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    Volume 9 Issue 15| April 9, 2010|

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Memories of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Back in the later part of the 1960s, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was Pakistan's man of the future. In the 1970s, when he was Pakistan's prime minister, an American journal placed him on a pedestal with others who it thought would make a difference in the times ahead. By April 1979, he was dead, executed by the brutal military regime of Ziaul Haq. It has been thirty-one years since Bhutto was hanged and then buried, on 4 April, in his village Garhi Khuda Bakhsh outside Larkana. Since that dark, dismal day, he has remained a man who arouses strong passions among Pakistanis and among people elsewhere around the world.

People of my generation were in school when Bhutto swiftly rose to prominence in Pakistan through his perch in the regime of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. He was minister for commerce before he became minister for industries and natural resources. In January 1963, when Mohammad Ali Bogra died of a heart attack, Bhutto took charge as minister for external affairs (the term 'foreign minister' came to be used later). At one point, he also took over as general secretary of the ruling Convention Muslim League, with Ayub occupying the presidency of the party. A fanatical admirer of the military ruler at that point of time, Bhutto publicly suggested that Ayub Khan be made Pakistan's president for life. In 1965, we were too naïve to understand the opportunism that underscored the Bhutto character. We loved it when he excoriated the Indians at the United Nations Security Council in September 1965. We thought he was defending Pakistan's interests. In January 1966, it was a glum-looking Bhutto in the company of Lal Bahadur Shastri, Ayub Khan and their delegations in Tashkent moments after the signing of the Tashkent Declaration. Everyone looked happy. Bhutto did not. We loved him, for we had by then begun to dislike Ayub Khan.

Bhutto was forced out of the government by Ayub Khan in July 1966. His replacement as foreign minister, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, did not impress us. And so when Bhutto formed the Pakistan People's Party in November 1967, we talked about it in school. There was no question he was our hero, that we looked to the day when he would be Pakistan's president. The moment came, sometime in 1968, when he did inform Pakistanis that he would challenge Ayub Khan at the presidential election scheduled for 1970. Time magazine carried the report in one of its issues. By the end of 1968, as political unrest spread across Pakistan and as the name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman began to be heard increasingly vociferously, my father took it upon himself to educate me on the background of the man who would someday be the founder of an independent Bangladesh. I read through newspaper reports on the proceedings of the Agartala conspiracy case. As Mujib's persona took an increasingly potent shape in Pakistan, my infatuation for Bhutto went into a state of decline. When he went to jail in November 1968, I was not worried. Indeed, I was a trifle amused when, at a judicial hearing challenging his detention, he produced a piece of meat, one of two served to him the previous night at dinner, to demonstrate before the court the degree to which he was being humiliated in prison. And then he went dramatic. 'The wheel of time will turn', he declaimed, 'and in the revolution of that turn a better tomorrow will dawn.' I noted it down in one of my school notebooks.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the late prime minister of Pakistan was executed by the brutal military regime of Ziaul Huq.

During the election campaign of 1970, Bhutto demonstrated the purely unconventional and the shockingly dramatic. In Sanghar, as bullets whizzed past his jeep, he jumped from the vehicle and bared his chest to his assailants, daring them to kill him. It was a brave thing to do, or so I thought. Today, with good reason, I believe it was all stage managed, just as the act of tearing up the UN Security Council resolution in December 1971 was a put-on. We now know it was a simple piece of paper he was shredding as he stormed out of the chamber. Be that as it may, when Bhutto went to Quetta in June 1970, my classmates and I decided to see him and get his autograph. Somehow it was I who did the talking. He gave us his autograph and then treated us to orange juice. He introduced us to his daughter Benazir.

The Machiavellian aspects of the Bhutto character began to manifest themselves soon after the 1970 elections. We thought he would make a good leader of the opposition once Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took over as Pakistan's first elected prime minister. In the event, Bhutto went on to undermine the results of the election and aid the Pakistan army in suppressing the Bengali nationalist movement in March 1971. On 20 December 1971, as he addressed Pakistan's people hours after being sworn in as Pakistan's president, he spoke eloquently of building a new Pakistan out of the debris of war. I heard him ramble for long minutes on end. The enthusiasm I had once felt, in 1965, when he spoke at the UN was not there any more. He had destroyed the lives of Bengalis, had condoned genocide, had been party to the task of depriving Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of power legitimately derived from an exercise of the ballot.

It was a rain-swept April evening at the Dhaka YMCA in 1979 when Syed Khwaja Moinul Hasan and I remembered Bhutto he had been hanged at dawn and was already in his grave.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto could have been a pivotal figure in history. He had squandered his chances. The very army that had raised him to prominence in the late 1950s had finally pushed him to an ignominious death in the late 1970s.

(Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, born on 5 January 1928, was hanged on 4 April 1979.)

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