A tribute to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – by Ali Nawaz Chowhan

Former premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. — Photo by White Star

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto entered public life at the early age of 30, in 1958. In his book The Myth of Independence he writes about his views on foreign policy and the paramount objectives of Pakistan’s people.

I was a student in those days and whenever I heard that he was to address the National Assembly, which was then housed in Rawalpindi’s Lalkurti, I would be in attendance.

As a result of his disagreement over the Tashkent Declaration, Bhutto resigned in June 1966. That evening I rushed to his residence at Rawalpindi’s Civil Lines and found the place thronged with people waiting to pay their respects. Mr Bhutto then left for Lahore, travelling by rail, and was given a tumultuous welcome that unnerved the regime of the day.

When Mr Bhutto initiated his movement against Ayub Khan, the first shot at his procession was fired near the Polytechnic College on Peshawar Road. It killed a student, which triggered riots all over Punjab. I was there on the premises of the Intercontinental Hotel, Rawalpindi, when police raided the place in order to arrest Bhutto, whose movement gained momentum as it was joined by millions.

Pakistan was in shambles when he took over power. Morale was low and faith in the survival of the country was receding, yet with his very first speech on television he managed to inspire the nation.

Amongst Mr Bhutto’s greatest achievements was the 1973 Constitution. Another was the first jurists’ conference, held in Karachi in 1973. I had the honour of hearing Mr Bhutto speak in the presence of the great judges and jurists of the time: he expressed his desire to transform the polity of the nation following the principles of Islamic social justice. It was then that he coined the term ‘Islamic socialism’.

He was indeed a true leader of the people, bringing about changes in labour and other laws to ameliorate the lot of the citizenry. Impressed by Olaf Palme and the manifesto of the Social Democratic Party of Sweden, he wished to adopt in Pakistan the Swedish paradigm.

Mr Bhutto was at his best, perhaps, at the Islamic Summit organised in Lahore in 1974. I had never before seen such a galaxy of Muslim leaders as was gathered at the Shalamar Gardens reception. Their presence showed their respect for him but unfortunately, his emerging stature in the international arena also engendered jealousies against him. Regardless, another of his landmark achievements was the commencement of Pakistan’s nuclear programmes, as well as the retrieval of prisoners of the 1971 war.

The trial against Mr Bhutto for conspiracy to murder commenced on October 24, 1977; I attended some of the proceedings at the Lahore High Court and paid respects to Mr Bhutto twice during the time he was confined in a specially built dock in the court of the Chief Justice. He remained undaunted in spirit, though saddened. The controversial trial shocked many around the world and in The Judiciary and Politics in Pakistan, M. Dilawar Mahmood observes:

“It would be argued for the years to come whether Mr Bhutto ever got a fair trial. If the apprehension and pleadings of the accused are any criterion then Mr Bhutto’s Transfer Application moved in the high court as well as in the Supreme Court of Pakistan bear ample testimony to the fact that he never got a fair trial.”

And in Daughter of the East Benazir Bhutto quotes John Matthews, QC, a British lawyer who witnessed the trial and was shocked by the proceedings.

What baffles me most is why Mr Bhutto’s statement was not recorded under Section 342 of the Criminal Code of Pakistan which provides an undertrial person the opportunity to make a statement, spell out an alternate theory or reasons for his false involvement.

He did address the Supreme Court during the appeal, though:

“Everyone who is made of flesh has to leave this world one day. I do not want life as life, but I want justice […] The question is not that I have to establish my innocence; the question is that the prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. I want my innocence to be established not for the person of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. I want it established for the higher consideration that this has been a grotesque injustice. It puts the Dreyfus case in the shade.”

In my view this was a fit case for remand and retrial inter alia on the plea of bias and for providing Mr Bhutto the opportunity to record his statement under the aforementioned clause of the criminal code.

Yet on Feb 6, 1979, the Supreme Court gave its four to three vote upholding the death sentence. However, Mr Bhutto is vindicated by the fact that his case is never quoted as a legal precedent. Mr Bhutto was executed on April 4, 1979, despite unprecedented levels of international outcry. I was returning home from Attock where I was posted as a judge in the sessions court when I heard news of the execution. Murree Road was empty; a dark, dusty wind blew and many people cried that day “Zulm ho gaya” (“Grave injustice has been done”).

Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, Allama Iqbal’s son, told me a personal story. He said he had been in bed when in the middle of the night, he thought he saw Mr Bhutto saying “Look, doctor, what have they done to me”. As he tried to awaken his wife, the figure disappeared. Later, he learned that the execution had taken place at about the same time.

Henry Kissinger, whose discomfort with Mr Bhutto can be read about in his book The White House Years, said about the execution: “[…] But his courage and vision in 1971 should have earned him a better fate than the tragic end his passionate countrymen meted out to him and that blighted their reputation for mercy.”

The visionary leader was physically eliminated but lives perennially in our hearts and minds; may Allah bless the soul of this martyr.

The writer was an international judge of the UN at The Hague, permanent judge of the Lahore High Court, visiting scholar at the Columbia Law School and is a Thomas Jefferson fellow.


Source: Dawn, 4 April 2010



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