5 July 1977 was the date when Zia toppled the elected government of Pakistan. This day marks the beginning on a destined end. An end to democracy, an end to free thought, an end to freedom, and an end to practising religion freely. Some great stories place the end at the beginning, while the beginning come at the end of the book. The 1977-1979 drama is best understood in this manner — a dictator came into power with the destined goal to end democracy and to rule the country till the last day!
Years ago BBC URDU published an article elucidating the paradoxical nature of the 1973 constitution. The website wrote that the 1973 constitution is the only social contract in world history through which the creator himself was hanged by a military usurper. In other words, the assassination of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was constitutional back in 1979. Today, in the light of the 1973 constitution, the Supreme Court is trying to prove Bhutto’s hanging a judicial murder. It cannot get more paradoxical than this!
There are many aspects to Bhutto’s hanging. Some deal with provincial prejudice, yet other aspects cover the military lust for power. Some regard Bhutto’s hanging as capitalist conspiracy. Unfortunately, in-depth research had never taken place on this historical incident which has made Bhutto assignation a myth in itself.
Provincial Prejudice in Bhutto’s Assassination
The constitutional bench which heard Bhutto’s case was overwhelmed by Punjabi speaking judges. Bhutto being a Sindhi had to face an inherently baised Punjabi judiciary. The empirical evidences available do prove the supreme court bench had a Punjabi majority. The final supreme court bench included the following nine judges:
1) Chief Justice Sayeed Anwar ul Haq (Punjab)
2) Mr. Justice Mohd. Akram (Punjab)
3) Mr. Justice Naseem Hasan Shah (Punjab)
4) Mr. Justice Darab Patel (Balochistan)
5) Mr. Justice Mohd. Haleem (Sindh)
6) Mr. Justice Safdar Shah (KPK)
7) Mr. Justice Qaisar Khan (KPK)
8) Mr. Justice Karam Elahi Chohan (Punjab)
9) Mr. Justice Waheedud-din Ahmed (Urdu-speaking Sindhi)
The Supreme Court proceeding lasted for more than eight months. During this period, Mr. Justice Waheedud-din Ahmed retired due to his age, and Mr. Justice Qaisar Khan left the bench due to prolonged illness. If the court had decided Bhutto’s verdict before the retirement of Waheedud-din Ahmed, Bhutto would had won the case by 5-4. Unfortunately, this never happened.
The truncation of two judges created a Punjabi majority in the bench. All Punjabi speaking judges formed an anti-Bhutto alliance, hence legitimizing Gen. Zia’s marital law in the country. Bhutto lost the case by a close margin — 4 to 3. All non-Punjabi judges allied with Bhutto, but to no avail.
Many Sindhis find Bhutto’s trial as an anti-Sindhi trial by the Punjabis. They have empirical evidence to prove their point of view. Why wasn’t Bhutto initially tried in Sindh High Court? Why did the final bench took a long time to pass its verdict? Why was there a Punjabi majority on the bench? Why wasn’t a Punjabi judge sent home on the basis of illness? These questions cause havoc in the minds of Sindhis who support PPP’s ideology. Why do the smaller provinces of Pakistan suffer from the hand of Punjab? Why does Punjab has an upper hand in all national, financial, and strategic decisions? Some of these questions are resolved, while some still need answers.
On the otherhand, a counter Punjabi narrative also exists. This narrative tries to proof that Punjabis weren’t just in the supreme court bench; they were also present in the habeas corpus
petition filed by Bhutto’s wife, Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto. J.C. Batra in his book The Trial and Execution of Bhutto
gives a list of Bhutto’s companion in the SCP : (For the list see page 24 of the book)
From the Punjab four, namely,
(1) Sheikh Mohmmad. Rashid, Vice-Chairman, PPP;
(2) Dr. Ghulam Hussain, Secretary General of PPP;
(3) Mr. Khalid Malik, Secretary General of PPP, Punjab branch;
(4) Mr. Hayat Mohammad. Khan Taman.
(5) Mr. Abdul Hafiz Peerzada; and
(6) Mr. Mumtaz Ali Bhutto.
(7) Mr. Ghaus Bux Rasisani.
From the N.W.E.P. three, namely,
(8) Mr. Iqbal Mohammad Jadoon;
(9) Mr. Nasrulla Khan Khattak; and
(10)Mr. Humayun Seifullah Khan
As we can observe, 40% of the list is Punjabi dominated, while their are only 20% Sindhis. Claiming Punjabis as a monolithic body against Bhutto is not a very strong argument. If all Punjabis hated Bhutto, how come 4 Punjabis were on Bhutto’s petition? These Punjabis risked their lives against the a military despot. Similar to Sindhis, they also wanted democracy to prosper in the country. Therefore, alleging Punjabis to be an anti-Bhutto hegemony is a weak argument.
There is no doubt in the argument that Zia-ul-Haq wanted to oust democracy. He wanted to remain the head of the nation forever. Bhutto was the greatest threat, and his elimination had become obligatory for his plan. Whenever Bhutto came out of jail, millions of people used to hail him. It was only in the last days, when due to military brutalisation and censorship people were locked inside their homes. Bhutto was becoming popular with the passage of time. an imprisoned Bhutto was more dangerous to Zia’s game plan than a living Bhutto. Gen. Zia even thought of deporting Z.A Bhutto, but feared his return back to Pakistan might have repercussions similar to Ayatullah Khomini’s return in Iran (See: Preface of If I’m Assassinated by Z.A. Bhutto). The only way to ossify all these threats was to minus Bhutto from the power equation. Zia played his cards well, and finally Bhutto was hanged on the 4th of April 1979.
