Elsa Zainab Arshad Rashdi
Pakistan Peoples Party, being Pakistan’s only democratic party, has always been a victim of political victimisation, only because the PPP chose to be democratic whilst other parties remained in the lap of dictatorship. On the 3rd of April 1979, when Benazir Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Bhutto Sahiba were meeting Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the last time before his execution, Shaheed Bhutto told BB (his pinky) that “you have seen a lot, many sad days if you want to leave, I allow you to leave” but BB replied that: “No, Papa I’ll fight for democracy, I’ll continue what you started.” That’s where it all begins – the struggle for the restoration of democracy. BB didn’t let Shaheed Bhutto or his struggle die, She kept it alive with Jiye Bhutto and Zinda hai Bhutto. She fought for his principles in the darkest era of General Ziaul haq.
In an interview, BB said, “Whenever I think of quitting politics, I look up at my father Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who sacrificed himself but never stepped back, A sea of humanity is standing with me today, that’s why, I’ll fight for the stability of democracy till my very last breath.” After Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s judicial murder, General Ziaul haq was so afraid of Bhutto’s little pinkie that Benazir Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Bhutto Sahiba were repeatedly kept under either house arrest or in detention. BB and her mother were imprisoned in Sihala jail but were released at the end of May 1979, nearly seven weeks after Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s execution. As soon as they were released, they returned to their home at 70 Clifton in Karachi. BB eventually started working for her father’s PPP but General Zia cancelled the election a month before they were supposed to be held. Benazir Bhutto and Begum Nusrat Bhutto Sahiba both were again placed under house arrest in Al Murtaza’s house in Larkana for six months. This would be BB’s seventh time either under house arrest or detention since the coup and imposition of Martial law. In 1980, they moved to Karachi and formed the Movement of Restoration of Democracy. BB again got arrested, this time in Sukkur Jail and as usual, she wasn’t told why. This can simply be called abduction. Her cell had no electricity at night and without blankets or warm clothing, she suffered in the cold. As she couldn’t eat the watery soup, tea with bread that she was given. Sometimes the prison guards offered her pumpkin or fish. Finally, unable even to try to eat the food. She stopped eating altogether. In 1984, she was released to seek treatment for a severe ear infection and put on a flight to Geneva. Shaheed Benazir Bhutto had been arrested for three years by then.
BB sharing her sufferings in jail said, “When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t recognize myself. My face was red and full of bumps due to eternal tension. I had lost so much weight that my chin, jaw and eyebrows were sticking out, My cheeks were puffy and stretched.” These were the struggles faced by the woman of steel, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.
The thousands of jiyalas and PPP supporters were also imprisoned and were facing the worst political victimisation in history. Begum Nusrat Bhutto faced those brutalities like a rock! In the days when Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was detained, protests continued in his support. Begum Nusrat Bhutto once went to Gaddafi Stadium on December 16 to watch a cricket match between England and Pakistan. As soon as she reached (accompanied by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto), a large crowd chanting “Jiye Bhutto” (Long live Bhuttoism) welcomed them. The police charged them with a baton. This gave Begum Nusrat Bhutto a severe head injury but the iron lady always stood firm for Bhutto Sahib and democracy. PPP stalwarts like Jahangir Badr faced oppression with bravery. When Badr sahib was being flogged, a microphone was placed near him to spread fear amongst people by listening to him scream but instead of screaming, every time he was flogged, he chanted, “Jiye Bhutto.”
