From time immemorial month of December has always left an indelible imprint on the sands of time. Be it the birth of Prophet Jesus Christ who gave a new meaning to human existence from here to eternity, or lesser individuals not anointed spiritually by divine cahier like Quaid-e-Azam described succinctly by his biographer Professor Stanley Wolpert: “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”
December has also been surfeit with earth-shaking eventualities that have been pregnant with seeds of ominous consequences. On 16th December 1971 half of world’s largest Muslim country was sacrificed at the altar of Praetorian ambition when Pakistan’s military coterie preferred to surrender before an alien army rather than hand over power to its own people and legitimately elected leader.
In this month too yet another colossal tragedy dealt an irreparable blow to Pakistan. It was a combination of an insatiable lust for power of a general and religious militants in cahoots with him—to assassinate Pakistan’s most outstanding leader—Benazir Bhutto on December 27th. What we suffered as a nation on December 16th this year in Peshawar—most horrendous mayhem of students and their teachers ever—it was nothing but most brutal manifestation of a crime most foul as Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
General Zia’s coup and his conspiratorial execution of popularly elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in cahoots with the apex judiciary plunged the country into a quagmire of divisiveness, uncertainty and instability that was attempted to be reversed by martyred Benazir Bhutto by putting into action her concept of “democracy is the best revenge”. Her assassination in the garrison city of Rawalpindi eight years ago—like the assassination of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan at the same place followed by martyred ZAB’s execution on the trumped charge of murder- in Rawalpindi jail not far from it—has been a blow from which there are no signs of retrieve.
Too much hurt by the bloody events in Pakistan I have been in a process of fading away. I feel we have rendered ourselves into a state that is neither here nor there. I was wondering do we have a face and courage to pay tribute to martyred Benazir Bhutto on her assassination anniversary. Most certainly at least I did not. She dared to return home despite threats of a two-in-one general in power and his rent-a-jihadi supporters that she would be eliminated the moment she steps onto Pakistani soil. Yet she did—all friends and supporters-opposing her return. She did it as she believed to die for a cause that was to singe military dictator in his den.
With the question to write or not to write—indecisive to pen my painful note in her memory, eyes dried of tears and heart surfeit in grief—my wandering in the memory lane—pushed me in the time tunnel. This morning at 2.30 am I saw her in my dream, her angelic mien, head covered in flowing white dupatta and green shilwar-qameez calling upon all those who cared for her and her Pakistan to save the country from going to dogs.
I could sleep no more. I can recall her words—“did I and thousands of others sacrifice their lives, walked to gallows, faced long and torturous incarcerations at the hands of dictators usurping democratic rights of the people with their naked bayonets and lethal bullets—deserve to be pushed back into dark ages. Its time for the nation to wake up from its deep slumber and save Pakistan from becoming a deluge—by getting tougher as challenges are enormous and our enemies too lethal. We have not only to revert Pakistan to the liberal, secular and democratic vision of the Quaid but to protect our Islam—a religion of peace—from their suicidal abuse.”
Indeed, it is time for decisive actions. Ever since we reverted back to democracy in 2008 following her supreme sacrifice, our march onward remains on a roller-coaster. Democratic applecart has been under threat of disruption. Media being not too kind to it, dubious players in the field with umpires itching to raise their finger and terrorists out there to devour us—genuine political leadership has done its bit but has a lot to do more than talking in miles and moving in inches.
Outdated escape routes such as formation of committees of men, women and clerics who can do nothing but as a group decide that nothing can be done—except doling out sermons full of sound and fury signifying nothing—need to be replaced not by a 20-point plan to combat terrorism but a one-point national agenda of mass mobilisation sans religion’s involvement in it—to do or die since it has come to be now or never. That could possibly be the only way to pay a befitting tribute to martyred Bibi —a larger than life figure.
Benazir Bhutto had a multifaceted grasp on issues global, matters trivial. She was workaholic. Work and more work, education and more education—were her weapons. Service nothing but service to the people was her motto, empowerment of the less privileged, men, women, children and minorities—was her life-long mission. Rightful place, unshackling the poor and the deprived from the stranglehold of exploiters—was her unfinished agenda. Democracy for her was a means to a larger end—the greatest good of the largest number. Her vision was pluralistic and democratic Pakistan where all its citizens were to be equal, free to practice their religions and the state was to be secular in governance.
That is what Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam wanted. It was clearly manifested in his August 11, 1947 speech in which he was categorical that neither Pakistan would be a theocratic state nor religion shall have anything to do with the business of the state. That was Mr Jinnah’s irrevocable ideological commitment. It is time our civil, judicial and military leaders come out of their bigoted closets and declare their adherence to Quid’s vision of Pakistan and not what the clerics force upon them by their blackmail. Surrendering to them would be Talibanisation of Pakistan—a sure recipe for the denouement of the state that was to be a democratic model for the Muslim Ummah. We should show courage and if need be— organise different sort of dharnas other than those for getting into power—to demand to strike down from the statute books—all retrogressive laws— blasphemy included—that divide the society.
It is better late than never—to go after the terrorists. I wish General Musharraf and like had scotched the menace when it raised its head rather leaving their legacy to be confronted now under Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. I wish words of hate vomited from pulpits to dehumanize the society would not have been permitted. I wish killing of Shia, Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus and even Muslims who resist the religious bigotry—had not been allowed to become an epidemic disease. Benazir Bhutto became a victim of religious extremism for being a lady that carried the torch of freedom, democracy and enlightenment. Nobel laureate Malala Yusufzai was seriously injured for pursing her education as divine obligation while the Peshawar Military School’s students had dared to defy the Taliban’s oppressive agenda.
There has been a systematic induction of an oppressive way of life that the religious militants believe. It is a tragedy that people like General Musharraf who once tried to masquerade as Pakistan’s Kemal Ata Turk failed to protect the lives of the common people. That legacy of a readily available rate card for announcing compensation for the victims of religious terrorism remains in vogue to this day. One agrees with Bibi’s observation that the Taliban had “twisted the values of a great and noble religion and potentially set the hopes and dreams of a better life for Muslims back a generation.” Muslims, she believed “became [al Qaeda’s] victims too.”
In Islam Jihad meant a personal struggle “to follow the right path,” in any field of human endeavour. The extremists had distorted this for fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the service of the United States to end up ten years down the road to convert terrorism into a full time business.” Islam’s concept of socio-economic equality for all was the most powerful phenomenon that could pose a challenge to any other ideology any time. However, Islam’s egalitarian traditions were constantly hijacked by the despotic Muslim rulers/dictators who reduced religion to a tool to consolidate their hold on power.
In order to resurrect the real Islam in the growing global complexities Bhutto had pleaded for ijtihad — the early Islamic tradition of challenge and inquiry to interpret the Holy Quran in relevance to and context of the current era. Her observations in “Reconciliation” are true manifestation of the real spirit of Islam as reflected in the concept of Ijtehad. As a befitting tribute to her we need to reiterate the Quran’s message of peace and tolerance and not let it drown in a sea of extremism.
The writer is former longest serving high commissioner of Pakistan to UK
Source: Daily Times