By: Tariq Islam
I refer to Fatima Bhuttos’s book Songs of Blood and Sword. I feel it is incumbent upon me to set the record straight on at least one story.
Fatima tells us how Z.A. Bhutto wrote to his son Murtaza to go to Afghanistan to set up a militant base for waging a war on the military dictator, Zia.
I challenge anyone to produce that letter. Because there is none!
The fact of the matter is that at Mir Murtaza’s request I flew from London (where I was a student at the time) to Islamabad on March 24, 1979, to meet my uncle ZAB and convey Murtaza’s urgent messages.
The messages were to seek permission for Murtaza to base himself in Afghanistan to wage a guerrilla war on the invitation of the then Afghan government headed by Hafizullah Amin.
The other message was from PLO leader Yasir Arafat who viewed Bhutto as the soldier of Islam and was ready to use his resources to spring him from Rawalpindi’s central jail.
I first met my uncle in his death cell on March 27. I was allowed only 30 minutes and we had to whisper across the cell bars (I was not permitted inside the tiny cell) as it was heavily bugged and police and military officers stood all around us, straining to hear.
ZAB flatly refused both options. On the case of Murtaza’s relocation to Kabul, ZAB flew into a rage. His words, which I recall clearly till this day, were “Did I send Mir to Harvard and to Oxford to learn about all this stuff? Already they are calling me a murderer and a smuggler (on account of the book If I am assassinated, which was claimed to have been smuggled out of prison to be published abroad).
“Next, they will be calling me a terrorist. Tell him that I forbid him to go to Kabul. No matter what happens to me, he should concentrate on his studies and complete his course at Oxford”.
I had to get the message across to Mir but in those days, far from the mobile phones we have today, there was no direct dialling either. Amina Piracha (PPP MNA in BB’s first government) took me to her family office, Ferozesons in Pindi , from where we booked a call to London. In coded language, I gave Mir his father’s message.
Mir was extremely distraught and disappointed and pleaded with me to seek another appointment with ZAB. “You have to convince my father. You must do it for my sake. I don’t care how you do it, but please don’t come back empty-handed,” he urged.
I managed, with great difficulty, to see ZAB again on March 30 (Apart from BB and Begum Nusrat Bhutto, I was the last to see him in his death cell before the execution). I conveyed Mir’s desperate message again. The reaction was the same, but I persisted. Time was running out. In sheer frustration, ZAB remarked with great prescience: “I think Mir has boxed himself into a corner. He has made some commitments to the Afghans and is finding it difficult to back out now. Tell him to go if he wishes but I am not at all happy. The Afghans are too shrewd; they have fooled two superpowers for so many years. They are master diplomats and schemers and they will manipulate Mir for their own reasons …, and sell him down the river when it suits them. He must be very careful in what he does and says. I leave him in God’s hands. But ask him to complete his studies at Oxford”.
The much quoted man in the book, Suhail Sethi (who also has been my very good friend for nearly 40 years), was in Pindi at the time. We went out to eat dinner together that evening, and I told him about the meeting.
He can set the record straight even at this late stage. I flew to London on March 31. I conveyed all the messages to Mir. Bashir Riaz (Mir’s aide and press spokesman and subsequently one of BB’s closest aides) and the former Punjab Governor, Mr Ghulam Mustafa Khar, were witnesses.
On April 4 Mr Bhutto was executed.
It is not only a distortion of history but also a great travesty to accuse a statesman and visionary of ZAB’s stature of condoning a bloody and militant route and placing the lives of his own son in danger when he did not even call upon his party men to go out into the streets to fight the dictator.
As he said to me in jail: “I am too big a man to ask others to place themselves in jeopardy so that my life may be saved. I will go down in history. Songs will be written about me.”
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Tags: Adiala Jail, Afghanistan, Amina Piracha, Bashir Riaz, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto, General Zia-ul-Haq, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Guerilla war, Hafizullah Amin, History of PPP, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, Oxford, Rawalpindi, Suhail Sethi, Yasir Arafat, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ZAB