Imagining lahore, p.6

Imagining Lahore, page 6


Imagining Lahore

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  Moral policing, sanctioned by the newly introduced religious laws of the country and strengthened by street vigilantes, radically decreased the space for women in public. Whereas in the 1960s and 1970s, at least in cities like Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, young women wearing skirts and jeans would cycle to work or colleges, in the 1980s, hounded by a zealot state and its proxies, women began to disappear from public spaces. Those who braved the onslaught had to conform to a certain display of ‘modesty’. Western clothes were shunned. A dupatta over the head became a regular feature. Cycling to work became unimaginable if you were a woman.

  The Afghan Jihad led by Zia brought in a vast and unaccounted supply of weapons, funnelled into Afghanistan via Pakistan by the US, fighting a proxy battle against its arch-enemy, the USSR. Large tranches of those weapons routinely found their way into illegal arms markets in the bigger cities of the country. Perhaps using the same weapons, the government armed its allied parties to counter its political opponents. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Karachi, headed by Altaf Hussain, which began as a student political group a year after Zia overthrew the civilian government, was pampered by the military government to counter the stronghold of PPP in its home city. In Lahore, it was the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), the student wing of the Jama’at-e-Islami, that received government support. Their student leaders were given weapons so that they could gain an upper hand in the universities and colleges where the left-leaning National Students Federation, sympathetic to the PPP, held sway.23 Violence gripped the campuses of Lahore and Karachi. Politics became bloodier under the shadow of the gun. Alongside entered heroin. Under Zia, Pakistan became the chief exporter of heroin in the world, which arrived into the country from Afghanistan. Millions of Pakistanis took to this new addiction.

  All this was accompanied by the worst form of political repression. For eight years the country remained under martial law, with all expressions of political dissent severely penalized. PPP supporters were jailed, tortured and even killed. Prominent political leaders critical of the government were thrown behind bars without any charges. There was an arid sense of fear in the country. Paranoia swept through the major cities. Government informants, it was feared, roamed among the public, eavesdropping on conversations in restaurants, bus stations and other public spaces. Uttering the name ‘Bhutto’ in a public space could lead to severe repercussions. In this environment, perhaps the military dictator convinced himself that he had erased Bhutto’s memory. He had started believing his own propaganda. Little did he realize that, like molten lava, the memory of Bhutto lay just beneath the surface, waiting to erupt through the first crack.

  Even before dawn on 4 April 1979, defying all protocol, the first democratically elected prime minister of the country, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in Rawalpindi. It had been only eight years since the breakaway of East Pakistan, and the country had finally begun to move on from the traumatic experience. This execution sent shockwaves around the country. There hadn’t been a more popular leader in Pakistan until then. Bhutto had a cult following. People dressed like him, wanted to be like him. Like Mao’s Little Red Book, books of Bhutto’s quotations were sold throughout the country. In power, he had shown the dispirited country a dream of a great future, of becoming an Islamic superpower, strong enough to not only fight its giant ‘Hindu’ neighbour but also take on the superpowers of the world. With his death, that dream died too.

  There could be no public mourning. Martial law was at its peak. No political gatherings were allowed. His followers cried in the confines of their homes. His body was flown to Larkana in the dead of night and buried in the family graveyard, with no members of his family present. Benazir and her mother were jailed, while her two brothers were in exile.

  As a new repressive regime spread its tentacles, the trauma of the loss only grew bigger in the public subconscious. Whatever flaws Bhutto had during his lifetime, his death rendered him a ‘saint’. Compared to the ‘monster’ that followed him, Bhutto appeared better, brighter. As the military dictator tried suppressing his memory, his legend only grew stronger.

  For seven years after the overthrow of her father’s government on 5 July 1977, Benazir was incarcerated by the military dictator, sometimes with her family members and sometimes alone. PPP’s distraught supporters had no leader. Her brothers, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, shocked by the death of their father, decided to adopt a more radical approach and militarily challenge the dictatorship. Benazir, on the other hand, advocated a non-violent democratic approach. Her peaceful opposition to Zia even from behind bars was to earn for her a reputation not only within the country, but also internationally, similar to Aung San Suu Kyi’s during her opposition to Myanmar’s military junta.

