By Saeed Qureshi
The paramount question intriguing the discerning students of history has been that why an iconic, revolutionary and charismatic leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met with a tragic end. He took the political citadel of Pakistan by storm and assailed the minds and hearts of people within a short span of time. He soared to the political horizon of Pakistan like a meteorite yet plummeted with the same speed and intensity.
The charm and magic of Bhutto’s personality and his rhetorical style and revolutionary mandate bewitched the people of Pakistan who looked up to him as a redeemer and the architect of a new Pakistan that he vowed to “built from ashes” and by “picking the pieces” of a colossally mauled left-over Pakistan after the 1971 war with India.
It would not be in vain to adjudge him a leader who touched the zenith of people’s love and approbation after the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Had he not committed egregious blunders due to his personal weaknesses he could have been equated with Kamal Ataturk of Turkey and Jamal Abdul Nasir of Egypt and similar iconic leaders? Yet despite a dazzling and unprecedented popularity, within five years, he was desperately fighting for his political as well as personal survival.
He was endowed with the frame of a firebrand revolutionary that performed exceedingly fast and furious to uproot a debased system of governance and initiated instead one premised on parliamentary democracy. He was the proponent of the Muslim unity and he deserves the credit for convening the OIC 1974 conference in Pakistan. He liberalized the society and straight jacket of cumbersome rules and bureaucratic tangles were broken. People were greatly relieved and motivated about a monumental change in the offing. He has the glorious distinction of being the father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons program.
A flurry of reforms including land reforms forbade a new era of hope and progress. The journey towards a new promising destiny began with a nation rejuvenated after country’s truncation. Although the release of Pakistan’s prisoners of war and retaking captured territory by India were considered as Bhutto’s spectacular achievements through Simla Accord, yet I am of the opinion that India could not keep such a huge captured army for long, nor could she hold on to the occupied territory indefinitely.
Bhutto’s overwhelming weakness was that he was loyal to no one: not even to his lofty ideals. He possessed a voracious obsession for power. What I want to point out that Bhutto would go to any extent for retaining power. He ruled like a dictator in the garb of a civilian head of government. During his dwindling fortunes after 1977 elections, he sacrificed his cosmopolitan and secular principles by lobbying with ultra conservative forces and courting discredited feudal classes in order to stick to power.
His letter written in April 1958 to the then president of Pakistan general Iskander Mirza extolling him as more exalted that the founder of Pakistan was a sordid display of rank flattery. His exploitation of Tashkent Pact (10 January 1966) was a smart tactical move that swept away a powerful military dictator with a bruised and demonized image.
Bhutto was genetically averse to anyone’s popularity. His companions, who stood with him through thick and thin and faced extreme persecution and oppression during Ayub Khan’s time, were disgraced and sacked one after another on such flimsy grounds as someone getting popular in public view or opposing some of his policies. Alas! his weaknesses overshadowed his watershed achievements and that resulted in his tragic end.
Presently, in order to highlight Bhutto suspicious nature and his morbid proclivity to tame and frighten his ministers and party leaders, I have to refer to some of the observations made by Baloch leader Sher Baz Mazari in his book, “The Journey to Disillusionment”
“If any of his subordinates showed even a modicum of independence, he would be swiftly punished…“Even Bhutto’s close associates and cabinet ministers now lived in dread and fear of the unpredictability of their master’s temper”…”Bhutto would not brook any criticism…”Bhutto’s obsession with maintaining a aura of invincibility was so strong that he would spare no one, not even those who had done him valuable and devoted service over the years”.
About Bhutto’s devious machinations that were part of his politicking style, Mr. Mazari wrote, “I had known Bhutto for some 23 years. To him lying, double-dealing and deceit were normal means of attaining and keeping power”
His FSF was a Gestapo type dreaded outfit, created to terrorize and tyrannize both his colleagues and political rivals. In his book, Mr Mazari provides an account of many erstwhile colleagues of PPP who suffered enormously at the hands of Bhutto’s FSF that brooked no mercy for anyone if ordered by Bhutto to be fixed physically and brutalized.
But let us thrash out the events then took place prior to the Bhutto’s ascension to power, first as the president and then as prime minister of Pakistan. The foremost question is that who was primarily responsible for the historic blunder of igniting a civil war in formerly East Pakistan? A political leader of the genius of Bhutto could never support use of military in East Pakistan knowing well it would entrap Pakistan army.
Yet by a clever ruse not only did he refuse to sit with a majority party but convinced debauch Yahya Khan to take the fatal army action in East Pakistan. Pakistan army was not only defeated but earned a lasting ignominy of surrender. There was a tacit or studied collusion between the then president Yahya Khan and Mr. Bhutto for an army operation in East Pakistan for the reason no one can justify.
If the democratic process was to be honored then why was it necessary for Mr. Bhutto to warn the elected parliament members that their legs would be broken if they go to East Pakistan in the aftermath of the elections. That was a blatant denial of a majority party’s right to form the government. Were the army top brass and Mr. Bhutto not cognizant that sending of army to subdue a whole province was immoral, unconscionable, illegal and suicidal? Were they not aware of a stark reality that in-between was an inveterate hostile country and the supply line of army personnel, weapons, food and medicines could not be carried on either by air or by sea.
