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Wednesday Apr 04 2018

How history remembers Bhutto

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressing a rally. Photo:File

When General Ziaul Haq imposed martial law on July 5, 1977 and announced elections in 90 days, he thought deposed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had lost popularity and would be defeated by the opposition alliance, PNA. He postponed elections after having been told that Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) would sweep the polls. Zia not only got him re-arrested but also made up his mind to get rid of him.

Bhutto was hanged after a controversial trial on April 4, 1979. Later, history gave its verdict and termed it a 'judicial murder'.

Bhutto recorded his name in history as the country's most popular leader, who become even more popular after his death. However, popularity can lead one to election victory, but, at times, it can also take you to the gallows. So political leaders should be well versed of the possible consequences of too much popularity and defiance.

I doubt there is any need to reopen the Bhutto murder case after 39 years, as history has already given its verdict in his favour. Instead, it is time for the PPP to follow his and the party's basic fundamentals.

For instance, it has now been proven and is an admitted fact that Bhutto's daughter and political heir Benazir was deprived of a two-third majority in 1988 because the establishment feared that BB would be vindictive and might follow the policy of revenge from those involved in her father's hanging.

Former ISI chief Lt Gen Hameed Gul (late) later admitted that he was wrong in his assessment about BB. 

Other politicians including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and even the PPP leadership has a lot to learn from Bhutto.

Bhutto's popular base was in the rural areas as he drew his real strength from peasants, labourers and other common folks who still admired him as the leader of the masses.

No other leader, before and after Bhutto, went to the grassroots as he did. His supporters in Lyari believe that his decision to ensure people get passports easily to go abroad for jobs brought a 'mini-revolution' in their life and substantially improved their economic conditions.

For his critics, some of his policies were made in haste and without much planning like the nationalisation which caused colossal damage to the economy. Secondly, his vindictiveness towards his opponents, whether in the party or outside, and against the media, also made him unpopular in the urban areas and among the middle class.

Another big mistake of Bhutto was that he tilted his politics from the left to the centre and then form the centre to the right, which strengthenend religious parties and weakened progressive parties. 

The ban on the National Awami Party was his biggest political mistake, besides not accepting the election results of 1970.

Despite all these flaws, Bhutto's popularity graph remained much ahead of his opponents'. Even PNA leaders admitted that had the PPP not rigged the 1977 elections on a few seats, the party could have won the elections easily.

Similarly, had Gen Zia got the report that PPP would lose the elections in Oct 1977, he might not have had taken the extreme action which he did, more to save his neck rather for any other reason.

But, Bhutto was also not acceptable to the American administration, which he once referred as 'White Elephant' and claimed that they are after his life.

Perhaps, Bhutto exposed his popularity too early after Zia's martial law, when for the first time he was granted bail and a big crowd came to receive him. His second mistake was exposing his intention of invoking Article VI of the Constitution against Zia and others if voted to power.

His biggest contribution is giving Pakistan its first unanimous Constitution in 1973 and attempt to rebuild Pakistan after the 1971 crisis. Moreover, making 'shalwar kameez' a national dress, leading from the front, giving the country its first independent foreign policy and bringing the third world closer, building a strong Islamic bloc and launching Pakistan's nuclear programme to uplift the demoralised nation are also some of his many achievements. 

"He was a true nationalist, founder of the nuclear programme and the way he supported me speaks volumes of the person's sincerity to the country," Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan — who spearheaded the country's nuclear programme — once told me in an interview.

"Bhutto was a brave man," writes Syeda Hameed in her latest book on Bhutto's political biography, 'Born to be hanged.'

"Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, after his arrest, while in detention, during his trial, during the hearing of his appeal and thereafter, never gave the impression that he was dispirited. He showed no sign of distress or despair," she writes, quoting a Lahore based pathologist, Dr Zeenat Hussain, who recounted her visit to jail the day before he was hanged.

Bhutto was a man of history and during the course of his trial he realised that he would not be spared.

Benazir once told me that whenever she tried to assure him that the world powers would come to his rescue and make an appeal for mercy, he always smiled. "I still remember that smile on his face. He would tell me, 'they are after my life because I have made Pakistan and the Islamic World much stronger," she said.

The way the murder case was directly taken to the Lahore High Court's late Justice Maulvi Mushtaq, who had a personal enmity with Bhutto, and the way appeal bench was constituted, Bhutto knew the writing was on the wall from the day the murder case of late Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan was taken up.

So instead of fighting the case on legal grounds, he decided to record his name in history. His submission before the court is for history not for the court. Later, his papers written in prison were published in a book, "If I am assassinated."

In his submission before the court, he said, "The light is poor, my eyesight has worsened, my health has been shattered as I have been in solitary confinement for almost a year but my morale is high as I am not made of wood which burns easily.

Through sheer willpower, in conditions that are adverse in extreme, I have written this rejoinder. Let all the white paper come. I do not have to defend myself at the bar of public opinion. My services to the cause of our people are before them."

Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979 in Rawalpindi.

Prior to his execution, the martial law authorities arrested thousands of PPP workers and unleashed a reign of terror through military courts which sentenced party workers and detained the top leadership. But there is another side of the story as well and Bhutto himself once told PPP's Senior Vice-Chairman Sheikh Rasheed that he missed his ideological friends like JA Rahim, PPP's first secretary general, and Meraj Mohammad Khan, a fighter to the last.

While in power, he had fallen into the trap of his right-wing advisers and feudals, some of whom compromised with Zia's regime.

Bhutto never believed in any NRO or 'deal' and he even refused mercy for his life. Late Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi once told me about his meeting with General Zia in the presence of Gen KM Arif, when he pleaded to spare Bhutto and assured the family would not only quit politics but would go abroad.

When Bhutto came to learn about it, he got angry with Begum Nusrat Bhutto and said, " no one from the family or the party would go to Zia."

There is no doubt that Bhutto had committed many mistakes and to a large extent also deviated from the original progressive political philosophy of the PPP, but his strength was the massive support he enjoyed among the masses from the day he formed his party on November 30, 1967 till his death. Politics remained 'pro and anti-Bhutto,' even after his death till his daughter was assassinated on December 27, 2007.

After her assassination, the PPP could not recover.

Bhutto had recorded his name in history as the man who despite many flaws is still being remembered for giving people a voice against tyrants and preferred the gallows over any deal or NRO.

He made his name in history as the leader who was sent to the gallows at the peak of his popularity and become a source of inspiration for others thereafter, whether they have learnt any lesson or not is a different matter.

The writer is the senior analyst and columnist of Geo, The News, and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO

Note: The views expressed in the article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Geo News or the Jang Group.


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