  It was a potent image. A beautiful young woman carrying forward her father’s democratic struggle, in a deeply patriarchal and religious society. Also, a ‘complete’ woman, who understood family values along with political compulsions—a ‘daughter of the East’, as her autobiography was called. While her father’s rise to political popularity had been on the shoulders of a military dictator, Ayub Khan, Benazir’s political star rose opposing a brutal military dictatorship. She was finally able to exit the country in 1984 on the pretext of medical treatment. She remained in exile for two years, trying to harness global support against the military dictator who had by now become a champion of ‘freedom’ in the West due to his leading role in aiding the fight against communism in Afghanistan. It was also during her exile that her younger brother was secretly poisoned and killed in France, a murder she believed was orchestrated by the establishment. This was the second ‘sacrifice’ the Bhuttos had made for ‘democracy’. ‘Democracy is the best revenge,’ became her slogan.

  In 1986, when Zia lifted martial law, Benazir decided to head back to Pakistan to continue her opposition to him. Instead of Karachi, her home town, she chose to land in Lahore. A young Benazir understood how politically significant the city was and how any political movement that began here found resonance across the country. It was in Lahore that her father had started his independent political career by opposing Ayub Khan. It was in Lahore that he had talked to the largest gatherings. Lahore, under Bhutto, had been a bastion of the PPP. Punjab and Sindh had swept him to power. It was also in Lahore that Bhutto had hosted his Islamic Summit in 1974, believed to be his greatest foreign policy achievement, that cemented an Islamic bloc to counter the cultural threat from the West. Thus it was in Lahore that Benazir wanted to mount her challenge to the mighty Zia.

  However, Lahore presented another problem. A majority of the cadres within the Pakistani army came from Punjab. Thus, Punjab was also the heart of the establishment. Aside from a few protests, Lahore and Punjab had remained passive throughout the long decade after Bhutto, even as Sindh and Karachi burned. After the economic slump of the Bhutto years, liberalization and American aid had brought much-needed respite for the industrialists and traders of Punjab, who quietly stood behind the dictator. The return of a Bhutto to power brought back unpleasant memories of nationalization, when thriving businesses were taken over by the government and turned into economic liabilities. Lahore—and Punjab—were divided. While Bhutto’s land and labour reforms had earned him everlasting love and support from the working classes, the upper classes looked at the new Bhutto with suspicion. Interestingly, this is an image the PPP continues to conjure in urban Punjab, a narrative that Nawaz Sharif was successfully able to hijack and manipulate, presenting himself to be the more economy-friendly alternative. Benazir’s return to Lahore, therefore, was also meant to be a symbolic challenge to the establishment and its supporters at its very core.

  Lahore remained conflicted. It continued to pose the greatest political challenge to Benazir, opposed as she was by Nawaz Sharif, who was, at least in the early half of the 1990s, the face of the establishment. The loss of Lahore to her arch-rival would be, till the end of her life in 2007, one of her biggest political defeats. It’s a loss from which the PPP has still not
recovered; a loss that represents the loss of Punjab. It is a bastion the party needs to conquer if it ever wants to form a federal government again.

  The situation was different on 10 April 1986. Lahore was still not lost. A city that had been muted for almost a decade roared in support of Benazir. The slogan ‘Jiye Bhutto’ (Long Live Bhutto) resonated in the air. The tripartite colours of the party’s flag, black, red and green, adorned the streets. For a people yearning to publicly mourn the loss of their fallen leader, the joyous return of Benazir became a celebration of Bhutto’s death. In Sufi tradition, it is not birthdays but rather the death anniversaries of the saint that are commemorated. For it is believed that death represents the ultimate union of the Sufi, the lover, with God, the Beloved, which is the final goal. At this point, for the city of Lahore, Bhutto had ceased to be a Machiavellian politician. He had become a saint. At a time of extreme censorship, 3 million people, according to PPP sources, gathered to welcome his daughter back.24 Police authorities assigned to maintain ‘law and order’ quickly disappeared.

