A beautiful Sindhi verse of Shaikh Ayaz started floating in my mind when I started writing on the life and struggle of Begum Nusrat Bhutto. It is difficult to translate the exact meaning in sprit but literally is something like:`some people’s lives are a sorrowful history of this wounded motherland’s heart. In all intents, they serve as a loud clarion cry to awaken the sleeping people and change their destiny.’ This verse, is a befitting portrait of the `mother of democracy’ Begum Nusrat Bhutto.
The story of Begum Nusrat Bhutto is indeed moving, heart rending and extremely painful beyond imagination if all the names of her martyred family members are put alongside her name. “Begum Bhutto, wife of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, mother of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, Shaheed Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Shaheed Shahnawaz Bhutto.” May Almighty Allah rest her soul in eternal peace! I am sure she must be in peace because for a greater part of her life, she suffered much grief and suffering. First her husband and then three of her four children died violent deaths before her eyes. One has no feeling except admiration and respect for the dignified manner in which she bore all this suffering and continued to sacrifice for the sake of her country. The story of her ordeal stretches over four decades right from 1977 when the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was toppled and he was arrested. Her life suddenly changed from being First Lady to the wife of an under-trial prisoner who paid the ultimate price of struggling for the downtrodden people.
On December 16, 1977 during the trial of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto she went to Gaddafi stadium to watch a cricket match where PPP supporters and the public upon seeing her started raising vociferous slogans `Jeay Bhutto’ (Long Live Bhutto). The slogans were so full-throated and loud that the police of General Zia became un-nerved and in a panic and attacked Begum Bhutto and the few friends with batons and rifle butts. As a result, she suffered serious head injuries. Her skull was fractured needing 12 stitches. Gen Zia ordered the arrest of the badly wounded Begum Bhutto who was being treated in a hospital and kept her under house arrest for the next 22 months.
Begum Bhutto who at the time was moving heaven and earth while fighting Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s case had also challenged the legality of martial law order 12 of 1977. The Supreme Court in its judgment legalised the martial law under the garb of doctrine of necessity. After a trial and legal fight of a little under two years, in March 1979 Begum Bhutto was finally called to District Jail Rawalpindi for her last meeting with her husband.
The farewell meeting between the two, the former first lady and former prime minister, was again a story of courage and sacrifice. They met in the death cell. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto kept talking about his children, the challenges to Pakistan and to democracy. Begum Bhutto just listened with tears rolling down on her cheeks. The meeting ended and she returned home. She could not sleep the whole night and at 4.30am in the morning of April 4, 1979 she was told that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been hanged. His body was flown to Garhi Khuda Bux- the ancestral graveyard of Bhutto family for burial. The First Lady and grieving widow was not even allowed to have a final look at his face or attend her husband’s funeral.
The anguish and agony of Begum Bhutto can only be imagined and felt but cannot be expressed in words. Her husband’s execution broke her heart and she was seen wiping tears in every meeting. But this brave woman’s ordeal continued and did not end there. She displayed great courage and took up the party reins in 1979 as its chairperson and not only kept the party intact and active but also looked after her daughter Benazir Bhutto and sons who were living abroad.
In 1981 the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was launched and Begum Bhutto not only actively participated in the movement but her wise counsel and advice was instrumental in making the MRD a vibrant force.
The pain of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s irreparable loss was still fresh in her heart when her youngest son Shahnawaz Bhutto, was poisoned to death in Paris when he was only 27 in 1985. This was a great shock for her and affected her health badly. Her tears now dried up and her smile vanished. She continued her struggle and turned her sorrows into a superhuman energy that paved the way for Benazir Bhutto Shaheed to continue her struggle against martial law.
The dark night of General Zia’s rule ended on August 17, 1988 when he was killed in an air crash. The PPP returned to power and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed became the first woman prime minister of Pakistan and the first woman prime minster in the Muslim world.
In the oath taking ceremony of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed as prime minister of Pakistan held on Dec 2, 1988 tears rolled down on Begum Bhutto’s face but her eventual struggle had now triumphed. Her continuous struggle had succeeded in elevating her daughter to the office prime minister from where General Zia had removed her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto unconstitutionally.
The establishment cut short Benazir Bhutto’s tenure in office and entangled her and Begum Bhutto in different cases. Again her struggle started but this time her brave daughter Benazir Bhutto was with her.
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto returned to power as prime minister in November 1996. The establishment hatched a dangerous conspiracy and killed Mir Murtaza Bhutto, her elder and only surviving son near the family home in Karachi, near 70- Clifton on September 20, 1996 during Mohtarma’s tenure. With a single blow, the establishment killed a Bhutto (Mir Murtaza) and removed the government of another Bhutto (Benazir Bhutto). Begum Bhutto never recovered from this shock. She left for Dubai and her health deteriorated rapidly and with the passage of years she was bedridden. There was more tragedy awaiting her. The martyrdom of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.
From October 2007 when Mohtarma Benazir came to Pakistan to restore democracy and embrace Shahadat, it was PPP co-chairman and former President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari who looked after Begum Nusrat Bhutto till she breathed her last on Oct 23, 2011. She was honoured with a civil award and the title `mother of democracy’ following her death. She was buried in the same mausoleum where her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her beloved daughter Benazir Bhutto and beloved sons Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Shahnawaz Bhutto were laid to rest at Garhi Khuda Bux.
Had Begum Bhutto lost hope and abandoned the party after the execution of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PPP would not have been so strong and the largest and most popular political party of the country. The plant which bore fruit of democracy that is being enjoyed by the nation today was actually nurtured by Begum Bhutto. That is why she is called the Mother of Democracy.
The writer is Sindh information minister
Source: The News