How history remembers Z A Bhutto

Analyst: Mazhar Abbas

Islamabad: When Gen 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 being told the PPP would sweep polls. Gen Zia, not only got him re-arrested but also made up his mind to get rid of him. He was hanged after a controversial trial on April 4, 1979. Later, the history gave its verdict and termed it ‘judicial murder’.

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

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

For instance, it has now historically proven and admitted fact that late Benazir Bhutto was deprived of two third majority in 1988, because the then 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, late Lt-Gen Hameed Gul later admitted that he was wrong in his assessment about Benazir. There is lot to learn for other politicians including former premier Nawaz Sharif and even for the PPP leadership from Bhutto.

Bhutto’s popular base was in the rural areas as he drew his real strength from peasants, labourers and common man, who still admires him as 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 and go abroad for jobs particularly in the Middle East, brought, ‘mini-revolution’ in their life and improved their economic conditions.

For his critics, some of his policies in haste and without much planning like nationalisation caused colossal damage to the economy. Secondly, his vindictiveness towards his opponents whether in the party or outside, against media, also made him unpopular in the urban areas and in the middle class. Another big mistake of Bhutto was that he tilted his politics from left to centre, to centre to right, which strengthened religious parties and weakened the progressive parties. Ban on National Awami Party was his biggest political mistake, besides not accepting the election results of 1970.

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

Similarly, had Gen Zia got the report that PPP would lose elections in October 1977, he might not had taken the extreme action, which he did, more to safe his neck rather than for any other reason. But, Bhutto was also not acceptable to the American administration, which he once said while using the term, ‘White Elephant’, and said, they are after his life.

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

But, his contribution for giving Pakistan’s first unanimous Constitution, 1973 and tried to rebuild Pakistan after 1971 crisis. Making, ‘shalwar kameez’ a national dress, leading from the front, gave the first independent foreign policy and bringing the Third World closer, building a strong Islamic bloc and launched country’s nuclear programme to uplift demoralised nation.

“He was a true nationalist, founder of nuclear programme and the way he supported me speak volumes of person’s sincerity to the country,” father of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan 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”.

“Zulfikar 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 Bhutto once told me that whenever she tried to assure him that the world powers would come to his rescue and make appeal for mercy, he always smiled. “I still remembered that smile on his face”. They are after my life because I have made Pakistan and the Islamic World, much stronger,” she said.

The way murder case was directly taken by the Lahore High Court, late Justice Maulvi Mushtaq, who had personal hate against Bhutto, and the way appeal bench was constituted, Bhutto knew writing 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 by moral is high because I am not made of wood which burns easily. Through sheer willpower, in condition that was 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, unleashed terror through military courts, which sentenced party workers and detained 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, the fighter to the last. While in power he fellto the trap of his right wing advisers and feudal, 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 Gen 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 his spouse 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 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, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007.

After the assassination of Benazir, the PPP could not recover and now in the phase of recovery from the lost. Bhutto had recorded his name in history as the man who despite many flaws still being remembered for giving people voice to express against tyrants and preferred 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 became source of inspiration for all popular leaders, thereafter, whether they have learnt any lesson or not is a different story.

The writer is the senior analyst and columnist of Geo, The News and Jang

(Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO)

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