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

5 responses to “A tribute to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – by Ali Nawaz Chowhan”

  1. ddressing a public meeting held in Garhi Khuda Bukhsh to mark the 31st death anniversary of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the president paid homage to the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party and his daughter, Benazir Bhutto.

    “Zulfikar Bhutto is alive in the hearts of the labourers, farmers and the poor even after the passage of so many years,” he said, as he called the deceased PPP leader a “siyasi qalandar”, implying that Bhutto was a politician who did not care for power or material benefit.

    The president said that Benazir Bhutto too believed in and shared her father’s philosophy and added that the two had become immortal because of their sacrifice of laying down their lives for Pakistan. Praising the two previous leaders of the PPP, the president described himself as a humble party worker and said that his election to the president’s post was also a form of homage to Zulfikar Bhutto.

    The president listed the various achievements of the PPP government, beginning with the proposed 18th amendment, which he called his victory. He pointed out that the amendment would restore the Constitution to its original form and put a stop to dictators taking over the country. He also cited the other achievements of the government, including “giving rights to the downtrodden people of Balochistan, introducing the Benazir Income Support Programme, finalising the Seventh National Finance Commission Award, holding elections in Gilgit-Baltistan and awarding state land to landless peasants.”

    Expressing the hope that he would be allowed to serve the people for the next three years, he said that the PPP “had made an effort to fulfil every promise that it had made to the people.” He promised that the government would provide electricity and water to the people of the country.

    Touching upon all the points that the president usually brings up in speeches addressed to PPP supporters, the people gathered in Garhi Khuda Bukhsh late on Saturday night were told that “many people who want to derail democracy are targeting the government” and Asif Ali Zardari.

    In a similar vein, the president addressed Benazir Bhutto and claimed that the “forces which had killed you are now dying,” adding that the present day followers of the PPP and the Bhuttos were more clever and hence more capable of confronting “conspiracies”. “No one can stop us now,” he said.

    It’s time to serve people: Zardari
    Dawn, 05 Apr, 2010

  2. Bhutto: a controversial legacy

    April 4, 2010 marks 31 years to the day when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged at the behest of a military dictator. Bhutto founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 1967. The party’s doctrine to date is: “Islam is our faith; democracy is our politics; socialism is our economy; all power to the people.” ZA Bhutto will be remembered for giving a new direction to Pakistani politics by adopting a pro-people discourse of roti, kapra aur makan. This slogan touched a chord with the masses and still reverberates, albeit much more feebly, across the country. The PPP started as a left-leaning political party but somewhere along the line the party lost its way. Whether it can go back to its roots is a question that remains unanswered.

    ZA Bhutto has left a controversial legacy. That he was one of the most charismatic and popular leaders of Pakistan cannot be denied. His popularity came about because he gave voice to the masses’ aspirations. Bhutto made the public aware of their rights; with the exception of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, this was something that no other Pakistani leader has done. With a radical pro-working class, pro-peasantry programme, the PPP presented an alternative to the people after years of dictatorial rule by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Bhutto’s politics gained momentum in the 1968-69 movement against Ayub, which consequently translated into victory in West Pakistan in the 1970 elections. Bhutto had a controversial role in the East Pakistan debacle. His critics say that had he accepted Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s mandate back then and not been in a hurry to come to power, the breakup of Pakistan could have been averted. Maybe in hindsight this still has merit, but the role the military dictatorship of General Yahya played in the crisis cannot be overlooked. ZA Bhutto’s rule is marked by many discrepancies. In the early years after coming to power, the PPP’s radical programme remained relatively intact. But he soon succumbed to vested interests and opened the door to the privileged classes and feudals in his party to rise to powerful positions. The Labour Policy prepared in 1972 by the PPP government gave workers many rights but as soon as Mr Bhutto turned on the leftists in his party, the thrust of that policy was reversed. Bhutto’s ‘mixed economy’ paradigm, which sought the commanding heights of the economy to be in the state’s hands, eventually foundered due to a mixture of political and management failures. Despite flawed land reforms, the peasantry too began to feel increasingly helpless in the face of the feudal component inside the PPP.

    Bhutto was the first one to give Pakistan a largely consensus document in the form of the 1973 Constitution (Balochistan being the exception). Many promises made in the constitution could not be translated into reality partly because of Bhutto’s reversal of policies and partly due to circumstances. It must be noted that the military operation launched against the Baloch people in Bhutto’s era is a black mark on his socialist policies. His support outside the party and courage inside the party wavered as the cumulative effect of authoritarian attitudes and compromises with the right wing forces kicked in, which ultimately made Bhutto fall prey to a dictator’s brutality. The judiciary collaborated with General Zia in this controversial case, which remains a blot on the judicial history of Pakistan. Now that the PPP is in power and there is talk of reopening the ZA Bhutto case, caution must be exercised. No doubt this would give satisfaction to Bhutto’s family and his supporters but it might also open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences, given the tense relations between the PPP government and the judiciary presently.

    Today, the PPP is unrecognisable as the party that came into being in 1967 amidst high hopes and has turned into another middle-of-the-road, liberal paradigm entity. Granted that it remains the most popular mainstream political party today, yet it needs to regain its lost glory by going back to its roots, moorings, and left-wing culture.


  3. by assasinating bhutto pakistan was not only deprived from a chrismatic leader but also the future of pakistan was ruined.
    in my opinion, bhutto was the only leader who had a vision to lead the nation.the question arises that who was responsible for the murder of bhutto? i think military ,mullah and judiciary all are responsible for this henious crime

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