Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto may have been the last in the line of charismatic leaders who became the inheritors of political power in the post-colonial world. When you think of him, you think of Sukarno, Nasser, Nkrumah, Kenyata, Kaunda and Nyrere.
When he was swept aside in a diabolically planned coup by his hand-picked Chief of Army Staff, the meek and excessively disarming Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, it could almost be said that an era had come to an end, and come to an end much too soon. One more man who had assumed power in the name of the people had fallen by the wayside, a victim both of the contradictions of his own parallel view of history and forces that lay outside his environment. Like his illustrious counterparts in other parts of Asia and Africa, he left behind the shambles of a half-realised promise, but a promise nevertheless. It was a promise of fresh air to breathe and sweet water to drink, of ripe corn and green horizons and blue waters, a promise of exorcising the demons of hunger, want and social injustice from the body politic. What a pity that just as he was settling in office, the promise began to dissipate, yet another instance of how power, when exercised for its own sake, can destroy what once looked possible.
History shows that at the end of the day, charismatic leaders only bring havoc to the people, the same people whose banner they once held high in the air. Once they are in office and in control of the state apparatus, sadly, other considerations become ascendant. They become victims of their own rhetoric. They start as crusaders but turn messianic. The faith they held and once expressed in the masses, is transformed into faith in their own infallibility. The friends and comrades of earlier days of struggle are caste aside before long. The counsel of sycophants Dissent is perceived as treason and criticism as an effort to sabotage the “revolution”. And what about the “revolution” that they promised? It becomes its own parody. Repression is perceived as the protection of the people’s “interest”. Paternalism takes the place of democratic action. The only voices that are not silenced are the voices of assent, of unquestioning loyalty to whatever The Leader dreams up each night or to his fantasy and whim of the moment. Walter Lippmann said that to those in power, even a pause in praise from those they have surrounded themselves with is perceived as an act of disloyalty.
The people become an unreal, romantic symbol, best kept away. The distance between ruler and ruled widens with every new executive decree. Obsession with the security of The Leader and those around him becomes the basis of governance. The people cease to be viewed as anything other than a symbol, not living, hungry, thirsty, sweating human beings for whom such dreams were once conjured up. They are now seen of use only as the rabble, to be pressed into service when and where desired. And one day, the monster that the apparatus of status has become raises its ugly head and swallows up its creator. This has happened in country after country of the so-called Third World since the Second World War when the great European powers began to dismantle the empires they could no longer hold. The world had changed.
How is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to be seen against this awesome backdrop? What sort or manner of man was he? What did he long to do and where did he fail? Why is it that the very people who paraded the streets in 1977 in massive protest against his government which they saw as repressive. There was popular anger at the rigging of the election and the politicians opposed to Bhutto took advantage of it. As for the rigging, it was so unnecessary because he was going to win big anyway. There is no evidence that he ordered the rigging, but he did not exercise the vigilance that it was his duty to do as Prime Minister and chairman of the ruling party. His own unopposed election from Larkana encouraged the lesser figures in the party to use the muscle of the state wherever possible to ensure their individual victory. There is no evidence that the US government or any of its agencies played a role in the overthrow of Bhutto. This sort of thing was not possible under President Jimmy Carter who had an abhorrence of “dirty tricks”. People have forgotten that until Carter came, there was no worldwide awareness of human rights. In fact, he it was how popularised the phrase and, going by his record in office and what he has done subsequently to promote human rights and democracy, there is little justification for continuing to believe that the CIA overthrew Bhutto.
The Americans did not dislike Bhutto though they were always wary of him. The late Peter Constable, an American diplomat who served in Pakistan for many years, starting in the 1960s, told a colleague that Bhutto was a bit of a “rogue” but the US did not have a hand in the coup that removed him. The CIS station chief in 1977 told the same thing to Dennis Kux, a foreign service officer who also served in Pakistan for several years and who has since written a book on US-Pakistan relations, told me that during his research and interviews, he did not come across a “scrap of evidence” that would link the United States or any of its agencies with Bhutto’s overthrow. The famous phone call made by an American diplomat to another about the “party being over” did not mean, as Kux has incontrovertibly established in his book, about the end of the Bhutto government but about an evening social party. It has been said that Bhutto attended a reception at the US embassy on 4 July 1977, the same night Zia-ul-Haq staged his coup. His attending the American independence day reception is of no significance at all. At the same reception, which Zia-ul-Haq also attended, an American official asked him if he would have time the next day. Zia replied that he would be “busy”. He had spoken the truth – if for once.
While I am on the subject, I would like to deal with the much-quoted Kissinger remark to Bhutto in Lahore that if Pakistan persisted with its nuclear programme, a “horrible example” will be made of him. What Kissinger had in mind was that the Democrats would make a “horrible example” of Pakistan, not necessarily of Bhutto in person. Subsequent events have shown that the Democrats did punish Pakistan for its nuclear programme in many ways.
I know that in absolving the Americans of having played a direct role in the removal of Bhutto, I am going to raise heckles among those in Pakistan who live by the conspiracy theory of history. However, unless someone produces a smoking gun, I am not prepared to believe that Bhutto fell victim to an American plot and that Zia-ul-Haq was the man chosen to execute that plot. Zia, after all, was not the first but the third Chief of Army Staff to overthrow a government. And he wasn’t to be the last.
There is also no basis for the theory – believed by many Pakistanis – that the United States could not forgive Bhutto for having played host to the Islamic Summit in Lahore. Nor have I been able to gather any evidence that would suggest that Bhutto’s call for a Third World Economic Summit caused serious alarm in Washington. I think the time has come for us to accept that much of what has happened to our country and our leaders has been the result of our own mistakes. That is not to say that external forces have not had a role to play in various developments but they have only done so when our vulnerability has been exposed to them. Sometimes we ourselves have invited intervention.
Bhutto was overthrown not by the Americans but by a clique of generals headed by the Army chief General Zia-ul-Haq. It is an established fact that Bhutto and the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) had arrived at a consensus and a formal agreement was to be signed on 5 July 1977. The agreement would have been signed earlier except for Air Marshal Asghar Khan Begum and Nasim Wali Khan who scuttled the accord. The most authentic account of what happened was provided by the late Maulana Kausar Niazi, a member of the PPP government team appointed by the Prime Minister to negotiate with the PNA. Asghar Khan was not part of the PNA team because Bhutto disliked him so much that he could not bear to see him sitting across the table with his people negotiating the future of his government and the election he rightly felt he had won hands down despite the rigging of some seats. He should have realised that Asghar Khan outside the room was far more dangerous than inside. After all, it was he who had written an open letter to the three service chiefs asking them to remove Bhutto from office. At the time, there was much too much agitation in the country for the Air Marshal to be tried on the grave charge of advocating a lawfully constituted government’s overthrow by the armed forces. By insisting that Asghar Khan not be a part of the PNA team, Bhutto seemed to forget that he could do to the Government-PNA parleys what he, Bhutto himself, and Maulana Abdul Hamid Bhashani had done to the Round Table Conference summoned by Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan in his last days. Both Bhutto and Bhashani sat it out and created enough mayhem in the streets for the army to step in to remove Ayub. The army would have done it anyway, perhaps, but the situation that Bhutto and Bhashani helped create made the task easier.
In his book Aur Line Kut Gai, Maulana Kausar Niazi writes that when Mufti Mahmood was elected head of the PNA delegation, there were celebrations in the Prime Minister’s house. They celebrated too soon. Another Bhutto mistake was to invite the corps commanders to become an integral part of the negotiations, an admission of weakness, as far as the opposition and the army itself was concerned. Quite mistakenly, Bhutto thought that the inclusion of the uniformed generals in the negotiations would put pressure on the PNA. If Zia had not decided some time earlier to stage his coup, he must certainly have done that after realising that he and his corps commanders were now part of the political fray and the only powerful party.
