Palijo’s untiring struggle for democracy

Palijo’s untiring struggle for democracy

General Zia, who had unleashed the forces of bigotry, extremism and misogyny in Pakistan, had brutally crushed the uprising of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy - a coalition of anti-dictatorship parties by end of 1984. The prisons were overcrowded not with criminals but civil agitators. Surprisingly, the sternest resistance against Zia’s dictatorship had come from small towns of Sindh which was very often organised and spearheaded by the toiling and hardened followers of Palijo’s Awami Tehreek and the Sindhiani Tehreek. Palijo, who had been sent to prison by Mr. Bhutto during his reign, was now in prison for Bhutto.
Many political workers who had managed to escape from arrest and torture and now living in exile in western countries, including this writer, were actively opposing the Zia’s regime. They built local alliances and drew attention of host civil society organizations like Amnesty International which had declared Palijo as “Prisoner of Conscience” in 1981 and had been issuing reports about human rights violations in Pakistan — a huge blow to Zia regime and an embarrassed for western powers supporting it. End of Zia’s regime had begun. No doubt Palijo made it possible.
In order to release pressure Zia released Ms. Benazir Bhutto in January 1984 holds a fraudulent presidential referendum and party-less elections in December 1984 and February 1985 respectively. A quasi-civilian government was formed which finally results into lifting of the Martial law in December 1985. Despite all these developments Palijo was kept in prison, perhaps fearing his charisma, his transformative and mobilization skills and the following he had across the country. ‘Palijo Release Campaign’ intensifies across the globe. London, New York, Washington DC, Amsterdam, Brussels witness protest rallies for his release to the much embarrassment of Pakistani diplomats. Finally, on 7th June 1986 Sindh High Court released Palijo after ten years imprisonment. After few weeks of his release he reaches London. I became his host, then his follower and friend. He visited London many times afterwards and always stayed with us. I came back to Pakistan after the death of Zia and settled in Islamabad. With few exceptions, whenever he came to Islamabad, he would stay with us.
It was 2002. General Musharraf had announced to hold general elections. This time, he asked me to come to the airport where he informed that Musharraf had invited him for meeting. I drove him straight to the Chief Executive office – the Prime Minister House. He was received by officials and assisted to meet General Zia. I was taken to a waiting hall. Palijo told me to wait. Soon afterwards, I got a chit from him – you may go. While I was leaving, I saw some other political leaders coming and going. It was about midday. I went back to my office, like the other days I continued working late. I think I finished office work around 8pm. I had no news from him. And that caused worrisome curiosity. I knew Palijo’s passionate tendency to indulge in polemics. Finally, he returned around 9sh. Naturally I was keen to know what had made him so late. Musharraf, according to Palijo, “tried to negotiate a deal with me whereby he offered some seats in the 2002 general election against a promise to support him in his presidential contest”. Palijo replied, ‘if a party with a two-third majority could besacked with a blink of an eye, what would I do with few seats in parliament!”
When Musharraf announced to build Kala Bagh Dam, Palijo was the first politician who challenged him and held series of protest marches. Musharraf had to take the U-turn. When Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, Palijo’s Awami Tehreek once again showed its street power and organisational skills of resistance. Palijo comes to Islamabad and then goes to Lahore along with his hundreds of party workers. While Nawaz Sharif was reluctant to come out of his house, Palijo’s party workers had already occupied the Mall Road in Lahore.
Remembering Rasool Bux Palijo at a time when African Americans and conscientious Whites are marching against injustice and oppression reminds me his struggle against tyranny and his belief in internationalization of oppressed people.
Palijo was a self-made man. He was, perhaps, the only one who emerged on the horizon of Pakistan as a true political leader, unmatched intellectual, scholar, writer, critique, teacherand above all a great mobiliser and motivator. He is no more with us, but his legacy is there in the form of Awami Tehreek, Sindhiani Tehreek, his books, his lectures and his continuous struggle.