The perils of power without struggle

Power without political struggle has always been disastrous. In the chequered political history of Pakistan, there have been only two genuine national political parties. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) resigned from the cabinet of the first dictator and started his political struggle by forming Pakistan People’s Party in November 1967. It was at the Lahore YMCA Hall; I was there to witness the start of a new struggle for progressive politics based on the people’s power. The coercive state apparatus came hard after him. He had close calls with his life but survived and came out stronger. In Sanghar, the followers of Pir Pagara clashed with his ‘Jaloos’ (March) after the two came face to face. People were armed, bullets were fired. ZAB’s comrades surrounded their leader till he was safe. In Lahore, the party had arranged a mammoth gathering at Nasir Bagh or Gol Bagh as it was called then. In order to sabotage the ‘Jalsa’ (political gathering) the grounds were watered, together with live electric wires. On entry, the participants were subjected to electric shocks. When ZAB started to address the crowd, he got electrocuted on touching the mike and collapsed on the stage. Pandemonium prevailed; in the confusion, before the Punjab Police could get him, Roshan Ali, a Bhutto lover rickshaw driver picked up his leader and sped away. Government College Lahore was the closest place with open gates; he entered one of the oldest seats of higher learning seeking help to save his leaders life. At that time only the principal’s residence had lights on so he drove straight there. Professor Muhammad Rashid was not at home. His family received an unusual guest at a very odd time. Professor Sahib was called, ZAB had regained his senses by the time he arrived. Roshan Ali thanked the family for their humanitarian assistance and drove off his leader to safety from the back gate of the college.
The next day, an inquiry was conducted on the great escape of the most popular political leader of his times. Malik Latif, the Secretary Education was summoned to the Governor’s House. Professor Rashid lost his job, was asked to report to the ministry; Professor Ashfaq Ali Khan took over as Principal. Rashid Sahib was an able and upright educationist, he went on sabbatical to teach Economics at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok. ZAB continued with his struggle against the dictatorship that had divided the nation into have and have nots. The progressives sided with him. In West Pakistan, PPP emerged as a major anti-establishment force while in the Eastern Wing, the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman prevailed.
In the 1970 free and fair elections, PPP bagged 83 seats in West Pakistan. In his very first speech, ZAB talked about his struggle and pain in leading the movement, he especially mentioned police brutality on him and his workers. In his very first speech as PM, he talked about the torture marks on his back. Bhutto believed in people’s power, he communicated and served them well. Even the bureaucracy and police were made to serve not rule. As student leaders, we had free access to the Governor’s house. Through his struggle on the ground, ZAB and his team understood the problems faced by the common man. In 1977, when he was toppled, Pakistan moved from an era of progressive to regressive politics. Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (NS) was discovered and launched by the Zia-led evil empire during this dark period. He came with no political struggle or background. My memory of him at Government College was of a non-serious student who came there to socialise and at best manage to get a piece of paper called a ‘degree’.
On my return after seeking higher education abroad, I found that NS had been installed as the Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan in 1990. After dismissing the government of Benazir Bhutto, the establishment conspired to launch him as a subservient civilian political leader. The premise was that he would remain obedient, but little did they know that they were in for a big surprise. With his two stints as Chief Minister Punjab (1985, 88) he utilised political power to his maximum personal advantage, played a key role in containing and challenging the democratically elected government of Benazir. She was touted as the PM of Islamabad. With the connivance of the state apparatus, he created his own constituency. Merit was replaced with loyalty. Punjab Police became a ‘Gullu Butt’ force comprising of ruffians from Gawalmandi and Gujrat. The judiciary was stuffed with favourites. Plots were doled out to workers. It was a perfect scenario of top-down politics where only the loyal could flourish. Finally, when President Ishaq Khan could take it no more and dismissed his first government in 1993, the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Nasim Hasan Shah restored it, the only one in the history of the country to be bestowed with this favour. In 1997, when the Supreme Court under Justice Sajjad Ali Shah summoned NS, party goons attacked the court, another first in the republic.
NS has been thrice installed as PM 12th (1990-93), 14th (1997-99) and 20th (2013-2017). Over the years, he has succeeded in creating a state within a state. Most civilian institutions have become non-functional for the public at large, only the loyalists operate when the signals come from Jati Umra; the rest do not count or matter. Only a major change of direction from regressive to progressive politics can make a difference as was done in 1971 under the leadership of ZAB.
After PPP, the second attempt at progressive politics was started by Imran Khan (IK) in April 1996 when he launched his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Compared to ZAB, IK’s struggle was much longer to come into power (1996 to 2018) but he did not give up. Every election in the land of the pure has been disputed since 1977, those who were beneficiaries of this manipulation are now complaining of its fairness. PPP (Bhutto) being a genuine political entity has won five elections while PML-N, being a king’s party has done poorly without the king. In the 2002 elections, it could only win 19 seats as the new king’s party (PML-Q) took away all its courtiers.
Before the mammoth October 2011 ‘Jalsa’ at Lahore IK had solid credentials of political struggle, though it did not translate into votes mainly because of the opposition like PML-N and PML-Q. ZAB always had a loyal vote bank which was finally en-cashed and destroyed by Zardari. Through his long innings (1996-2011) IK was able to draw out first time voters through his promise of reviving progressive politics. I remember the wet rainy night; I was returning after hearing IK’s speech in the 2014 ‘Dharna’ in Islamabad, and came across a young family who were heading towards the stage. They wanted directions to get there, as it was late and the speeches were over, I advised them to return home but they kept going at the same speed. Only ZAB had this kind of following. Had he been released even a day before his execution, I am sure crowds would have followed him. Pakistan has been a constitutional democracy since 1973, despite the detours of dictators and the king’s parties the document has survived. Only through political struggle genuine leadership can emerge. Kings, queens, princes, princesses and courtiers should have no space in a democratic dispensation; it is time to weed them out.

The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation, email:

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