Niazi writes that on 9 March 1977, when after being told by Abdul Hafiz Pirzada in answer to his question that thirty to forty seats of the National Assembly had been rigged, Bhutto said, “Can’t we tell the PNA that if by-elections to these seats are held, we would put up no candidates?” Does this suggest that the plan to rig some of the seats was not outside the Prime Minister’s knowledge? Niazi wrote that Bhutto was very keen to win a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. While he did not say why, I have the answer. He wanted to bring in certain amendments to the constitution after the election to increase the Prime Minister’s powers and to reduce the autonomy of the provinces. Prof. Leslie Wolf-Phillips of the London School of Economics had made a number of trips to Pakistan in this connection, met the Prime Minister and been asked by him to draft the amendments. He was told to keep his liaison with Pirzada and Rafi Raza, Bhutto’s special assistant in the beginning and now a federal minister and member of the cabinet. Bhutto told the London academic — who told me some years later in London where we were working together on a new magazine called Third World Quarterly for Altaf Gauhar’s Third World Foundation, which, incidentally, was funded by the Bank of Credit and Commerce (BCCI) – that he did not have enough powers. When Wolf-Phillips told him that he had more powers than his British counterpart, Bhutto replied that it was not so. He needed to acquire more powers for his office.
The fact is that Bhutto was a centralist, not a federalist. He believed that a country should have only one central figure as leader and all power should flow from him. It is a tragedy that a man with Bhutto’s intelligence, education and sense of history did not appreciate that Pakistan could only survive as a federal state in the classical sense, with the units or the provinces enjoying the maximum autonomy. After all, East Pakistan had seceded because the central government in the West wing was not willing to part with power and concede the amount of autonomy that the leaders and people of East Pakistan had demanded from the day Pakistan was born. Bhutto could not abide rival claimants to power, even if they were elected to their office. He could not manage to work with the two opposition-run governments in Quetta and Peshawar and squeezed them out. In my view, that was his undoing. Had the National Awami Party-led coalitions been allowed to remain in power, there could have been no question of a coup. Bhutto forgot that power, in order to be kept, must be dispersed.
Niazi wrote that the “first angled brick” to the house that Bhutto built was laid by the “unanimous and unopposed” election of the Prime Minister himself. This less than laudable example, he went on to write, was followed by his Chief Ministers and some other PPP leaders in the four provinces, especially Sindh and Punjab. The news of Bhutto’s “unopposed” election (his rival Jan Muhammad Abbasi of the Jamaat-e-Islami having been kidnapped earlier to keep him from filing his papers) was released to the national press by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Secretary, Masood Nabi Noor, CSP, had also supplied the Prime Minister’s picture with three captions that had been lifted from Kim il Sung’s book. Newspapers had been requested to use one of the three. The Dawn turned the tables on the Ministry by printing the picture of the Prime Minister on the front page, underscored by not one but all three captions. I remember telling a friend in London after hearing of the Abbasi kidnapping and the “unopposed” election, that a candidate should have been paid to run against the Prime Minister in case he was genuinely being elected unopposed.
Niazi wrote in great detail about the intimate involvement of the army in political decision-making during Bhutto’s last days. He wrote that after the 7 March election, Bhutto realised that the bureaucracy had led him down the garden path and, therefore, no longer relied on its advice or even consulted its members. However, instead of substituting the bureaucrats with trusted political friends, Bhutto began to rely on what his generals told him. He had in other words it was a case of out of the frying pan into the fire. He was trying to win the generals’s loyalty and he would give them constant assurances that he would bear their advice in mind, if not follow it to the letter. It has been said that Bhutto was the only civilian ruler of Pakistan who had the opportunity to make the army truly subordinate to the elected government. This opportunity came in 1971.
Bhutto rebuilt the army and its morale, which was necessary after the disaster of 1971. His mistake was that he tried to press the strength of the army and the army as an institution into service to strengthen himself and his office. This could never have worked. Bhutto who was a leader of the masses should have relied on the people who had elected him and his party into office. There was no need for him to rely on the army. Instead, he should have weaned it away from purely civilian affairs. But that did not happen. In fact, it was Bhutto who rewrote the role of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) by enlarging its charter to include domestic political affairs. That Bhutto rebuilt the army and tried to make it the “finest fighting machine in Asia” should go to his credit, not his discredit. Pakistan did need an army then, as it needs it now. Only, steps should have been taken to root out Bonapartism from amongst its ranks and from its psyche. Bhutto was in a position to do that, but he did not.
When Pakistan’s prisoners of war returned home from India, there were many who felt that those among its members – and their number was not large – who had committed acts of violence against the people of East Pakistan or indulged in corruption, should be proceeded against. This was not done. The Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission report was never released by Bhutto (it had to wait thirty years to see the light of day). At the time, most people said that Bhutto had refused permission for its release because it was critical of him. That, of course, was not true, as everyone now knows. The Commission had absolved Bhutto of wrongdoing. Bhutto should have learnt a lesson from the lack of any reaction within the armed forces at his summary removal of Gen. Gul Hasan and Air Marshal A. Rahim Khan. There was no reaction because both chiefs were seen as Yahya’s collaborators and thus responsible for the humiliation of the armed forces and the breakup of Pakistan. Had Bhutto proceeded against officers such as Generals “tiger” Niazi and Rao Farman Ali, such action would have been widely welcomed, both by the people and by the armed forces themselves.
The army of the time was against the publication of the Hamood Report because it did not want that its role should become a subject of public debate. Although there may have been no love lost among its ranks for the garrison and its commanders in East Pakistan, institutional loyalty came in the way. Thus the only occasion in Pakistan’s history when the interventionist role of the army could have been openly discussed was lost. It is in my knowledge that Bhutto wanted to introduce an extra column in the annual confidential report of all armed forces officer that should indicate his political leanings. The measure was calculated to ascertain the growth of right-wing or ultra-conservative trends. However, Gen. Tikka Khan, the erstwhile “Butcher of Bengal”, put up such stiff resistance to the proposal that Bhutto dropped it, though with a great deal of reluctance. Bhutto was never sure of the army’s loyalty to him. Once in answer to a question about the army, he told a foreign newsman in my presence in Quetta, “I am always looking over my shoulder.”
His appointment of Zia-ul-Haq who had not been recommended to become the chief was motivated by Bhutto’s mistaken belief that what is popularly called a “Maulvi-type” officer would be the least likely to entertain any Bonapartist ideas. Also, by the time, he chose Zia-ul-Haq, he had fallen victim to the oldest sin to which kings, presidents and prime ministers are heir to: flattery. Zia was a consummate flatterer, certainly as far as Bhutto was concerned. He appointed Zia president of the military court that tried those involved in what became known as the Attock Conspiracy Case. The sentences that Zia passed against the armed forces officers whom he found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the elected government were universally seen as “heavy”. When Bhutto pointed this out to Zia, he is said to have come to attention and said, “Sir, you may have a soft corner for these men, but I must give the maximum punishment to those who were conspiring against my Prime Minister.” Bhutto was overwhelmed by Zia’s sense of loyalty. Once Bhutto received a report that as Corps Commander, Multan, the prizes handed out by Zia to the winners of an army-organised competition consisted of Maulana Abu Ala Maudoodi’s books. Bhutto was not amused and had his displeasure conveyed to Zia. In reply, Zia wrote him a seven-page letter of abject apology. This story comes to me from Ghulam Mustafa Khar, at the time Bhutto’s blue-eyed boy who could do no wrong. Instead of being alarmed by Zia’s inclinations, Bhutto was disarmed by the self-effacing apology Zia sent in writing to him, as far as I remember being told, in his own hand.
