Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (Shaheed) was a symbol of constitutionalism in Pakistan. He was Pakistan’s first popularly elected leader. His was the first democratic government that truly represented the will, wishes and aspirations of the people. And his 1973 Constitution today has been restored to its original shape by removing the grievances of the provinces and ensuring their due share on purely democratic basis. Pakistan’s democratic credentials and constitutional history could not be completed without the unprecedented contribution of Bhutto.

The legacy of Bhutto comprise democracy and constitutionalism, religious tolerance and Islamic socialism, of republicanism and liberalism. His era represented an exceptional moment in Pakistan’s sordid history, marred by martial laws and militancy. Thirty-three years since his “judicial murder”, the downslide the country has experienced in every sphere of its national life is unprecedented. Looking at its current condition, the Bhutto era appears nothing less than a Golden Age.

By the time Bhutto had assumed control of what remained of Pakistan, the nation was completely isolated and demoralised. As President, Bhutto addressed the nation via radio and television, saying: “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, a Pakistan free of exploitation, a Pakistan envisaged by the Quaid-i-Azam.”

As President, he faced eminent challenges on the internal and external fronts. Since its creation, the physical and moral existence of Pakistan was in great danger. At an internal front, the Baloch, Sindhi, and the Pashtun nationalism was at its peak point, calling for their separation from Pakistan. But it was Mr Bhutto who laid the foundation of a new Pakistan by strengthening the democratic and constitutional credentials through a unanimous Constitution.

What if General Zia had not deposed Bhutto in a 1977 coup? What if Bhutto had been alive? What if Bhutto’s charisma had not faded post-mid 1970s and, consequently, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) could not have destabilised his rule to the extent of providing the army another opportunity to stage a military coup? Surely, Pakistan would have been a better country than it is today and have a standing in the comity of nations with more prestige, honour and dignity.

Shaheed Bhutto was the true saviour of the great constitutional legacy of Jinnah. He and his daughter, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, had all the charisma and foresight to lead the nation towards progressive, tolerant and democratic destination. But unfortunately, none of them lived long enough to realise this goal. Jinnah died within a year of the creation of Pakistan, Bhutto was hanged by the military regime of General Zia in 1979, and Benazir became a victim of terrorism on December 27, 2007.

Pakistan’s tragedy is, in fact, rooted in the tragedy of the Bhuttos: The father hanged, the son poisoned, another son killed in a shootout, and the daughter murdered in a terrorist attack. This is what the enemies of Pakistan have done with its benefactors. Benazir had carried Bhutto’s legacy forward for almost three decades after her father’s death, since she had the sort of charisma and foresight that her father possessed.

Today, President Asif Ali Zardari is carrying forward the great legacy with all odds and unfavourable conditions. He must be complimented for forwarding and personifying the essential attributes of Bhutto’s legacy. Zardari, the country’s President, leads the party along with his son, but he has his own limitations.

Needless to say, the PPP under the dynamic leadership of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will continue to promote and protect Bhutto’s founding principles of democracy, constitutionalism, liberalism, strong federating units for a progressive and economically strong and prosperous Pakistan.

n    The writer is a PPP leader.