  Standing atop an open truck, Benazir waved back and clapped along with her supporters. A journey that usually takes fifteen minutes stretched over ten hours.25 It was not just a political gathering, it was a celebration, a public mourning, a ‘tamasha’ as her political opponents later suggested. It is this tamasha, politics intermingled with music and dance, which was eventually appropriated by all political parties. A young Benazir was the ultimate symbol of protest. Habib Jalib’s famous poem ‘The Gunmen Are Afraid of Unarmed Girl’ was written for her.26

  Before she headed to Iqbal Park to formally challenge the dictator, she needed the blessings of the patron saint of Lahore—Data Darbar. Data Darbar was the symbol of Islamization under Zia. Benazir was not the atheist, socialist, libertine monster that Zia had portrayed her as. She was rooted in the culture of the land. What better way to show that than by offering a chadar at the grave of the saint?

  Benazir was now ready to take on the military dictator. In the shadow of the shrine, at the historic Iqbal Park, she addressed the largest political gathering in the city. Two years later, she was sworn in as the youngest and the first woman prime minister of Pakistan, the first woman head of state of any Muslim country in the modern era. This, though, was only the beginning of her woes.

  On his drive to Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore, along with his cousin Mumtaz Bhutto, once the powerful governor of Sindh, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto must have realized he had underestimated the threat the military regime posed to him. According to several reports, Bhutto, immediately after the coup, even when he was kept in ‘protected custody’ in Murree, had been in high spirits and was convinced he would be able to intimidate his captor by using his famed power of rhetoric.27

  Perhaps till this point, Bhutto could not imagine that his handpicked army chief, promoted out of turn over six other senior generals, a meek-looking army man, could present a serious threat to him, the most popular and powerful man in the country, loved by the entire Muslim world, and destined to lead it, along with the rest of the Third World. For someone with as much knowledge and appreciation of history, it is rather strange that Bhutto did not realize that a similar out-of-turn promotion of Ayub Khan had led to the first military coup in the country. Incidentally, twenty-two years after the coup against Bhutto, another out-of-turn promoted general, Pervez Musharraf, led a coup against his premier.

  It is a simple roundabout with a colourful fountain, which connects Ichra, Shahjamal with Shadman. The fountain is usually dry. It was here, on a cold November evening in 1974, that Ahmad Raza Khan Kasuri, a former colleague turned vehement critic of Bhutto, was intercepted as he was returning from a wedding with his father, mother and aunt. A similar attack had been made on the young rebel politician in Islamabad earlier, which he had managed to escape. He survived but his father was not as lucky. Rushed to the nearby United Christian Hospital, he was pronounced dead soon after. When asked by police officials to name suspects, Kasuri blamed Bhutto, the prime minister of Pakistan.

  Soon after his release from ‘protected custody’, Bhutto was granted bail by Lahore High Court despite pressure from the military regime. Perhaps till this point, Bhutto felt he could garner public support and fight his way out of this alleged conspiracy to murder. The case against him was three years old and lacked evidence. Zia, however, knew well enough it was either his own life or Bhutto’s.28

  It was a well-known fact that Bhutto did not take well to criticism. Often, he resorted to personal attacks, mocking the body language or manner of speaking of his opponents.29 His inability to tolerate criticism had turned many of his former allies into enemies. Several of his loyal supporters, who had helped him reach the pinnacle of power, had been sidelined following his years in office. One such example was J.A. Rahim, one of the original founders of the PPP, the intellectual theoretician behind the party, who was manhandled by members of the Federal Security Force (FSF) loyal to Bhutto, for his criticism of their chief.30 Late to a dinner, Rahim had called Bhutto ‘King of Larkana’ and marched off. Had Bhutto’s intolerance for criticism reached a new level with Ahmad Raza Khan Kasuri? The murder of Nawab Mohammad Kasuri was pinned on the prime minister’s loyal paramilitary force, FSF, created by Bhutto in 1972. Bullets used for the murder allegedly belonged to the guns used by the force.