Bhutto lacked self-confidence when it came to the army. I can cite one instance from my own experience. As his press secretary, I travelled everywhere with him, within and outside the country. On a visit to Quetta in 1972, he was asked to address officers at the famous Command and Staff College. During question hour, one young officer got up to say that it was only a handful of men in command positions who had let down the country and brought disgrace to the army. Why should their sins be visited upon everyone wearing uniform? He was referring to a series of highly critical articles that the Pakistan Times’ diplomatic correspondent H.K. Burki was writing against Pakistan’s “fat and flabby generals” and castigating them for their moral depravity, unprofessionalism and cowardice. Burki was also a close personal friend to Bhutto. Bhutto asked me to phone Burki and tell him to “please lay off”. When I phoned Burki that evening and told him of what had happened at the Staff College and what Bhutto had asked me to convey, he said, “I will talk to him when he returns.” Burki had probably already completed the series but he did “lay off” because Bhutto told him that if he continued, he would only be adding to his difficulties.
The government had film footage of the surrender of the Pakistan army at Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan to the so-called joint command of the Indian army and the Indian equipped and trained Bengali militia called Mukti Bahini. At a meeting in which some of his ministers, including the personable Abdul Hafiz Pirzada whom Bhutto had immortalised in a Lahore public meeting by calling him “sohna munda”. At one point Bhutto said, “Everyone asks what happened in East Pakistan. Well, let them then see what happened.” It was decided to screen the footage from Pakistan Television. The showing was to be preceded by a statement from Pirzada that I was asked to draft. I did so hurriedly and the footage was shown, preceded by or followed by Pirzada’s statement. The reaction was stormy. PTV phone lines were literally jammed with protesting calls. “Why are you showing us our disgrace?” could be said to be the basic point of these phone calls. Not one person said that it was the right thing to do. Bhutto was philosophical. “They don’t want to see it because they cannot face the truth. Don’t then show it to them.” The surrender ceremony was never again shown on Pakistan TV. In fact, one of the charges levelled to this day at Bhutto is that he humiliated the armed forces by ordering the surrender ceremony to be shown on PTV.
Bhutto always had a feeling of unease about the army. Were his apprehensions justified? Many army officers to whom I have spoken over the years have said that when Bhutto took over after the 1971 catastrophe, every citizen of Pakistan, whether in uniform or in civilian garb, looked up to him and wished him the best. They all really wanted him to build the “New Pakistan” he had promised in his first speech. His fall was the result of his own mistakes and the increasingly intolerant and repressive policies he followed. By the time the July 1977 coup came, most of those from amongst the literate middle class and the elite who had rejoiced at his taking over the reins of government in Pakistan were thoroughly disillusioned with him. As for the mass of people, they still voted for him and his party, the 1977 rigging having been confined to a fraction of the seats only. Bhutto’s time in office ended twenty-five years ago – this being 2002 as I write this account – and even today, the party he founded remains the only party in Pakistan with a popular base. No one disagrees that despite its self-exiled leader and her long-jailed husband, the Pakistan Peoples Party will win big in Sindh and make sizeable gains in the Punjab.
Bhutto once said to me as I walked a few feet behind him on our way to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, “Whenever I turn my head, I see these two behind me.” He was referring to his army chief Gen. Gul Hasan and Air Marshal A. Rahim Khan, who headed the Air Force. Both these men had played a part in easing Bhutto’s entry into the number one slot that he now occupied (though he would have got there anyway because after the 1971 disaster, he was unstoppable). I remember my answer, “They do that because they want to give the impression that you are in power by their leave.” Bhutto looked at me approvingly. Some time later, he summarily got rid of both Gul and Rahim by securing their resignations and sending them into diplomatic exile (which they happily accepted).
Bhutto should have been reassured – but wasn’t – by the fact that the short and summary manner in which he had retired his two armed forces chiefs had created not even a ripple in the country or the armed forces. In fact, it was a popular decision since most armed service officers felt that Gul and Rahim could not be allowed to claim innocence when it came to fixing responsibility for Pakistan’s breakup and the disgrace its armed forces had suffered in East Pakistan. While they had surrendered there, they had failed to put up a fight in West Pakistan and, in fact, lost territory. The Pakistan Air Force whom the people had practically come to worship for its heroic exploits in the 1965 war, had failed to protect Pakistan’s cities in 1971 and strike any targets of significance in India. I am a witness to more than one Indian air raid over Lahore in broad daylight. The Indians seemed to have the freedom of our skies. A friend of mine said one day, “Indian planes over Lahore are as common now as rickshaws on the streets.”
Maulana Kausar Niazi’s account of the army’s involvement in the post-election negotiations with the Pakistan National Alliance through the early and middle summer of 1977 is enlightening. It should serve as a “what-not-to-do” primer for all future civilian governments (though it has not). Bhutto’s first political mistake was to deploy the army in Balochistan against some tribal groups. It was wholly unnecessary and not only did it wreck any chance there might ever have been of coming to a civilised living arrangement with other political forces, it also made the army take a second look at the new leader of the country. If you continue to use the army for operations from which it should be kept apart, one day, the army might decide that if it repeatedly has to do the politicians’ dirty work, why should it not take things in its own hands. Bhutto made this mistake and, years later, to a much greater degree, so did Nawaz Sharif by asking the army to run things that were not its business nor within its competence.
Bhutto’s deployment of the army against Balochi insurgents, though consistent with colonial tradition and practice, was also a signal to the army that the leader would rather use force than political methods to deal with difficult or inconvenient situations. Niazi writes that after the middle of March 1977, “the Prime Minister had begun to hold meetings with senior officers of the army, both individually and collectively … to assess the chances of crushing the agitation and perpetuating his government with the help of the army.” Niazi quite rightly observes that while one of Bhutto’s aims was to “expose” the generals, in do doing, he was also “exposing” himself to them. “The greatest damage done to him (Bhutto) was that the generals became aware of his weaknesses and his receding control over the administration. To involve the generals in politics and to discuss purely political problems with them amounted to opening new doors to them and planting new ideas in their heads. The fact is that this was the beginning of the generals’ awareness of their importance.”
According to Niazi, it was Gen. Zia-ul-Haq who suggested the imposition of martial law in several cities. He said, “Sir, we will sort them out.” When Bhutto told him that it was not possible under the 1973 constitution, Zia said, “Sir, the constitution can also be amended,” something that was after Bhutto’s own heart, and Zia must have known that. Niazi quite rightly argues that the “partial” martial law imposed by Bhutto only succeeded in making the imposition of full martial law just a matter of time. As time passed and the political problem remained unresolved, the Prime Minister without realising it had ended up ceding a good deal of his authority to the army. It was in response to Zia’s protest that he ordered the Intelligence Bureau to immediately bring to an end its surveillance of important military officers. He thus became entirely dependent on the carefully packaged information passed to him by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Until Bhutto, the ISI had wholly concerned itself with external intelligence and military-related matters. It was Bhutto who revised its charter to include domestic political intelligence. The consequences of that decision have been fatal for Pakistan, as subsequent events have shown.
The ISI at the time was headed by General Ghulam Jilani whom Bhutto retained after taking power, something that few governments in developing countries risk. Chiefs of intelligence are always moved when a new government comes to office. After Bhutto came to power, I remember a conversation with General Jilani during our flight to Saudi Arabia in which he asked me to reassure Bhutto of his loyalty and the fact that during Yahya’s time, he had already spoken in support of the PPP leader. Whether he had or he hadn’t, he certainly seems to have convinced Bhutto both of his loyalty and his usefulness to him. Niazi writes that to keep Zia happy, Bhutto also made a succession of changes in the higher police and intelligence establishments. In other words, by now it was Zia who was calling many of the shots in the more sensitive areas of government.
Things soon reached a point, writes Niazi, when in a meeting with the generals, Gen. Faiz Ali Chisti (who was to become the main coup-maker a couple of months later, forcing the somewhat reluctant Zia’s hand) shouted down Gen. Abdulla Malik, whom Bhutto liked and may even have wanted to make the army chief, by telling him, “You are not a Corps Commander. How do you know what our difficulties are? Why should we fire bullets? If it is politics, then there should be a political decision.” Generals Sawar Khan and Jahanzeb “Bobby” Arbab also gave Gen. Malik a rough time, all in Bhutto’s presence. Bhutto kept quiet. How the mighty had fallen!
