Tag Archives: Democracy

June 21

June 21, the sun brightens our skies longer

Democracy: is a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

Feminism: The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. The advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.  The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. Feminism at its core is about equality of men and women, not sameness. Feminism is not about hating men.

Although democracy and feminism are not as democratic and feminist as they should have been, but we still have something to celebrate because of the struggle of Benazir Bhutto. I often quote the fragments of her speech delivered at Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. In her speech she advocated Islam, women empowerment, and democracy. Let me quote some again to refresh our memories and celebrate her day of birth, because she still is alive for whatever she had contributed towards democracy ant women empowerment:

Empowerment is not only a right to have political freedom. Empowerment is the right to be independent; to be educated; to have choices in life. Empowerment is the right to have the opportunity to select a productive career; to own property; to participate in business; to flourish in the market place.

Muslim women have a special responsibility to help distinguish between Islamic teachings and social taboos spun by the traditions of a patriarchal society. This is a distinction that obscurantist would not like to see. For obscurantists believe in discrimination. Discrimination is the first step to dictatorship and the usurpation of power. In distinguishing between Islamic teachings and social taboos, we must remember that Islam forbids injustice; Injustice against people, against nations, against women.

It shuns race, colour, and gender as a basis of distinction amongst fellowmen. It enshrines piety as the sole criteria for judging humankind. It treats women as human beings in their own right, not as chattels. A woman can inherit, divorce, receive alimony and child custody. Women were intellectuals, poets, jurists and even took part in war. The Holy Book of the Muslims refers to the rule of a woman, the Queen of Sabah. The Holy Book alludes to her wisdom and to her country being a land of plenty. The Prophet Muhammad himself married a working woman Bibi Khadija.

Women are not only victims of physical abuse; women are victims of verbal abuse. Often men, in anger and frustration, indulge in the uncivilized behaviour of rude and vulgar language against women. Unfortunately, women at times also use vulgar language to denigrate another woman. The discrimination against women can only begin to erode when women are educated and women are employed.

When I was growing up, women were not educated. I was the first girl in my family to go to university and to go abroad for my studies. Now it has become the norm for girls to be educated at university and abroad when the families can afford it. I have seen a lot of changes in my lifetime.

The end of the cold war should have ushered in peace and an era of progress of women. Regrettably, the proliferations of regional tensions and conflicts have belied our aspirations. As in the past, women and girls have again been the most direct victims of these conflicts—the most helpless, and thus the most abused. The use of rape as a weapon of war and an instrument of “ethnic cleansing” is as depraved as it is reprehensible. The unfolding of this saga in different parts of the world, including Jammu and Kashmir and Bosnia Herzegovina has shaken the conscience of the entire international community.

A woman proud of her cultural and religious heritage, a woman sensitive to the obstacles to justice and full participation that still stand before women in almost every society on earth. As the first woman ever elected to head an Islamic nation, I feel a special responsibility towards women’s issues and towards all women. And as a Muslim woman, I feel a special responsibility to counter the propaganda of a handful that Islam gives women a second class status.

There is a moral crisis in the world, a crisis of injustice and inaction, a crisis of silence and acquiescence. The crisis is caused by centuries and generations of oppression and repression. This conference, therefore, transcends politics and economics. We are dealing with a fundamental moral issue.We must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women. A world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest level in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life. Where there are no battered women. Where honour and dignity is protected in war and conflict. Where we have economic freedom and independence. Where we are equal partners in peace and development. A world equally committed to economic development and political development. A world as committed to free markets as to women’s emancipation.

We must shape a world free from exploitation and maltreatment of women. A world in which women have opportunities to rise to the highest level in politics, business, diplomacy, and other spheres of life. Where there are no battered women. Where honour and dignity is protected in war and conflict. Where we have economic freedom and independence. Where we are equal partners in peace and development. A world equally committed to economic development and political development. 

And even as we catalogue, organize, and reach our goals, step by step by step, let us be ever vigilant. Repressive forces always will stand ready to exploit the moment and push us back into the past.

I have never claimed that Benazir Bhutto was perfect, no one is, but she still managed to offer the world an alternative model of feminism. And in her campaigns, she advocated new services for women and opposed sexual discrimination, though few measures were adopted under her government. If anyone personified the feminist and democratic struggle in Pakistan, it was Benazir Bhutto. She challenged tradition, patriarchal norms and defied cultural boundaries. She continues to reign on as the most influential Pakistani of our times, overshadowing sportspersons, politicians, generals and Islamist jihadists. She challenged terrorists publicly even when she knew that the price of that challenge could be her own life.

Benazir Bhutto was a zealous guardian of her father’s legacy, populist, appealing and glamorous face of Pakistan and a trailblazing feminist. She was a lighthouse for democracy in Pakistan: “Benazir Bhutto doesn’t cease to exist the moment she gets married. I am not giving myself away. I belong to myself and I always shall.”

In her famous speech Benazir Bhutto quoted the German writer, Goethe: Freedom has to be re-made and re-earned in every generation. We must do much more than decry the past. We must change the future.

Let me quote my own words again to conclude the article: the day lasts longer on June the 21st to celebrate the achievements of Benazir Bhutto for Democracy and Feminism.

