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Remembering Bhutto the writer

In the first part of this article that appeared yesterday on the 40th death anniversary of Z A Bhutto, we discussed his earlier books such as The Myth of Independence and The Great Tragedy.

The first piece of writing that came out of prison after Bhutto’s arrest was titled ‘My Pakistan’; it was published in July 1979 in London, after ZAB had been hanged. Both the English and Urdu versions of this book were banned in Pakistan, but it was widely circulated in Europe and the Middle East.

This book gives us an insight into how the regime of General Ziaul Haq used repression and manipulation to get the ‘positive results’ that the general often talked about. During the murder trial against Bhutto, there was worldwide condemnation and protest highlighting the injustices committed in the name of justice in Pakistan. A committee of British parliamentarians, editors, journalists, and lawyers collected and compiled almost all the news reports, editorials, and commentaries that appeared in major newspapers during the two years from the mid-1977 to the mid-1979. The Urdu version of the book ‘My Pakistan’ that this writer has in his collection also contains that compilation, titled ‘The Agony of Pakistan’.

In his books, Z A Bhutto gives us details of how the then chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Moulvi Mushtaq Hussain used dishonest practices and committed injustices against the chairman of the largest political party of Pakistan. Essentially this book comprises the detailed statement that Z A Bhutto wrote and submitted to the Lahore High Court on March 6, 1978. This statement is not related to the murder charges brought against him, but a response to the allegations levelled in the court against Bhutto by the unconstitutional regime of General Zia.

This statement, consisting of over a 100 pages, was written by Bhutto with his own pen and was smuggled out of Pakistan to London. Bhutto informs us about the conspiracy that General Zia hatched to topple the Bhutto government. Bhutto terms his incarceration illegal and based on mala-fide intentions. One by one, Bhutto responds to all the charges brought against him and exposes the hollowness of what he terms a plot that was part of a much bigger international conspiracy. Interestingly, the entire case against Bhutto was based on a two-page report which was submitted in the court to indict him.

Mind you again, here we are not talking about the murder trial as yet. Here we are dealing with Constitutional Petition No 3732 of 1977, in which Bhutto is submitting his defence. Bhutto begins with the details of how on July 5, 1977 he was taken into ‘protective custody’ and taken to Murree where General Zia met him a couple of times with Lt-Gen Chishti, and how both kept eulogising ZAB for his services to the country. Bhutto was released on July 29, 1977 and send to his hometown Larkana, from where he went to Karachi by train.

Bhutto informs the court that after his highly successful train journey, the martial law authorities imposed a ban on his travels by train and allowed him travel only by plane. Then on September 3, 1977 Bhutto was arrested for the murder trial based on an FIR registered three years earlier in November 1974. Bhutto wonders how he was a responsible citizen till July 27, 1977 and suddenly after his release on July 28, 1977 he became a threat to the martial law regime which filed a case against him. Bhutto was accused of activities that were detrimental to the safety and security of Pakistan.

In fact, that two-page report against Bhutto was the result of the panic the martial law regime suffered after observing that Bhutto was still immensely popular with the people. Bhutto questions how an elected leader who had been foreign minister, defence minister, president, prime minister, chief martial law administrator, and supreme commander of the armed forces of Pakistan for over five years, can be accused of being a security threat for the country. Bhutto talks about Aristotle and Plato and Carlyle and many others, but the court was impervious to any logical arguments.

Bhutto mocks the claims made by the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) to bring down the prices of essential commodities to the level of 1970. He cites the mini-budgets announced by the martial law regime that had increased inflation manifold. He likens the Pakistan of 1978 with Bhowani Junction and talks about Ava Gardner, the beauty queen of the 1950s. One wonders how a prisoner recollects his strength and sense of humour and satire under those trying circumstances. Perhaps Bhutto was the only Pakistani leader who was so immersed with civilizational study and understood cultural nuances.

I wonder if any of our present leaders have even heard of Ava Gardner or Carlyle. Bhutto questions the visit of the then British prime minister, Callaghan, who reportedly collected four million pounds from General Zia. That money – the British government claimed – was pending since the nationalization of British insurance companies by Bhutto. Then Bhutto moves on to discuss the constitution and says that the martial law regime considered it merely a piece of paper. Bhutto, in unequivocal terms, says that the proper place of a prayer leader is in a mosque, and accuses the martial regime of trying to make such people the prime decision-makers in this country.

Z A Bhutto dilates on the issues of women in Pakistan and declares that he whole-heartedly believes in women’s liberation, whereas the martial law regime wanted to confine women into darkness. He calls his detractors the representatives of a rotten past, and accuses them of fanning sectarianism for ulterior motives under the guise of preaching religion. He warns clearly that the sectarian strife, which was already visible in the early months of martial law, would engulf the entire nation and would result in bloodshed and reprisal after reprisal from various sects. How correct he was.

He says that the martial law regime of General Zia had no objectives at all, so how could he be accused of working ‘against the objectives of martial law’. In his smooth flowing prose, Bhutto terms the martial law as ‘partial law’ that is out of its wits and paranoid. “This is a characterless dispensation that lacks any credibility both in and outside of Pakistan. Martial law means no law at all, other than the power of the gun.” He reminds the court that on July 5, 1977, when General Zia usurped power he called it ‘Operation Fair Play’ and promised to hold elections within 90 days.

Pakistan’s representative in the UN had also reiterated on September 28, 1977 that elections would be within the stipulated time. But within two days ‘the objectives of martial changed’ dramatically and elections were postponed indefinitely. An ‘accountability monster’ was resurrected and the people of Pakistan were informed that elections would be held when the ‘process of accountability’ was completed. “Soon there will be another accuse (sic), and then another, just to deprive people of their democratic right to elect and install the elected civilian leaders of their choice”, Bhutto continues. Again how prescient he was.

As predicted by Bhutto, soon the accountability mantra ended and a new decoy of ‘positive results’ was floated. General Zia kept saying that elections would be held when he was sure that ‘positive results’ would be the outcome. How blatant and unabashed this mockery of accountability was – and still is. It is a sad fact that 40 years after Bhutto was hanged, we are facing almost the same brouhaha about accountability; instead of the PNA now we have the PTI, but the slogans – and the supporters – are the same.

Dr Naazir Mahmood, "Remembering Bhutto the writer," The news. 2019-04-05.
Keywords: Political science , Political party , International conspiracy , Martial law , Security threat , Armed forces , Logical arguments , Cultural nuances , Decision making , Nationalization , Accountability , PNA