At another meeting, there was a bitter clash between Sheikh Muhammad Rashid, senior minister and lifelong socialist, and Gen. Muhammad Iqbal, with Gen. Jahanzeb “Bobby” Arbab telling Bhutto, “We are now afraid that the soldiers may turn their guns on us.” It was also during this meeting that Pirzada came out with the suggestion that Bhutto should hold a referendum to ask the people if he should remain Prime Minister or not. Zia approved of the idea and added, “Sir, we should at least have something to sell to the Jawans so that the army can be kept satisfied.” Bhutto’s reply was, “I will hold the referendum on the question whether people still retain confidence in me or not. This will also give me the right to amend the constitution which I will use to determine the role of the army in the government, because without the army’s participation, the state administration can no longer function.”
On 16 May 1977, a Referendum Bill was pushed through the National Assembly. However, after it was rejected by the PNA, the generals too withdrew their assent with Zia telling the Prime Minister at yet another meeting with the Corps Commanders in attendance, “Sir, this referendum proposal won’t do. Our Jawans are not satisfied with it either.” Zia was talking as if he had just conducted a referendum in the army and was only communicating its outcome to the Prime Minister. When Niazi was asked what in his view should now be done, he outlined five courses of action, one of which was, “The army should take over and when the situation gets back to normal, you gentlemen (addressing Zia and his Commanders) should organise elections. This appears to be the only alternative which could end both the present agitation and provide satisfaction to your Jawans.” Bhutto supported Niazi’s proposal strongly. “I am in full agreement with the Maulana. This in fact is the only alternative left. If you like, I will happily step down from my office and leave for Larkana tonight.” Zia, who had not said a word so far, rose from his chair, put his hand on his chest, executed a little bow and said, “No sir, we have no such intention. We are the right arm of the government. We are loyal and we shall remain loyal.” This meeting took place in May, just about two months before the coup.
It is interesting that nowhere in Niazi’s account is the Prime Minister quoted as having made any reference to the people who supposedly were to be the ultimate arbiters. They do not seem to have figured anywhere in the PPP’s operational strategy. What discouraged Bhutto from going to the people direct, over the heads of his scheming generals and blundering bureaucrats, remains unclear. It seems that by that time he had lost faith in his popular constituency. What instead was going on was palace arrangements and intrigue. It is clear that had Bhutto gone direct to the people, he could have overcome the crisis and his government would have been bailed out. If the PPP government finally fell like ripe fruit in Zia’s lap, it was only a logical consequence of the methods favoured by the Prime Minister to resolve the crisis. Zia and his generals could sense that Bhutto had lost confidence both in himself and in his popular constituency.
There remains, of course, the mystery of the role played by Arab ambassadors, especially Riazul Khatib of Saudi Arabia. Niazi had nothing but warm praise for the “brotherly Islamic countries” , none of them known for holding free or fair elections, or any elections as such as understood in the West. The Arab ambassadors are said to have tried to get the differences between the government and the opposition resolved amicably. It is difficult to understand why Bhutto agreed to this “friendly intervention”. Some of the Arab governments, especially Saudi Arabia were uneasy with Bhutto’s slogan of Islamic socialism, though by 1977 he had practically moved away from it. Seeking external help to solve domestic problems, under normal circumstances, would have gone against Bhutto’s grain. It is ironic that while on the one hand Bhutto was denouncing “foreign intervention”, on the other, he was inviting “foreign intervention”, though of the “friendly” kind himself. If the US was indeed behind the agitation against his government, as he believed (he went around the city of Rawalpindi waving a letter sent to him by the US Secretary of State), then it was unwise to assume that the ambassador of America’s closest ally in the Middle East would be on his side or could be even trusted. It was also known to everyone that the principal source of funds for his arch enemy, the right-wing Jamaat-i-Islami which was in the forefront of the PNA agitation, was none other than Saudi Arabia. Bhutto’s sole reason for bringing in the Saudi government must have been his belief that the Saudis would use their influence in softening the stance of the so-called Islam-liking (Islam pasand) parties. In the quarter century since Bhutto’s overthrow, little has come to light about the exact role of the Saudi government or for that matter Iraq, whose ambassador was also involved in the peacemaking effort between Bhutto and the PNA.
In the early stages of the negotiations with the PNA, Bhutto certainly brandished the generals to frighten and browbeat the opposition. But as time passed, this two-edged weapon began to cut across Bhutto’s own security parameter itself. He made one mistake after another. He used the constitution to declare “partial” martial law in four cities where the agitation was the best organised and the most vociferous. After taking this step, he seems to have thrown caution to the winds, according to Niazi, his main objective now confined to cultivating the army and keeping the generals in his corner. He had earlier offered the army a “constitutional” role, telling Zia at one point that the two of them could rule Pakistan together. Did he at any point realise that he was playing with fire? Niazi’s account, the most authentic to have emerged out of that fatal standoff between Bhutto and the opposition, offered no such indication.
The meeting that sealed the fate of the Bhutto government was held on 25 June 1977 in the course of which Zia and the Corps Commanders behaved aggressively. Zia refused pointblank to recall the army from Balochistan or dismantle the Hyderabad Tribunal which had been set up by Bhutto to try National Awami Party leader Khan Abdul Wali Khan and others on a charge of treason. He volunteered to brief the PNA leaders on the position he had taken on these two issues. Bhutto agreed readily. A man like Bhutto, known all his life, when in a position of power, for brooking no interference, had allowed himself to be overruled by his Chief of Staff on a purely political matter. It is surprising that the government was not overthrown earlier by the army because it had practically been in the driving seat for weeks.
Niazi recalled that Bhutto appeared greatly pleased by Zia’s offer, the only “comic relief” during these grim exchanges being provided by Gen. Tikka Khan who told the Prime Minister in the presence of Zia and the Corps Commanders, “Sir, I would say we wipe out five or six thousand of their (the PNA’s) men. That will cool them off and they will go home.” Tikka Khan was speaking on the basis of his extensive “cooling off” exploits in Balochistan and East Pakistan. Niazi wrote that Tikka Khan’s mindless remark convinced Zia and his Corps Commanders that Bhutto and his men were bent upon doing just some such thing. It remains a mystery why Bhutto picked up Tikka, given his record and reputation. Perhaps he thought that with Tikka by his side, the army would remain loyal to him. What he had forgotten was that a serving Jawan has more power than a retired Field Marshal.
Another great mystery, not satisfactorily explained to this day, remains Bhutto’s five-day tour of the Gulf and other Muslim states when the negotiations with the PNA were about to reach a conclusion. Not only did it give the PNA time to consider other options but it also provided Bhutto’s inveterate enemy Air Marshal Asghar Khan to finally have his revenge by finalising his strategy of sabotaging a Bhutto-PNA agreement. Bhutto’s whirlwind tour took him to Saudi Arabia, Libya, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Iran. According to Niazi, Bhutto wanted to convey to the United States that he had won the “domestic battle” and so they should now stop meddling (assuming, of course, that they were doing so in the first place, something subsequent events have shown they were not). He also wanted to send a message to the generals that they should entertain no ambitions of taking over against a man with such powerful international and Islamic connections. He also wanted to impress the PNA with his personal rapport with heads of state and government in Islamic states. He told Niazi that he wanted to collect funds for the party for the coming elections. It is ironic that he should have said that since one of the charges against the National Awami Party was that it received funds from abroad. The Jamaat had been similarly accused. While the charge may not have been true in the former case, it certainly was true in the latter.
My own theory is that what Bhutto did was consistent with his penchant for trying to solve domestic problems with international and diplomatic showmanship. He had done that on a number of earlier occasions. He believed that the people were greatly impressed if their leader was seen on television inspecting elaborate guards of honour in exotic capitals and being received by kings, presidents and prime ministers down a red carpet. One explanation that came from Altaf Gauhar, related to me by his younger brother Raja Tajammul Hussain, was that Bhutto had asked the King of Saudi Arabia to save him from a coup that he was sure was in the offing, but the King had told him that he was not in a position to act.
