In the untimely death of PPP MNA Fauzia Wahab, Pakistan has lost a rising star on the national political horizon. She was a politician whose uprightness, incorruptibility, honesty and commitment to democracy have been acknowledged unequivocally by even her political opponents with whom she was always crossing swords in defence of her party and leadership. Her being above board recognised by all is the best tribute to her.
Fauzia had made her mark at the Karachi University as a firebrand speaker, a top class debater both in English and Urdu and a liberal secular student activist. Her love for democracy was embedded in her from her student days when she used to be in the forefront of democratic movement against dictatorship.
I had known Fauzia since late 1970s when her husband Wahab Siddiqui joined the Jang Group. He got associated with me when I was editing the Daily News and Weekly Mag. He was also a TV anchor in those good old days when PTV was the only channel. Despite PTV being state owned, Wahab maintained neutrality which is rare among TV anchor these days. Wahab Siddiqui died in the prime of his life and Fauzia as a young widow became a single mother to bring up four children. It were her singular qualities that she not only proved herself to be a caring mother but also took upon herself the task of earning a respectable livelihood in a male chauvinistic environment as well as pursuing her political ambitions as an activist totally committed to the cause of democracy and a liberal Pakistan.
I fondly remember with enormous admiration her forceful presentations in support of democracy, empowerment of the less privileged, including women and minorities. I could see her blossoming into a politician of high repute. The judicial murder of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979 was a turning point in her life.
Obviously when she decided to be in politics she opted for the PPP under the leadership of martyred Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto as the means to achieve her higher ideals. And once she joined the PPP, her talents and organisational capabilities caught Benazir Bhutto’s attention and she was chosen by her for an important role in the PPP.
Fauzia became a career woman by working for a commercial leasing as a marketing manager between 1993 and 1996, while pursuing her political activities. In recognition of her sterling qualities she was nominated as member Advisory Council of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) in October 1994. She was also nominated as chairperson of the Information Committee of KMC.
Having tested and tried her loyalty, the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto nominated her to become the information secretary of Women’s Wing of the PPP in Sindh. She proved her mettle by making the PPP Women’s Wing an effective arm of the party. After the unconstitutional dissolution of the PPP government by president Farooq Leghari in November 1996, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto showed her trust in Fauzia by giving her PPP ticket to contest general elections for a National Assembly seat in February 1997. The PPP lost the elections not because it had become unpopular but due to the fact that not many PPP supporters participated in it realising that it was an exercise in futility. The PPP had been ousted through a conspiracy of the establishment. The heinous conspiracy against Bhutto and PPP was laid bare when Asghar Khan filed a petition in the Supreme Court bringing on record how intelligence apparatus under the instructions of the then president had conspired to keep PPP and Benazir out of power. As the main opposition party, the PPP did not give up its commitment to seeking restoration of genuine democracy. Despite plethora of fabricated cases against PPP leaders, its victimisation and government’s politics of vendetta, it stood its ground. The PPP adopted a multi-faceted strategy to defend its leadership. Fauzia was a front-rank leader in the party initiative that included contesting cases in the courts and apprising international institutions about the biased and vindictive judicial process.
In recognition of Fauzia’s unparalleled services to the PPP and its struggle for democracy in 1998, Bhutto nominated Fauzia to become the central coordinator of the Human Rights Cell and was assigned to correspond with human rights organisations abroad. All through this vindictive era of prosecution, persecution of Bhutto and long incarceration of Asif Ali Zardari, she vociferously exposed the oppressive tactics of the then Ehtesab Bureau (NAB) headed by Senator Saifur Rahman of the PML-N. Fauzia also earned plaudits for active role for the repealing of the Hudood Ordinance as well as making the blasphemy laws less abusive under the directive of Benazir Bhutto.
In the general elections in October 2002, Fauzia was nominated by PPP leadership as a candidate for the reserved seats for women in the National Assembly. As MNA, she was also made part of the Standing Committee on Privatisation and Standing Committee on Economic Affairs. In both she performed immensely well. Her contribution was laudable as member of the NA finance committee that looked after the budget of the assembly. Fauzia attended in 2003 the National Defence College course for bringing the politicians and armed forces close to each other. She made her mark as one of the main initiators of relationship with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and was invited to attend the ‘Win With Women – Global Initiative’ of the institute in December 2003. In recognition of her services, she was also invited in June 2004 by the NDI to attend the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Fauzia also represented PPP on a study tour of the German parliamentary system in 2004.
During the National Assembly of 2002-2007, she was a very active member of the opposition involved in legislative business. She was also a mover of a number of bills, including a bill on the environment and a ban on polythene bags. She was nominated again for a second term by the PPP and returned to the National Assembly. Because of her communication skills, she was appointed PPP’s information secretary. As information secretary, Fauzia became an ex-officio member of the Central Executive Committee of the party. She earned appreciation for her defence of the government and leadership. In her death, PPP and Pakistan have lost one of the most dynamic, vociferous and dauntless defenders of democracy and rights of the people.