smart and speaks as passionately as you and his mother. There’s a spark in the boy’s eyes and he wants to do good for the people.
He may be too green and raw at the moment, but given time and appropriate guidance and grooming, the kid can turn out to be the stuff dreams are made of. The fact that he wants a ‘human audit’ to be conducted within the party makes me feel that he’s all for action and accountability, virtues that were your strong points. Bilawal may just be the breakthrough that your, mine, and the people’s party is looking for.
I don’t know how to end this, but I wish you were still around. Things would have been better, I’m sure. I look around and I notice that Pakistan is like a headless chicken, a rudderless ship. There’s this strange drought of leadership that the country seems to be suffering from. Being in a constant state of fear and crisis, people are traumatised by the lack of action. National priorities are in utter disarray and while the mullahs, the military and the politicians rule the roost, there is no safe corner to hide for the common man, minorities, working class and everyone and anyone who is not rich and powerful. Pakistan resembles a massive killing field where minor battles are an everyday affair in the war for survival. What worries me is that imbeciles running the show in Islamabad are committed to the destruction of the country.
The country surely could have used your genius and vision to gel together and fight the odds. While you still live in the hearts of many of us, the undeniable truth is that your party has bitterly let down its supporters and those who struggled to keep your legacy alive in the murkiest of times. The baton has passed on to the undeserving, wretched of the earth types with questionable backgrounds and anti-progressive ideals.
I want to stay positive and I would like my optimism to completely destroy any whiff of negativity. I want to pin my hopes on Bilawal and hope that one day, he’ll be able to pick up the pieces, rekindle your spirit and lead the party and the people out of this mess. One just wishes that it were you and not his father guiding him through this treacherous period of political growth. I see a triumphant future for the young lad but it’ll be undoubtedly fraught with peril. He must stay defiant and not give up. He is, after all, your grandson and hence it’s not too much to ask.
In the meantime, all I can do is repeat the words of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed and say “Bhutto zinda hai!” (Bhutto is still alive).
Rest in peace, dear leader.
A Dejected PPP Worker
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.