Whatever Bhutto’s purpose, his surprise visit seems to have sealed the fate of his government. Asghar Khan’s role in bringing about the overthrow of the Bhutto government and throwing Pakistan into the pit of martial law for the next 11 years is unforgivable. If there is one man who should be held responsible for 5 July 1977, the day of Zia’s takeover, it is the former head of the Pakistan Air Force. Earlier, he had said that he would see to it that Bhutto was hanged from the Kohala Bridge that divided Pakistan from Azad Kashmir. He had also written a letter to the three service chiefs, asking them to overthrow Bhutto’s government. He had also declared in a statement that Bhutto was untrustworthy and even if he signed an agreement with the opposition, he would go back on it at the first opportunity.. He created misgivings in the minds of men like Mufti Mahmood and Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan who sincerely wanted to end the confrontation with Bhutto and sign an accord that would undo the rigging that had marred the March 1977 elections.
The break in negotiations because of Bhutto’s travels also brought into play the volatile personality of Abdul Hafiz Pirzada whom the PNA leaders did not like in the first place. Now that one looks back, one wishes that while his leader was away, Pirzada had kept his peace, but he did not. He made a number of statements, one about the appointment of provincial governors to which the PNA reacted negatively. There was no need, Niazi argued, to have gone into such details as appointment of governors in the event of a PPP-PNA agreement. While Bhutto was away, Asghar Khan told the PNA leaders that there was no need any longer to negotiate with Bhutto as he had obtained assurances from the army that it would remove Bhutto, hold elections within 90 days and return to the barracks. So much did he hate Bhutto that he was willing to make a Faustian deal with the army. He may indeed have been given the 90-day assurance but how could a man who swore by the name of democracy become a party to, indeed the moving force behind, the overthrow by force of the country’s constitutional government! And if Asghar Khan believed that Zia would do what he had promised, then so much the fool he. When in history had the army played midwife to democracy? Asghar Khan believed that Bhutto had become so unpopular that if he ran again in the army-organised elections barely three months after being overthrown, he would be defeated. He also believed, quite erroneously, that it was he, the Air Marshal, who had emerged as the popular hero through the countrywide protests against Bhutto and his actions. Those who disliked Bhutto could go to irrational lengths in their rejection of him and his policies. For example, the late I.H. Burney, one of the finest and most upright journalists produced by Pakistan, maintained that a military government was preferable to Bhutto’s “awami raj”.
Niazi, whom I always considered an astute politician — for after all he had been raised by Jamaat-i-Islami and been nurtured on the milk of Mansura – made a grave mistake in April 1977 when he advised the Prime Minister to announce a series of “Islamic” reforms. And what were these “reforms”? A ban on drinking, on night clubs and horse racing. Not a single one of these activities could be eliminated. In fact, these “reforms” generated crime and smuggling and encouraged police to become even more corrupt than it normally was – and is. The agitation against Bhutto was not because the people wanted drinking and gambling banned. The agitation was against a bad and increasingly intolerant government. The people of Punjab are not of a puritanical nature and the mullah is not a figure of reverence in Punjabi culture. A large number of sexual jokes are about maulvis and mullahs. One reason Bhutto touched the hearts of the Punjabis was because of his rakishness. Once in a public meeting in Lahore, he declared to loud cheering that he drank a little but he did not drink the blood of the poor. In any case, by the time he took over power in Pakistan, his days of wine and roses were behind him.
While it is true that during the PNA agitation, return to Nizam-i-Mustafa emerged as a popular slogan, the crowds which appeared in the streets of Pakistan were not there because they wanted a Mullah-run Pakistan. Zia-ul-Haq never shut down the prostitutes’ quarter of Hira Mandi in Lahore, for example, but was there ever any public demand that this should be the government’s first task? What an astute man like Bhutto failed to understand when he announced his “reforms” was that there is no credibility to concessions made under pressure. What it did was to strengthen the impression among the people that the Bhutto government was on its last legs. The “reforms” were seen as opportunistic and insincere. While the right-wing and religious parties claimed the “reforms” as their victory over the “godless” Bhutto, Bhutto’s followers showed open resentment. Habib Jalib wrote: Bara kam-zarf tha jo kar gya veeran shaamon ko: Na poochho haal-e-yaaraan sham ko jab saaye dhaltay hain. (A small-minded man it was who made our evenings forlorn: Ask not how we feel when the shadows begin to lengthen as the evening draws near).
The “Islamic reforms” of April 1977 met the same reception as the 1974 amendment in the constitution declaring the followers of the Ahmediyya sect non-Muslims. Whatever credit there was to be claimed was claimed by Bhutto’s enemies. The liberals were disillusioned by Bhutto’s unprincipled and opportunistic decision. The 1974 decision was to prove the undoing of Bhutto because it gave the mindless right and the ultra conservatives whom Bhutto had trounced so decisively in election a sense of power and victory.
Despite all the intrigue and pressure from many quarters, despite the games being played in the background by various elements, domestic and foreign, the PPP team and the PNA representatives did agree on a draft. However, when the PPP asked the PNA to sign the accord, its leaders said that they had not come with “full powers” and would have to obtain the formal approval of the PNA Council. That was the point where Asghar Khan moved and blocked approval. He had already, in league with the army or those generals who did not want any sort of settlement between the two sets of politicians, decided that the Bhutto government should be overthrown. So much for his democratic credentials. The PNA also insisted that the Supreme Implementation Council that was to oversee the implementation of the accord should be given constitutional cover. Bhutto should have agreed but he hesitated which was illogical as he had agreed to the nullification of the March 7 elections. The PNA had agreed after much reluctance to the chairmanship of the Council by the Prime Minister.
Bhutto should have shown no hesitation in accepting the PNA demand that the Council should have constitutional cover. This proved to be a major stumbling block which not only prolonged the parleys but led to all kinds of rumours and even misgivings in the army. If they were delaying tactics, they only helped Bhutto’s enemies while weakening his friends. On 4 July, which was the last time the two sides met, the Prime Minister told the PNA team, “We need more consultations. We will give you our answer after considering the implications of the additional demands which, essentially, boiled down to the question of giving the agreement reached constitutional cover. To Pirzada and Niazi, Bhutto said, “There is no cause for worry. We will agree in the end, but what is the hurry? If we agree immediately, they will see it as our weakening. Let them wait a little bit.” There is, of course, no certainty that even if Bhutto had agreed immediately, the PNA would not have come up with still more demands, Asghar Khan being determined that there should be no agreement and that the Bhutto government should be overthrown by the army. It is not clear on what exact day, Zia and his co-conspirators decided to stage the coup. By July 4, of course, the decision must have been taken. That being so, even if Bhutto had acceded to the PNA demand about the agreement being given constitutional protection, the military was going to take over anyway. Bhutto used to pride himself on being a master of timing, but to borrow a phrase from cricket, it was this crucial stroke that he mistimed.
Niazi wrote that later that evening, he told Pirzada and him that he wanted to finish it as “enough was enough”. He even asked Pirzada to “shut up” when Pirzada expressed doubts about the reliability of PNA leaders. Pirzada had said, “These people are unreliable. They might raise another issue. We have taken the wind out of their sails. Their agitation has petered out. People are sick and tired of them. They cannot restart the movement before three or four months, if they decided to hit the streets again. There is the possibility of martial law but we have enough time to level the score with them.” What one fails to understand is that if Bhutto really wanted to “finish it”, he should have done it earlier that morning. If something had then gone wrong, the onus would have been on the PNA. I should add, however, that a press conference held by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan late on the evening of 4 July said that the PNA and the government team had reached an agreement. This statement was published in some newspaper on the morning of 5 July when the Bhutto government had already been removed.