Bhutto’s tenure could be portrayed as a kind of a façade of democracy that cloaked his authoritarianism and was the most dominant reason for his downfall. As already stated that all his aides and colleagues who remained with him through thick and thin and were ideological bulwark of his revolution, were forced to leave through gross intimidation, witch-hunting, physical tortures, humiliation and through every brutal means carried out through the FSF and personally by Mr. Bhutto by foul mouthing and abusing. So when the army intervened on July 5, 1977, the PPP was depleted of the committed and loyal cadres to stand by him. He fought a lonely legal war in front of the prosecutors who were his sworn enemies for other reasons.
Bhutto’s penchant for power was so chronic and deep-rooted that contrary to his lofty ideals of making Pakistan a democratic, modern, secular, liberal country with civil society, shamelessly abandoned these cherished goals and dashed these on the rock of expediency. During the earth shaking countryside agitation spear-headed by Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) he frantically tried to win the support of the religious right to stay in power. One Such party was Jamaat Islami that opposed the creation of Pakistan and wanted the new state to be an Islamic emirate. He compromised his treasured credentials of an enlightened leader by downgrading himself to the level of a religious fanatic or zealot.
What a volte-face that he sold his lofty status of the architect of a new modern Pakistan and auctioned his revolutionary mandate for the sake of power. Now such perfunctory measures as makingFriday as a holiday, declaring Ahmadis as non Muslims, banning liquor and horse races would not make Pakistan an Islamic state. But in order to deflate the hurricane of commotion for his ouster, he bargained his secular credentials, his conscience and political integrity. From that moment Pakistan has been irredeemably sinking into the abyss of religious fanaticism, lethal sectarianism and unremitting bigotry. But even that historic betrayal couldn’t keep him in the power saddle.
The outcome was irretrievably disastrous for his future. The religious lot got their piece of pie and then hastened to move for his downfall. The anti-Bhutto outburst was mounted by all sections of society: the betrayed and disillusioned people, friend and foes, bureaucracy, army, rival politicians, traders, students. Bhutto looked a desolate and forlorn person “fluttering his luminous wings in vain”. The whole scene seemed to be the replay of what Bhutto did against Ayub Khan.
In his twilight days of power, Mr. Bhutto prolonged the process of holding talks for a rapprochement with the opposition. When he finally agreed on the contentious issues between him and PNA (alliance of nine political parties), it was too late and much water had flown down the political rivers. It clearly means that he lacked a kind of political acumen and discerning ability to see the direction of the wind. Thus Ziaul Haq took the reins of the government and ruled with an iron hand till he met his tragic fate also.
Now there is very little logic in maligning or hating Ziaul Haq who seized power from Mr. Bhutto. Ziaul Haq was not a politician. He was outright a dictator. He was a rigid, bigoted religious practicing Muslim. He was an army chief and the country was drifting towards a total chaos and breakdown. Ziaul Haq, in addition to the army and a host of politicians and perhaps external abettors, enjoyed full support of the Islamic parties, Imams of mosques, religious seminaries and madrasas.
Now I would not apportion much of blame to Ziaul Haq because he was not an ideal moralist although he was a practicing Muslim. He did not amass wealth, nor made mansions but decidedly lived simple and austere life. This is for his person character. But in politics and in power all is fair: all the more when the religious sections of all hue and cries were behind him and the power fell in his lap like the ripened fruit.
Let us give credit to Ziaul Haq for a proxy war in Afghanistan, though at the behest of America and the west that forced Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan with an historic disgrace. As a result of Soviet Union’s defeat in Afghanistan, the Muslim caucuses that the czars of Russia had forcibly annexed became independent. During the Afghanistan war, in a brief conversation with journalists including this scribe, Ziaul Haq obliquely made a revealing statement to the effect that a miracle was about to happen in Afghanistan. By that he meant the Soviet defeat and liberation of Afghanistan for the communist stranglehold. That proved to be true.
I am not an admirer of Ziaul haq but I believe that he was more prudent, crafty and skillful than Mr. Bhutto. He never claimed that he was a political wizard or that he favored democracy and fundamental rights. He crushed the freedom of expression, curbed independence of media, and maimed the organs of civil society including judiciary and parliament. But he did these things because he near thought these were wrong or in simple words it was not his mandate. The dictators around the world have been doing obnoxious things and oppress their people to stay in power corridors.
Zia was not a lone dictator who suppressed the social freedom and further Islamized the society by more stringent Islamic injunctions. But he was seldom apologetic about what he was doing. He was the votary and spokesperson of a rigid, orthodox Islamic regime that he served well even employing extreme tyranny. Bhutto was people’s chosen representative yet he used the same coercive methods and intrigues that bring them at par.
Ziaul Haq and later General Musharraf assumed power by default and because of the peculiar conditions that surfaced by the wrong doings and inept policies of their predecessors. Bhutto’s grave mistakes of curbing Baluchistan insurgency by use of brute military force, his amendments in the constitution for accumulation of more powers, his maltreatment of the opposition leaders, the massive rigging of 1977 elections, behaving as a merciless and intolerant lord to his peers and devoted colleagues, betrayal of his revolutionary mandate and finally using excessive force before and after 1977 elections to curb the agitations whipped up by PNA and other groups, were all catalysts for his downfall.
But tacitly dismembering Pakistan by raising the slogan, “you on that side and we on this side” was proverbially the final nail in the coffin. It clearly meant you rule there (former East Pakistan) and we rule here (West Pakistan) as two independent states.
The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.This and other articles by him can also be read at his blog www.uprightopinion.com.