Feb 12, 2009

Bibi and the Thorns of Life

The above subject was inspired by two elements. First, my motley association with SMBB which lasted more than twenty ears. This started as a public servant when I served under Governments she led as the Prime Minister and, following my retirement, I ended up as her political worker after she induced me to join her party in 2002. In both capacities I could not help being impressed by her grit, genius and genuine concern for the public interest. Second, Shelley’ expression ‘the thorns of life’ in his Ode to the West Wind impelled me to portray her sufferings in life, as I got to know, despite her brilliance as the Daughter of the East. Starting from the ‘judicial murder’ of ZAB down to the last day, she had tremendous family concerns which haunted her till the end despite the vicissitudes of fortune and her ‘charge of the light brigade’ spirit. While I respect her capacity to struggle for her ideals, I can’t help making a sorrowful survey of the barbs Lady Luck hurled on her while she lived. Her brave face and sunny disposition in public perennially projected her pluck.
Zia’ coup came as an amazing shock for ZAB and his family. A COAS, who had created an image of being a bending WIMP before his lord and master, ZAB, crossed the Rubicon to seize power by putting his mentor under ‘house arrest’. The latter was too big a leader to get cowed down by such aggrandizement. Being conscious of his appeal among the people, despite some glitches, he refused to submit to the new order and launched a struggle. ZAB was a hero of a Greek tragedy and a genius who stood out as financially above board in his plebian politics predominated by liberalism/ socialism. His adversary was a run-of-the-mill rambler whose strong point was a no-holds-barred approach to the realization his objective. After seizing power, he promoted his own image of humility as well as of being religious which was very different from his predecessor who realized how religion was exploited in Pakistan by the vested interests. Being an artful individual, Zia realized pretty early that ZAB would not let him live in peace.
Bibi and the Bhutto family were appalled to see ZAB arrested by the FIA etc in a bizarre fashion from his Clifton residence on a trumped-up charge of the murder of Kasuri’ father, a ppp-dissident. Immediately after the takeover, Zia had set up a confederacy of anti-Bhutto forces which included the General-staff, PNA and people like Kasuri. He made sure that they knew which side their bread was buttered so that the bandwagon could withstand the pressures exerted by the Ancient Regime. The pathetic way in which the-then CJ sided with Zia for conviction of ZAB would remain an Albatross for the institution as well as the people. No wonder ZAB case meets a black-out in our PLD or other legal documents. I happened to attend the last session of the case in the Supreme Court and I can never forget that the decision appeared to be writ large all over.
Following the ouster from power and arrest of ZAB, the PPP was badly let down, generally, by the rich leaders. When confronted with ZAB’ desire that a public movement should be launched, the CEC meeting under Begum Bhutto found 9/10 of its members not on-board. General Babar and 2 others complied and were got arrested by the regime. The scars of such betrayal of the PPP-cause by ‘uncles’, as Bibi used to call them, were aggravated badly by the ill-treatment of the ladies as both the boys, Murtaza and Shahnawaz left the country to wage a struggle from abroad. As ZAB got hanged, the terror against the family assumed new proportions either due to guilty conscience or by default. Sukkur jail is a privy to the tragic maltreatment of Bibi while she was kept there without any formal charges.
The death of Shahnawaz in France had been quite mysterious. It was believed by the media to have been the outcome of a conspiracy. However, even after assuming power Bibi did not have the time to pursue the case due the prevailing political conspiracies and PPP’ tenuous position.
During her second tenure, our co-operation with France registered considerable correction. The PM along-with the Interior Minister had visited France to enhance collaboration in fighting terrorism etc.
Accordingly I had regular contacts with the French Ambassador in Islamabad. I was interested in upgrading the training facilities for our law-enforcement agencies as well as their equipment with French help. Moreover I also wanted better interaction between the two countries’ intelligence agencies as far as possible. This received all-out support from my Minister and an ardent approval from the PM. Our Ambassador in Paris was also in the know of our interest.
One day the French Ambassador, Mossieur la France, called on me and handed me an invitation to visit in his country. The program was to be worked out as per my convenience so that the on-going contacts could consummate in to bilateral agreements etc. While planning my agenda, I had the privilege of discussing the matter even with the PM with the approval of the Minister.
She appreciated my interest in the planned schedule and urged me to put in my best for the finalization of an agreement between the 2 countries. I was given to understand that she had, informally, raised the issue of Shahnawaz’ enigmatic end in a Paris suburb with her French hosts.
Accordingly she indicated that when I was through with my official timetable with my counterparts in Paris, I should also pursue Shahnawaz’ case with the relevant authorities.
I could feel the anguish she must be living with about the dolorous death of her youngest brother whom her father had considered to be a bright prospect, like Bibi herself, for the Pakistani politics. However, being an epitome of tenacity and diligence she never betrayed any emotion and maintained an absolute calm in her demeanor.
The best tribute one can pay to her is by bringing her killers to book. I remember broaching the subject Mr. Zardari-, now the President, immediately after her Chehlum. He had assured me that justice Shall be done. Like too many PPP fans of hers/ Pakistanis I wait as the country is bogged down in facing internal and external challenges inherited due to the blunders of our self-styled heroes of yore. I hope the “Rosy-fingered dawn” of Homer would appear as promised by the President.
Ilyas Mohsin: The writer is a former Secretary Interior. imnor@brain.net.pk

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