Raja Anwar, Bhutto’s adviser on student and labour affairs, recalled the scene on the eve of the coup in his book The Terrorist Prince. He wrote, “The memory of the hot and oppressive evening of 4 July 1977 has always stayed with me. I can still see Gen. Zia-ul-Haq as he walks out to Prime Minister Bhutto’s office and climbs into his black army staff car. This was to be Gen. Zia’s last meeting as a subordinate of the Prime Minister. Few possibilities could have been more remote, for me at least, that in just seven hours, the General would become Pakistan’s new ruler and Bhutto his prisoner, let alone that in less than two years’ time, Bhutto would go to the gallows at the hands of his chosen Chief of Army Staff.
“After Zia’s departure, Bhutto emerged from his room with his retired Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tikka Khan. He looked at Tikka, ‘Well, General, do you recall how you opposed Zia being promoted Chief of Staff? You will now have to concede that I made the correct choice. Had it been another army chief, he would have long since grabbed power by taking advantage of the current law and order situation.’ Tikka Khan was not trained to engage in debate or argue, so he kept shaking his head affirmatively and saying, ‘Yes, sir, yes, sir.’ Not that Bhutto actually expected a response: rather, he seemed to be reassuring himself. This was Bhutto’s way of dealing with difficult questions. He would often think over loud as he was doing now, going over the pros and cons of a given problem. I had heard him speaking to himself about the complex aspects of internal and external situations while his valet Noor Muhammad Mughal “Noora” would be giving his shoes a final buff and saying, ‘Balley, Sain, Ballay Sain,’ Sindhi for , ‘Well, done sir.’ ”
A few words about the cast of characters, notably Rafi Raza whom Niazi appeared to hold in some intellectual awe. Contrary to the general impression, his political views were more reactionary than liberal. He was also quite apolitical with little understanding of mass politics and still less of the politics of Punjab. He was the chief “Anglo-Indian” in the Bhutto team, as opposed to “native sons” such as Sheikh Muhammad Rashid and Maulana Kausar Niazi. Although Raza did help draft quite a few of Bhutto’s early speeches outlining reforms, his understanding of how these reforms would work on the ground was both limited and unrealistic. I remember a conversation with him in early 1972 that I found particularly disappointing. When I pointed out to him that there was a serious contradiction in the Punjab Governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar exercising unlimited executive authority and Sindh Governor Mir Rasul Bux Talpur exercising very little, he said there was nothing wrong with that. Strange words from Bhutto’s constitutional expert and a barrister by profession. How could a man of law see no contradiction there? The only conclusion one could reach after hearing such a remark was that once you had political power, you could use it whichever way you liked, constitutional and legal niceties notwithstanding. In the last days, Bhutto lost trust in him and, according to Niazi, called him a “CIA agent”, a charge levied rather lightly in Pakistan at anyone you do not like or wish to do down. Niazi’s account suggested that Bhutto suspected him of having passed on details of the Pakistani nuclear programme to the Americans.
Although Rafi and I did not get along, despite my best efforts, I would dismiss the accusation as nonsense. Just because his wife was a foreigner did not necessarily make him a “CIA agent”, though in Pakistan such a ground is often considered sufficient evidence. Majid Nizami, editor of Nawai Waqt, Bhutto once told me, had assured him that I was also a CIA man. Well, he had grounds since I was, and am, married to an American (the same American, by the way). Bhutto told me the story in Hyderabad as we sat chatting one evening. He laughed and added, “There must be some other reason he doesn’t like you.” Bhutto also told me not to mention this to anyone since if it got back to Nizami, he would “dry up” as a source of information and gossip. Some years later, Abdul Hafiz Pirzada also made a more or less similar allegation against Rafi Raza. This led to a flurry of incensed newspaper statements with Rafi threatening to sue his former colleague and friend for libel.
Another mistake Bhutto made in the last days was to bring back his estranged friend and the man he had once called my heir apparent, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, as a kind of fixer at a time when the negotiations with the PNA were delicately poised. This was viewed by the PNA and the generals with suspicion. Khar, true to form and in keeping with his street-tough style and reputation, began by leading a large procession of PPP workers in Sheikhupura, about 20 miles from Lahore. Some years later, Khar told me in London that he had done that in order to galvanise the party which had gone into hibernation. It would have worked in March, immediately after the election, but the time chosen for this show of strength was ill-advised. Had Bhutto waited until the signing of the accord with PNA before bringing Khar back, it would not have mattered. His return at this particular time was like a red rag to a bull. When a government is on the run, nothing that it does comes out right. Bhutto made one mistake after another, the most astonishing one being his visit to Maulana Maudoodi, his lifelong enemy. What was he thinking? Did be believe for a moment that the wily old politician who could scent victory in the air, would bail him out or let him off the hook? Why Bhutto kept making gestures to the right, is hard to understand. Is it the case that he did not have sufficient faith in his own political support base or was it an effort to be all things to all people? The old adage was correct. If you try to please everyone, you will end up with pleasing no one. He should have consolidated his natural constituency and strengthened his power base. However, he kept undermining it. By the time the coup came, he was like Joseph without a caravan.
How did I come to know Bhutto? The first time I met him was in Karachi in 1966, days after his ouster from the Ayub cabinet. But this story needs a bit of background. Raja Tajammul Hussain, Altaf Gauhar’s brother, was a good friend of Bhutto. He was at the time commissioner of income-tax at Karachi. The party where I met Bhutto was organised by Tajammul. It was because of Tajammul that I first met Gauhar in Lahore during the Africasian Seminar in early 1965 organised by the Pakistan Thinkers Forum, a thin front for the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which had made the money available. The late Chaudhri Zahur Elahi had also contributed some funds because of his personal relations with the Gauhar brothers. It was a big international conference and the only conference of its kind that has ever been held in Pakistan. Tajammul was Forum’s secretary general, naturally. He was also the commissioner of income tax in Lahore and I was a junior officer working under him. I had earlier met him in Rawalpindi, the place of my first posting, in 1962-63. Tajammul, an officer of the Military Accounts Service, was deputy secretary in the Ministry of Industries or Commerce and he used to visit his friends Haseeb and Adeeb on Peshawar Road, where in the other portion of that house lived my friend Inam-ul-Haq and his lovely, firecracker of a wife, Nasreen. I used to hang out there a couple of evenings in the week. After the Africasian conference – where I obviously had impressed Gauhar – Tajammul called me into his office and asked if I wanted to stay in the department and make money or go to work with Gauhar. I said I wanted to go to work in Rawalpindi with Gauhar. The necessary deputation was organised in a matter of weeks and I landed in the Ministry’s Bureau of Research and Reference. A few months later, Gauhar appointed me secretary, Broadcasting Committee, the only time such a committee has been appointed in Pakistan’s history. Mumtaz Hasan was the chairman and we wrote a report on the basis of which radio and TV were reorganised. That was how I was in Karachi in 1966 where the Broadcasting Committee was based because the Chairman was there, serving out the rest of his time in the service of the state as managing director of the National Bank of Pakistan.
The party was organised in a house that stood in a street that ran close to the Clifton Bridge. Bhutto had just arrived in Karachi where he had been received at the cantonment station by a tumultuous crowd. He had been told by Ayub through the Nawab of Kalabagh, the much-dreaded Governor of Punjab, that he should cool his heels in Europe for a couple of months to let the excitement that his sacking had created in the country, especially Punjab subside. He had had him over for lunch at Governor’s House in Lahore and told him what the government thought was best for him, and he had said so in no uncertain terms. There were reports in newspapers that Bhutto was going abroad which had prompted Habib Jalib to write a poem, published in Nawai Waqt with the refrain, Chhor ke naa jaa. It was a big hit. In fact, when I went to the party which Tajammul had assured me was exclusive, I carried a clip of that poem which I has snipped off from the newspaper. I do not remember everyone who was there but I think the group included Yunus Said and Dr Muhammad Safdar. There was a great deal of sentimental drinking and when Bhutto and Nusrat Bhutto arrived, everybody was a bit high and a bit sad. There was an elegiac mood to the party. Tajammul turned to me, after Bhutto had settled down and his drink had been refreshed, “Sing that Habib Jalib poem.” I pulled out the crumpled piece of paper from my pocket and began to sing the lines, my tune based on a popular song of the time (Akailey naa jaana). After I had finished singing Jalib’s verse as soulfully as I could, Bhutto got up, raised the full glass of scotch he held in his hand, smashed it against the wall, missing Tajammul’s head by inches, and declared dramatically, “Nahin jaoon gaa, nahim jaoon ga.” Three days later, he had flown out of the country. Vintage ZAB.
