Once more with feeling! By Anjum Niaz

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

For some time now I have been searching for a person with a perfect resume. Someone smart, sharp and a doer. Not the garden variety of men and women who appear on our radar screens promising us the earth. Very soon, they end up as pygmies. My search for a perfect person or thereabouts has so far failed. In the process, I have lowered the bar, brought the goalpost closer, and made the acid test less stringent. I have even curbed my cynicism, upped my optimism and washed clean my grey cells of preconceived notions.

Despite such desperate measures, my hunt for heroes has brought nothing but angst. You can even call it heartbreak.

Every society, every country has need of heroes. After 9/11 Americans went to town looking in every nook and cranny for somebody they could call a hero. They found many. These souls were the balm that healed a broken people, a shattered nation. The television channels and newspapers were full of stories of heroism about these people.

In Pakistan, a star was born in the blackout winter of 1971. We had lost half our country and were left licking our wounds. Then came Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His soul-stirring speech at the UN in New York was a shot in the arm. It was music to our ears, especially after we had seen and heard crooner Shaukat Ali sing the absurdity, “Ay dushman-i-deen, tu ney kis qaum ko lalkara,” day and night on PTV during our trouncing by India. There he would be on the mini-screen, wearing a black kurta with dishevelled hair and a thick black macho moustache singing away with the sirens sounding, anti-aircraft guns crackling and Indian fighter jets pounding our cities as if there was no tomorrow.

Indeed there was no tomorrow, but for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s words of comfort, promise and hope. He was our messiah and our new leader. Quickly we fell behind him. His word was our command. The man did not let us down. Pakistan swiftly came out of the shadows of death and destruction, demanding a place in the comity of nations. His maiden speech on radio and TV is as fresh in my mind as if it was only yesterday…

“My dear countrymen, my dear friends, my dear students, labourers, peasants… those who fought for Pakistan… We are facing the worst crisis in our country’s life, a deadly crisis. We have to pick up the pieces, very small pieces, but we will make a new Pakistan, a prosperous and progressive Pakistan.”

I remember those lovely, sunny beautiful days of winter. We were living in Jhelum then. My small town sprang to activity. The bazaars hummed with shoppers; the American Bakery (an all-time favourite of all) was back in business and the army wallahs living on the banks of River Jhelum learnt to smile once more. Their wives and children put up welcome banners for their loved ones returning from the killing fields. Some didn’t make it home; others came on crutches and stretchers, wounded in action. These colonels, captains, brigadiers, generals and majors were good people. Jhelum had already lost many of its sons of the soil in the 1965 war. There is something in the air that makes these men tough, hardy and gallant. Most of our soldiers hail from this belt. And we are proud of them.

So was President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the PPP.

Last Saturday I heard his son-in-law and heir apparent talk about stuff he wanted implemented. He told his interviewer that he was capable of producing results. “The only thing I cannot produce is extra time,” Asif Zardari said. One can sympathise with him. There are only 24 hours in a day. His waking hours are consumed by politicking. He’s virtually the prime minister and currently working hard towards becoming the president of Pakistan as well. If his wishes ring true, Asif Zardari will be the PPP chief, prime minister and president, all packaged in one. Bingo!

The troika-in-one, that is AZ, must then stop the twaddle; set Pakistan’s compass in the direction of development – honest development and not just cosmetic. His verisimilitude of the Italian “Godfather” image must transform into the persona of the “Pilgrim Father” who led his pilgrims across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. If only one had a magic wand. One day when Asif Zardari wakes up in the morning, he’d be free of fear! While he slept, the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) got written in stone never to be erased; Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry mysteriously vanished, never to haunt Zardari again, and Nawaz Sharif retired to some corner or the other, never to challenge his coalition partner again.

Asif Zardari will then take up the cudgels of governance. He would do well to read up the agenda of reforms that his father-in-law put in place in early 1972 when he rescued Pakistan from disaster. The young Asif was barely 15 years of age then. I wonder how much the teenager remembers of those days when Bhutto ruled. The world of teens is a world apart; you and I can vouch for this.

The fourth president of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, took measures, made them law and swiftly turned Pakistan into a happening place. Our daily lives got intertwined with the affairs of the state and as ordinary citizens we felt as if we were actors in the arena of statesmanship. Such was Bhutto’s magic; charisma and sincerity. All got pulled in the whirlwind of national activities lunging Pakistan forward. Bhutto was like a man driven. He came across as someone with a list of things to do and in a tearing hurry to tick each item as fast as he could. Each day was action-packed.

Compare his son-in-law’s first 126 days. He fit his favourites in high places and got them to kowtow; played footsy with the Sharif brothers who gave out honeyed smiles and hugged AZ but later sent hound Chaudhry Nisar digging his fangs into AZ; entertained all the visiting Americans, including Ambassador Anne Patterson, and of late made fiery speeches in the safe environs of Governor’s House in Lahore and various other Zardari Houses that he owns across Pakistan. The only remarkable achievement he has under his belt is the swelling of the Supreme Court into 29 judges, earning Pakistan a place in the Guinness Book of Records!

Bhutto appointed a new cabinet; made General Gul Hassan the new army chief; nationalised all big industries; announced a new labour policy empowering workers and their labour unions; put a ceiling to land holding and acquiring over a million acres which he distributed to the landless; sacked over 2,000 corrupt civil servants; secured the release of 93,000 POWs; repaired relations with Indira Gandhi; inaugurated the first atomic reactor; convened the National Assembly, rescinding martial law; signed the 1973 Constitution into law and finally became the tenth prime minister of Pakistan on August 14, 1973.

His four years as prime minister made Pakistan get noticed by world powers. He visited Bangladesh and laid a wreath at the “Freedom Fighters” monument inviting the Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to attend the Islamic Summit at Lahore in 1974. The coverage carried by PTV brought live scenes of Muslim leaders from all over the world into our bedrooms. I was still living in Jhelum but spiritually my soul was in Lahore at the Punjab Assembly where the meetings were held; at the Governor’s House where monarchs, presidents and prime ministers were feted; at the Shalimar Gardens where ZAB made a soul-stirring speech and at the Lahore Fort where the late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and others watched son et lumière, with ZAB and Begum Nusrat Bhutto playing the host.

Those were good days for us all. If Asif Zardari can swing into action and give us four years of joy, contentment and calm, the way ZAB did, he will be the real hero Pakistan has waited for so long. We, the people will throw our full support behind him.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu

Source: the News, 24/6/2008

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