One can realise the level of love, courage and perseverance that jiyalas held in their hearts. This list of unsung heroes doesn’t end here. Brave jiyalis like Farkhunda Bokhari are a source of inspiration even today. She was taken from her home with a blindfold on her eyes while her hands were handcuffed and she was thrown in Lahore Fort’s prison without an arrest warrant. She was then exiled without her consent. Our history is full of such events but even after enduring this much oppression, every jiyala/jiyali stood firm chanting “Jiye Bhutto.” Watching political parties falling like a house of cards makes me so proud to be a part of PPP which is full of loyalists, who faced persecution by a military dictatorship; saw leadership being murdered, exiled, and put behind bars yet workers stood their ground and never bow down. Syed Qaim Ali Shah is a living example of a loyalist who is still standing firm with the third generation of the Bhutto Family. Similarly, Shahida Jabeen. a worker of PPP, was sent to imprisonment but never bow down. Her brother Usman Ghani was sent to the gallows during General Zia’s martial law. He was the only brother to eight sisters.
Shahida Jabeen was first arrested in 1978 in Rawalpindi after being brutally beaten by male police officers. She was taken to the CIA centre, where she was beaten with batons. She was asked to confess that the workers, including herself, that supported PPP in the rally were sent to sabotage acts and she bravely refused to do so. Later, she was sent to a military court where Major Tariq pronounced her one-year imprisonment because she refused to make a statement against her party.
This courage still lives on in Jiyalas. Our leader President Asif Ali Zardari was imprisoned for 11-and-a-half years even after the court proved that his sentence was illegal. He spent 5000 days in jail with a single CONVICTION, Under General Musharraf’s martial law, he was brutally victimised and tortured. They cut his tongue. He has some severe spinal issues and three of his arteries have been blocked. His only crime was marrying Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. He was offered premiership straight from prison only if he betrayed BB and left but he always stood by her as he had promised her on their wedding that “Till death do us part.”
We still have a very heart-wrenching picture of Bakhtawar Bhutto-Zardari (First Daughter of President Zardari and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto) where she tried to shake hands with her father who was sitting inside a police van. BB recalled those moments when Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari (youngest daughter of President Zardari and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto) wanted to see her father and BB told her that he was in jail because they wanted to do good for the country. She told her, “Send me to the court mama, and I’ll fight for him.” Aseefa was then only three years old
In 2007, General Pervez Musharraf imposed an emergency in Pakistan. BB was put under house arrest. Jiyalas started protesting and female workers were subjected to the worst kind of torture and violence, but they kept chanting Wazeer e Azam Benazir. On November 9, 2007, according to a report by The New York Times, 8,500 police officers were on the streets of Rawalpindi trying to stop BB from meeting any jiyalas, however, 5000 jiyalas were arrested across the country and things like barbed wire and blockades were placed Infront of Shaheed Benazir’s residence. The heartbreaking tale of sacrifices doesn’t stop even after making unlimited sacrifices like the whole Bhutto family being martyred or thousands of jiyalas being sent to lifetime prisons, exiles or even murder, but our party always taught us to be brave, when young Bilawal Bhutto – Zardari (Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and President Zardari’s eldest son) lost his mother at the age of 19 ans still chanted her quote “Democracy is the greatest revenge.” Imran Khan did the worst he could do, no less than a dictator – To put people down, he arrested their women. Asif Ali Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, President PPP Women Wing, was arrested at midnight from the hospital on Chandraat without the doctor’s consent just to break Asif Ali Zardari’s spirit but Imran badly failed. After arresting President Asif Ali Zardari, his three children were not informed about his being shifted from jail despite his serious illness. Aseefa’s court order was denied and she was manhandled by police whilst attempting to see her father. The hospital’s doors were locked for even patients to enter or exit. These acts were not less than dictatorship, treating a former President like a terrorist was all that he was doing.
This tale of sacrifices continues even today. Proud of my party, the Pakistan Peoples Party for facing it all: arrests, torture, torment, maltreatment and everything but the irony is that not a single person broke down. Bhutto lives on, those who tried to remove him miserably failed. The disgraceful end that we are witnessing today of a puppet of the establishment is very similar to what happened with Musharraf and Zia – democracy never dies it lives on like Bhutto. Salam Jan-nisaron ko Salam Jan se pyaron ko. Jiye Bhutto.