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Making a mark

Published Apr 25, 2013 02:52am

Many might have considered it odd for the daughter of a military officer to protest against military rule, but not only did Bushra Aitzaz rally against Gen Ziaul Haq (and later Gen Pervez Musharraf), she also suffered incarceration during the 1980s because of her stand.

Irony seems to be one of the running themes in her life, having always landed at places that she had never dreamed of. From her 30 years as an educationist, followed by her chairpersonship of the women’s wing of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Ms Aitzaz has today taken a leap into politics to run from Lahore’s NA-124 constituency.

Born in Lahore, Ms Aitzaz was like many other women not immune to the pressure of cultural norms, but she learned to work around them. She felt that to be treated equally, she would have to study much harder to prove herself; with her excellent debating skills (she was also secretary of her college Debating Union), she rarely lost arguments. When her father vetoed her long cherished dream of pursuing a career in administration sciences and told her to study in Lahore College because it was closer, Ms Aitzaz opted for something else, eventually making her own decision rather than that of her father.

She chose to major in English literature from the University of the Punjab, which was an intellectual hub during the 1970s. One of the main reasons she could not have followed her own plans in the first place was because of a serious transport problem that women faced at the time. Nevertheless, her university experience widened her horizons and exposed her to many ideas.

Her contact with politics began as a child. In the home of her father, the military officer who was at the cusp of retirement, the family would often discuss politics, especially during the Ayub Khan military rule. The field marshal loomed large over the news media, so the young Bushra was aware of him as a personality more than anything else. But later, when in college she studied democracy in a civics course, she realised the problems posed by dictatorships along with several other new concepts. It was also then that she realised herself first as a person, and then as a woman, and fighting for women’s social position became her prerogative.

Once she married Aitzaz Ahsan, another world opened up where rallying against dictatorship was usual, often ending with arrest. She came to better understand the political world and, influenced by her husband and of course Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, very soon made this world her own.

As a teacher, Ms Aitzaz was assertive and motivating, especially because she taught young girls whom she advised that they must come to understand themselves before anything else, and must work. She proved her passion for promoting women’s rights after she became the chairperson of the PCB’s women’s wing. With Shirin Javed, she helped build up the club for young aspiring players. Their dedication paid off and today the women’s team has seen recognition and success.

NA-124 is the seat from where Aitzaz Ahsan has contested in earlier elections. This time, though, as a member of the Senate, he cannot stand for election. The PPP leadership and Benazir Bhutto had on earlier occasions offered Ms Aitzaz the constituency, but she had refused. Now, though, she has decided to not let the seat go to someone else.

Contesting against the PML-N’s Rohail Asghar in a constituency that roughly includes the Shalimar Link Road, Ring Road, Harbanspura and Mehmood Booti areas, Ms Aitzaz is up for a tough fight. If she prevails, observers say that it will be even tougher to sustain a victory. The area is amongst Lahore’s most underdeveloped and poor, with environmental problems at the top of the list. Till recently, Mehmood Booti was used as a garbage dumping site and the water lines are mixed with sewage lines at certain places. People breathe poisonous fumes from furnaces in this semi-industrial area, and face health challenges.

Yet despite all this, Ms Aitzaz is as always positive — almost infectiously confident. She seems to already know what it takes.