Military is supreme

In 1957, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became the youngest member of Pakistan’s delegation to the United Nations. Bhutto became one of the youngest politicians in Pakistan when he entered the government led by President Ayub Khan. In 1958 Bhutto became the youngest cabinet minister when he was given charge of the Energy ministry by Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who had seized power, through a successful coup d’état. In 1960, he was subsequently promoted to minister of the Commerce Ministry, and minister of Water and Power. He aided President Ayub in negotiating the Indus Water Treaty in India in 1960. In 1961, Bhutto negotiated an oil exploration agreement with the Soviet Union, which also agreed to provide economic and technical aid to Pakistan.

In 1963, after his appointment as foreign minister, he opted working for greater independence from Western powers and for closer ties with China. Bhutto was made the foreign minister at the height of reaction to a US decision to give military aid to India following the attack by China on India’s Himalayan border. President Ayub depended heavily, on Bhutto for carrying out new foreign policy initiatives. But Bhutto’s opposition to the peace with India after the 1965 war over Kashmir caused him to resign from the government, and in December 1967 he founded the Pakistan People’s Party, which won a majority of seats from West Pakistan in 1970.

By the time Bhutto was given the control of the government in 1971, Pakistan was torn apart, isolated, demoralized, and emotionally shattered after a bitter defeat at the hands of arch-enemy India. East Pakistan became Bangladesh with the help of India. The trauma was severe in Pakistan, a psychological setback and emotional breakdown for Pakistan; the citizens were stunned at the defeat. They were amazed by the incompetence of their military ruler. The army was unpopular; Bhutto was the only alternative as President Yahya’s successor.

In his address to the nation on December 20, 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto said:

“I would not like to see Martial Law remain one day longer than necessary… We have to rebuild democratic institutions…we have to rebuild a situation in which the common man, the poor man in the street, can tell me to go to hell.”

One of the first thing Bhutto did as President was to dismiss General Hamid as Chief of Staff and appoint General Gul Hassan. He announced reforms limiting land ownership and a government take-over of over a million acres to distribute to landless peasants. More than 2,000 civil servants were dismissed on charges of corruption. Bhutto visited India to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and negotiated a formal peace agreement and the release of 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. Bhutto also promised to hold a future summit for the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute and pledged to recognise Bangladesh. Although he secured the release of Pakistani soldiers, he was criticised by many for allegedly making too many concessions to India.

“The sporadic fighting between the insurgency and the army started in 1973 with the largest confrontation taking place in September 1974. Saddam’s government provided support for Baloch separatists in Pakistan, hoping their conflict would spread to rival Iran. In 1973, Iraq provided the Baloch with conventional arms, and it opened an office for the Baluchistan Liberation Front (BLF) in Baghdad. This operation was supposed to be covert, but in 1973, the operation was exposed by M.I. when senior separatist leader Akbar Bugti defected to Bhutto, revealing a series of arms stored in the Iraqi Embassy. On the midnight of 9 February 1973, Bhutto launched an operation to seize control of the Iraqi Embassy, and preparation for siege was hastily prepared. The operation was highly risky and a wrong step could have started a war between the two countries. The operation was carefully analysed and at 0:00hrs (12:00 am), the SSG Division accompanied by Army Rangers stormed the Embassy. Military Police arrested the Iraqi Ambassador, the military attaché, and Iraq’s diplomatic staff.”

Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein’s War against America by Laurie Mylroie

On 30 March, 1973, fourteen Air Force and twenty one army officers were arrested on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. Major General Zia ul Haq headed the subsequent court martial and used the opportunity to inform Bhutto about the proceedings and offer his services to him.

Bhutto made sure that 1973 Constitution authorised the Parliament to pass laws for the punishment of those found guilty of treason, and included an oath to refrain from indulging in political activity, the Constitution explicitly formalised it:

I …do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I will not engage in any political activities whatsoever and that I will honestly and faithfully serve the Pakistan Army/Navy/Airforce as required by and under the law.

Bhutto promoted Zia ul Haq from Brigadier to Major General, after King Hussein of Jordan had put in a word for him appreciating his services in Jordan. Zia was in Jordan at the time of the Black September Operations against Palestinians, was believed to have taken part in the massacre on the orders of King Hussein. In February 1976 Zia ul Haq was appointed as COAS, he stood eighth in the seniority list at that time of promotion. Rest is history.

Reason for giving a brief overview of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s career is because of the recent stance of Mian Nawaz Sharif against the military intervention in politics. Three times prime minister Nawaz Sharif aspires to end Pakistan Army’s control on civilian government. He is openly criticising army generals; he talked about the military and its agencies as the “State above the State”. He was among the few civilian leaders to hold friendly relations with the military establishment. But that did not get him anywhere. He ended up getting deposed General Pervez Musharraf in 1999. He was put on trial for corruption and went in exile. In 2013, he became prime minister for the third time. He is alleged to have told his confidantes that he would curtail the role of army and ascertain the supremacy of civilian governments in Pakistan forever. He is locking horns with military establishment at one time again. 

Can he push back a military that is deep-rooted in power politics, today? Can he sustain the pressure?

Despite being an optimist, I believe NO.

If an intelligent and the most popular first elected Prime Minister like Bhutto, who was the founder of Pakistan’s atomic bomb programme, lost his grounds to military, then Mian Nawaz Sharif has no chance. Looking at Mian Nawaz Sharif’s own history, even in the recent past, he has been compromising with the establishment time to time. Opposition’s alliance may force the sitting government for early elections, but as a matter of fact it wouldn’t change the current status of military establishment.