I left Karachi in early 1967, went to Lahore and resigned from government service to do what I had always wanted to do: full-time journalism. Initially, I joined, thanks to Hamid Jalal, who then headed the Associated Press of Pakistan, the news agency’s sidekick Pakistan Features Syndicate. The job lasted a couple of months because the funds ran out. By then, I had managed to convince Khwaja M. Asaf, editor of the Pakistan Times, to hire me as a reporter. I had already been writing a weekly column for the newspaper called ‘Of this and that’. The PPP was formed in Lahore in 1967 and during those days and until I left for the United States in September 1969 on a congressional fellowship offered by the American Political Science Association, I saw a good deal of ZAB as he often came to Lahore which was the hub of the party and the main centre of political activity. Although I worked for the main National Press Trust newspaper, he considered me, as he did several other Lahore journalists, sympathetic to him, which we indeed were. However, off and on, he would get angry with us. Once after our newspaper had published a dismissive kind of report about his new party, he told Maqbul Sharif “Judge Sahib”, my senior colleague in the reporters’ team, as he ran into us at the Hotel Intercontinental (where he always stayed), “You! you are worse than the Hindu press.”
Around the same time, Punjab Punch, a new weekly, had begun to appear from Lahore. It was printed at a press set up by Muzaffar Qadir, a former CSP officer who had been axed during one of the purges. Zafar Iqbal Mirza used to do the donkey work at the weekly and I used to write regularly. If the weekly had a philosophy it was to thumb its nose at the high and the mighty and to make fun of anyone who could be made fun of, including Bhutto’s new party. However, the fun we poked at PPP was always good-natured, though not always did the Chairman see it that way. For instance, one I wrote a piece for the Punch captioned ‘How I became chairman of the PPP’. Some days earlier, Bhutto had named Mustafa Khar and Mairaj Muhammad Khan as his political heirs and those who would lead the party after him or when he stepped down. My piece, a spoof, said that after the lead given by the Leader, the Khar and Mairaj, nominated two others to be their heirs and political successors, who, in turn, nominated two others, who nominated two others and so on and so forth. After some time, the PPP ran out of people it could nominate which was how, I woke up one morning, found that I had been made chairman of the party. Bhutto was not amused because he felt that I had made fun of him. One day at a press conference he told me, “If you stop being funny, I will make you a minister.” That was another promise of his that he did not keep.
He was a great wit but preferred wit to flow from him to those on the other side of the desk, not the other way around. Once at a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel, Lahore, he said, “I say this beyond the shadow of a ghost …” I interrupted him, “Excuse me, Mr Bhutto, but I would like to remind you that ghosts have no shadows.” Everybody burst out laughing, even he. But he did not forget it. He reminded me of it in a stern note he had sent me after Maulana Kausar Niazi complained that his press secretary, or I, was ordering people PTV people around and thus undermining his authority (which I wasn’t). Bhutto’s note said that he would not like this to happen because these were his colleagues who had sacrificed for him and gone to jail and, further, if I knew whether ghosts cast shadows. Bhutto always gave the impression that he was acting impulsively. This was quite far from the truth because he was a careful, meticulous planner. When we returned from Simla after signing the Simla Accord in the summer of 1972 and landed at the Lahore airport, a large crowd was there to greet us. They began to raise emotional slogans as Bhutto stepped out of the aircraft. He walked up to the crowd which was on the other side of the fence, took off his white shark-skin jacket and threw it over. In a few moments it was nothing but a thousand shredded pieces. By the time the crowd could think of what to do next, Bhutto was in his limousine which took him to the Governor’s House, with his staff, including I, in the other cars. As he was walking up the grand staircase to go to his suite, Khalid Shafi, his ADC on duty that day, said to me in a low whisper, “You God, the old man’s reading glasses were in a pocket of that jacket.” Bhutto turned his head and said, “Shafi, don’t worry, I took them out.”
Bhutto had a phenomenal memory. The only word I can use to describe it is photographic. His best friend in life, the late Piloo Mody, who was with Bhutto in school at Bombay and with whom he remained close and in touch through the years, told me in Simla that Zulfi (few people could call him by that name) not only remembered what had happened over thirty years ago, but he could also recall with precision where a certain incident had taken place, who was present at the time and who had said or done what. “It is uncanny,” he added. He was the only one who could swear at Bhutto, and I suppose, Bhutto did the same with him. He was a wonderful man, warm-hearted and truly aristocratic. He wrote a biography of Bhutto called Zulfi my Friend with which I helped him under Bhutto’s instructions. I provided material and Bhutto gave me photographs from his family albums which I passed on the Piloo.
In 2001, while I was rifling through some old papers, I came across a photograph of Benazir, sent to her father and mother from school in the United States with a long, loving note scribbled to them at the back. She must have been around seventeen then. I mailed it to her in London, saying it belonged to her. She wrote back to say how time had passed and how wistful one felt thinking of those young and early years. On one of my visits to Delhi after Piloo’s death, I went to condole with his wife, a European woman of great charm. When the Simla talks got deadlocked at one point, Piloo said to me that they should put Zulfi and Indira in one room, lock the door and only open it when the smoke began to float out of the chimney, a reference to the sign used to announce that a new Pope has been elected.
In Washington where I arrived in the late humid summer of 1969, I was also working as correspondent of the Pakistan Times which had given me long leave. Agha Hilaly was the ambassador and Syed Nazim Qutb the press counsellor. Abdul Sattar who later rose to the head of his service and is foreign minister for the second time (as I write) was political counsellor. I began to write to ZAB, keeping him au courant, so to speak, with the Washington scene. He would always write back. Unfortunately, I lost the correspondence some years ago during one of my “continental shifts”. The fateful 1970 national elections were held and Bhutto emerged triumphant in West Pakistan. I remember sending him a telegram which ended with the euphoric PPP slogan (never translated into practice): All Power to the People. Gen. Yahya Khan came to Washington for an official visit in October 1970, about three months before the first and last free election in Pakistan’s history to date. There was a reception at the embassy in honour of the President. By the time he came, I had had a rather heated argument with Yahya’s son-in-law who was also his ADC about Bhutto and PPP. The argument began when he started criticising Bhutto. I said to him that Bhutto was a national leader and it was inappropriate for a man in uniform, especially a man who worked for the “neutral” President of Pakistan, to speak about him in disparaging terms in public. Qutb was standing next to me and was also taking part in the conversation, to boot, on my side, which was commendable for a government servant. Yahya’s son-in-law asked Qutb, “How long have you been in this post?” “Are you trying to threaten me?” Qutb asked, looking into his eyes.
