One does not have to be a jeala to see that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is so much a reflection of Pakistan, and how much ZAB’s legacy is reflected in Pakistan. Like all politicians, he is a polarising figure who supporters idolise and opponents disparage. Somewhere in the middle one begins to approach the messy reality, and it is there that we can find lessons.
Bhutto’s legacy is not without mistakes. Political ambitions may have fueled his sympathy for the way Gen Yahya Khan tragically mishandled the 1970 elections. A regrettable attempt at appeasement resulted in the Second Amendment in 1974. No man is without mistakes, though, and Bhutto is no different in that regard. What made him different was his ability to learn from his mistakes, and his willingness to re-focus on what was best for Pakistan.
Bhuttos detractors will always harp on his mistakes, but while these should not be forgotten, neither should they be treated as the whole of his legacy. For all today’s popular rhetoric about an ‘Islamic Welfare State’, we should remember that it was Bhutto more than anyone who actually fought for such an ideal. We should remember that for all today’s accusations of feudalism and political alienation, it was Bhutto who empowered millions of ordinary Pakistanis by not only getting them involved in politics, but actually listening to them.
Bhutto was at his essence a Pakistani, and a democrat. He believed that it was the will of the people that should determine the direction of their own country. It was this ideology, this belief in the power of the common Pakistani that ultimately made him too great a threat to the powers that be. The generals got rid of him, and today we find ourselves where we are.
Today, on his 36th death anniversary, I am remembering Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and I am dreaming of what could have been…