In a BBC interview, the world renowned socialist Tariq Ali made an apt comment
“Bhutto was a brave man, Zia was cunning…. There was one grave and two candidates. It was either Bhutto or (Gen) Zia and since (Gen) Zia had the whip hand he got rid of Bhutto before ZAB could get him”
Tariq Ali also wrote a drama on the tragic death of Bhutto for BBC. It was titled ‘The Leopard and the Fox’, where Bhutto was the leopard due to his courage while the clever Gen. Zia was symbolized as the fox. Unfortunately, the drama wasn’t ever publicised on BBC because of fund limitations.
On the other hand, it was an unethical decision by ZAB to promote Zia-ul-Haq while there where many generals above him. ZAB made this decision on the premise that it will be easier to control Zia compared to senior generals in the Pakistan Army. This decision later costed Bhutto his life. Hasan Abbass has aptly discussed Zia’s promotion episode in his book, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism.
A Capitalist Conspiracy
Bhutto emerged as a defining figure in the third world. His charisma was unmatched, his choice of words was out of this world. Bhutto had a magnetic field around him, attracting influential figures into his domain. Bhutto challenged Capitalism by his nationalisation policy. He built government sponsored RHU (Rural Health Units) and BHU (Basic Health Units) challenging private healthcare. He went on to strengthen Pakistan’s relationship with Soviet Union. In the second OIC held in Lahore, personages like Shah Fasial, Ghaddafi, and Bhutto devised a plan for setting up an Islamic Solidarity Fund which would help Muslim country to stand on their own feet (See RESOLUTION No. 6/2-1S
). Bhutto vehemently denounced the US hegemonic policies and called her “The White Elephant”
. Yet another major development was the initiation of Pakistan nuclear program, which finally led to the creation of atomic bomb.
All these activities did challenge the capitalism of his time. In the 1970s, the world was bi-polar. Soviet Union and USA cancelled each other. Bhutto emergence as a third world charismatic leader who called US the white elephants, works for a solidarity fund, and steered Pakistan foreign policy towards Russia did give the capitalist world an headache. It is on this basis people call Bhutto’s killing an international conspiracy. They argue, Zia himself never had the power to topple Bhutto. Zia was no match to Bhutto’s intellect and popularity. It was Bhutto’s nationalisation and independent finance policy that brought capitalism to a standstill in Pakistan. They needed to delete this hurdle, and hence Bhutto was hanged.
In his book, Notes from Death Cell, Bhutto himself hints about foreign conspiracy when he writes:
‘I did not write any letters to the Indian Premier, Morarji Desai. I knew that Desai and general Zia had reached an understanding with the help of America on the need to see me out.” (pg. 47)
Personally speaking, this seems to be a more of a conspiracy theory than pragmatic thinking. Socialism was the system of the day. India, Pakistan, and many NAM (Non-Align Movement) countries had socialist tendencies in their system. If Bhutto was killed, why were’t other leaders killed in the same way? India’s socialism was much more stable, but no prime minister was hanged there. I guess, such conspiracy theory do transform Bhutto into a mythological character, meanwhile it also diminishes the shear injustice done by the army generals and courts. If we allege US was behind all this, then there is no logic to critic General Zia and Chief Justice Anawar ul Haq. They are powerless entities infront of United State. They must follow foreign dictates.
There are chances this theory might had been propagated by the army elite itself. This reduces the burden of history of the shoulders of the generals giving them another chance to make mistakes.
But it also true that all charismatic personages where killed. Bhutto, Shah Faisal, Arafaat, and Ghaddafi; no one died of natural death. This amazing similarity between all these personalities gives impetus to the theory that Bhutto’s assassination was a Capitalistic conspiracy. More research is needed to reach a final conclusion.
Whatever the reasons of assassination, Bhutto’s charisma still lives on. Even the anti-PPP chief justice Ifthikhar Chaudry is forced to call Bhutto’s trial a judicial murder
. People vote on Bhutto’s name, they die on Bhutto’s name. Bhutto gave a second life to a shattered nation which had just lost its Eastern Wing. He brought 90,000 prisoners of war back from India, and incessantly worked to build Pakistan a nuclear bomb. Most importantly, he gave Pakistan the first constitution on which all federating units agree upon. Even Zia was forced to carry on with Bhutto’s constitution when he ended the martial law, and became the President of Pakistan.
In a letter to his daughter Benazeer, Bhutto wrote:
“Man like me, these are the truly big things. You cannot be big unless you are prepared to kiss the ground. You cannot defend the soil unless you know the smell of that soil. I know the smell of our soil. I know the rhythm of our rivers. I know the beat of our drums. The theories, the dogmas and the scripts stand outside the gates of history. The dominant factor is the aspiration of the people and the ability to seek total identification with it. Once the significance of the symphony is grasped, the lines fall into place, the dogmas and theories get legs to move in time to the majesty of that music. This does not mean that I am preaching pragmatism. There is a lot of expediency in pragmatism. I am trying to trace the roots of the problems, the genesis of the challenges, the cause of the struggle.” (from My Dearest Daughter: a letter from the death cell, pg 15)
Bhutto lived by his words and died by his words. He knew the rhythms of the soil, and how to make dance with it. His ideas still bring smiles on millions of low-income and middle-income families across Pakistan.