  Having shed off military martial law, Bhutto, as the head of a newly established democratic regime, understood the precariousness of his political position. The powerful army establishment had only recently been humbled in the debacle of 1971. Two wings of Pakistan were now left with only the western wing.

  Even though it was Yahya Khan, the martial law administrator who launched the military operation titled Operation Searchlight to curb Bengali nationalist sentiment, Bhutto was equally responsible. In the first general elections of Pakistan in 1970, Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Awami League had swept the elections in East Pakistan, while Bhutto’s PPP had dominated Sindh and Punjab. Mujib-ur-Rehman should have been invited to form the government and would have been elected prime minister. It is argued that Yahya Khan had even begun calling Mujib-ur-Rehman prime minister, but Bhutto was not ready to allow his Bengali compatriot to govern both the wings.31 He argued that his party should be allowed to rule the western wing, which was unacceptable to Mujib-ur-Rehman. A stalemate ensued, with the army eventually stepping in to control the ‘law and order’ situation in East Pakistan. It was not Yahya Khan but Bhutto who was the most hated person in East Pakistan which became Bangladesh, at least in the days preceding the operation.

  Ironically, it was Bhutto who benefited the most from the fiasco, first becoming the civilian martial law administrator, and then prime minister. By then, Pakistan had had enough of military rule. It wanted to take its fate into its own hands and Bhutto was the man elected to be at the helm of affairs. Despite his powerful position and the weakened state of the army, Bhutto knew the balance could tilt in the latter’s favour. Seeking inspiration from Hitler’s SS, he raised the FSF, a force that would be loyal to him and shield him from the army. Little did Bhutto realize that the FSF would lead to his downfall. His fate in the case of conspiracy to murder was sealed on the testimony of Masood Mahmood, his handpicked director of the FSF, who admitted to Bhutto’s involvement in the plot. The FSF was disbanded by Zia on his seizing power.

  The earlier war, in 1965, had set in motion a chain of events that would bring Bhutto closer to power, another debacle for which Bhutto shoulders as much responsibility as the military establishment. A member of the dictator Ayub Khan’s cabinet, Bhutto was the young and talented foreign minister who had impressed his boss at home and others abroad with his elegant and passionate speeches. A young firebrand, he was a supporter of the Kashmir cause. It was because of Bhutto’s persistence and planning that Ayub Khan launched Operation Gibraltar, a secret operation in which clandestine fighters from Pakistan would cross the Line of Control and instigate the local population to rise up against the Indian forces.32 Once t
here was a general uprising, Operation Grand Slam, a full-scale military operation, could have been launched.

  Bhutto, with a keen eye on the international situation, had seen India cosying up to the Americans, while maintaining a warm relationship with the Soviet Union. It was in the process of upgrading its military hardware. Bhutto realized that soon the Indian Army would be too powerful for Pakistan to compete with in conventional war. It was therefore imperative for Pakistan to wage a war with India while there was still some kind of a balance between the two armies.33 An act of aggression was brilliantly presented as a defensive approach.

  What the regime and Bhutto had not taken into account was a counter-attack by the Indian forces on the western front. Bhutto believed, and had managed to convince his President, that India would rather attack Pakistan on the eastern front, in East Pakistan, as opposed to the western front where there was a strong army presence. He also believed that China would come to their rescue in East Pakistan, which did not happen. In case of that attack, the Pakistani army would easily be able to cut off Kashmir from India. The lives of millions of Bengali Pakistanis were put in jeopardy and perhaps regarded as collateral damage in this operation, which became a strong cause of resentment in East Pakistan.

  Contrary to expectations, the Indian forces, instead of marching into East Pakistan, moved into Punjab and headed towards Lahore. Bhutto, Pakistan’s political establishment and intelligence agencies were all caught off guard. There was a real threat that the Indian forces could march into the provincial capital. The Pakistani establishment could have sacrificed Dhaka for a chance at Kashmir, but Lahore was never an option.


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