While we were locked into this exchange that was getting unpleasant by the minute, in walked Yahya, straight from the White House. He was his usual ebullient self and in high spirits. He went around asking everyone what he did. When he came to me, he asked, “And what do you do?” I told him that I worked for the Pakistan Times but that I was not one of Suleri’s boys, Z.A. Suleri having earlier been imposed on our newspaper by the military regime. Yahya looked at me hard and said, “If you are not Suleri’s boy, you will be nobody’s boy.” “All right,” I said. “What do you mean by all right?” Yahya asked. “By all right, I mean all right. I am not afraid,” I replied. It had become extremely still in the room which was full of people and humming with conversations only minutes earlier. Everyone had an ear cocked towards our corner to hear what was going on between the General and this reporter fellow. “Achha bachoo, you come to Pakistan and I will show you,” Yahya said angrily. “All right,” I answered, without hesitation. At this point, Agha Hilaly, who was extremely nervous, pulled out a piece of paper form his pocket, “Sir,” he began, “we, have had this letter published in the New York Times today which projects our point of view.” “Take it away,” Yahya said, shaking the ambassador’s hand off, “Mein parhnay likhnay ka kaam nahim karta.” “Waisay bhi ye khat angrezi mein hai,” I chipped in. At this, Yahya took one furious look at me and walked out of the reception.
Some days later, Bhutto wrote to me to ask how the Yahya visit had gone in Washington. I narrated the Yahya encounter to him as well as the significance of the trip and how the US looked at the situation in Pakistan on the eve of general elections. The results of the 1970 elections were heady. The PPP had won big in West Pakistan and the Awami League had scored a runaway victory in East Pakistan and also the overall majority nationally. I decided to return to Pakistan because after years of military rule, an elected government appeared to be finally on the verge of taking power. How wrong this expectation was and how starry-eyed we were all to be proved, I need not spell out. I rejoined the Pakistan Times but Suleri ordered that my byline was not to appear in the paper, and for my column, I was asked to choose a pen name. The name I chose was ‘Gypsy’ under which I wrote right to the end when I left to become Bhutto’s first press secretary. In 1971, every time Bhutto came to Lahore, I saw him at his press conferences and meetings. We got to know each other well and the first time we met after my return from Washington, he shook my hand with great warmth and said, “Thank you for keeping me informed from Washington.” On the night of 20 December 1971, I heard him on the radio and felt moved because he was promising us a new Pakistan. I wrote to him about how I had looked forward to this day and wondered if there was something I could do to help him. The response came a couple of days later. I was summoned to Rawalpindi and asked to meet Abdul Hafiz Pirzada who had been named education minister. I remember meeting him in his office where he had moved a day or two earlier. Of course I knew him well. He told me that Mr Bhutto wanted me to work for him as his public relations officer. I was then taken to see the newly sworn-in President and Chief Martial Law Administrator. He met me cordially and said to me, “Welcome to the team.” It was I who suggested that I should be designated press secretary and not PRO which was more appropriate for a commercial outfit. “All right, but it will not be like the White House press secretary,” he said.
It was exciting to work for Bhutto. I sat in on many meetings and had access to him whenever I wanted. I also travelled with him inside and outside the country. We I also drafted some of his statements, answered a good deal of the mail sent to him, arranged his interviews, inundated though we were with requests and arrivals from the foreign media. Everyone wanted to meet Bhutto. Once when Arnaud de Borchgrave, who was then senior editor of Newsweek arrived in Rawalpindi, came to my house on Peshawar Road and said he had to meet Bhutto but he could spend no more than two or three days in Pakistan, I sent a note to the President, adding at the end that de Borchgrave was number three at Newsweek. Bhutto wrote back that I should know how busy he was, but he would see the fellow, then added, “But always remember that I am number one in Pakistan.” Bhutto liked me and I always felt at ease with him and his family, especially Begum Nusrat Bhutto, a lady with a golden heart. She it was who once told me in answer to my question if she knew everything about her husband. “Yes,” she replied, “but somewhere in the middle, there is an area about which I know little.” People have always talked about his ill treatment of his wife. I never witnessed any such thing. In fact, I found him extremely mindful of her and never letting a day pass when he was away from her without speaking to her on the phone. Of his children, I became very fond of Shahnawaz whom I once gave him the famous Che Guevera poster that I had brought back from Washington. He had it framed and it hung in his bedroom he told me. I was in the good books of Bhutto’s valet Noor Mohammad Mughal or Noora who could scream at ministers when he was in a bad mood. For me, he had plenty of time and attention, something many found surprising because Noora was hard to be friends with. I suppose he just liked me and he also knew that the big man liked me, too.
I went on a marathon foreign trip with Bhutto, visiting nearly a dozen African and Middle Eastern countries. In one African country after another, Bhutto would be greeted at the airport by a uniformed general. One day after we had taken off from Guinea or perhaps Somalia, he said to me, “Wherever I land, there is a fauji to greet me. I tell you democracy is not possible in our countries.” While Bhutto always was nice to me, he never even once asked me anything about my family. He knew that my wife was American and perhaps also that we had a son who was just over a year old. But he never inquired after them. The same was true of other members of his personal staff. Arshad Sami Khan, his air force ADC, and Khalid Shafi, his naval ADC, also had the same lack of interest to report insofar as their families were concerned. Arshad who had worked for Ayub and Yahya told me that both of them, especially Ayub, always made personal inquiries and that there were also occasional invitations for the families to come for a cup of tea. When my cousin K.H. Khurshid, who had done his Bar at the Lincoln’s Inn the same time as Bhutto and who knew him well, lost his 12-year old son to cancer I asked Bhutto for two days’ leave. I told him why. It sort of shocked me that he said not a word, nor did he condole with Khurshid, as far as I know. He once asked me to ask Omar Kureishi, who had been his friend when they were both cricket-crazy boys in Bombay, what he could do for him. When I asked Omar, his reply was just one word, “Nothing.”
When Bhutto chose Yunus Said, his long-time friend from Karachi, as chairman of the National Press Trust (which he had vowed to abolish), he said to Yunus, “But there is a condition. No daytime drinking.” “Weekends excepted?” Yunus asked. “All right,” replied Bhutto. He once said to me the trouble with Pakistan is that everyone here considers himself an authority on international affairs. He also observed one day that one thing the British had failed to do was to teach us English. I went with him to India, a visit that produced the Simla Accord. Before we left, he asked me to buy him books because “clearly, I won’t be able to pick them up myself.” I bought scores of them because I knew what sort of books Bhutto read and collected. When I was in London as press counsellor at the Pakistan embassy in 1976-77, I used to buy Bhutto’s books for him and send them through diplomatic bag. I had opened an account at a Sloan Street bookshop called Truslove and Hansen which no longer exists. Every other month, I would get a bank draft in pound sterling from Bhutto’s personal account. In Paris once – where I served as press attaché in 1973 and part of 1974, I once received a message from him to buy for him four to six suit lengths. I got the fabric from Dormeuil. The fussy Mr Bhutto did trust my judgment when it came to choosing fabric. He once told me that he did not like tweeds and was almost never seen in them. He liked blazers, but preferred green over blue. Basically, he was not a combination but a suit man.
In Simla, Benazir who had accompanied her father because Begum Bhutto was ill at the time in Karachi, was put under my charge, so to speak. She was just 18 and was a big hit with the media. Everybody wanted to interview her but I was under instructions to say no to all such requests. The only exception made – after due permission from the President – was a meeting with the late Indian journalist Dilip Mukerjee who has published a hurriedly written biography of Bhutto and who told me that his daughter had her heart set on meeting Benazir. Bhutto told me to be present at the meeting, which I was. Benazir paid little attention to the starry-eyed girl, who was about her age, but went smash bang into Mukerjee whom she accused of having got so many facts about her father wrong. Mukerjee, one of India’s finest gentleman, and a Bengali gentleman of the old school, spent the meeting fending off Benazir’s verbal blows. At one point I asked her if we had not had enough of that and if we could perhaps move on to other things. She reluctantly let go and Mukerjee heaved a sigh of relief. The Indians wanted Bhutto to see Pakeeza, a “Muslim social” movie in the language of Bombay film industry. He told me to escort Benazir instead which I did.
However, early on I had my difficulties with Bhutto. In fact, there was only one difficulty: my liberal ideas. For instance, I would not keep quiet when, early on, Bhutto began acting intolerantly towards some of the newspapers and magazines which were critical of the President and the PPP. When Bhutto had Gen. Habibullah Khan picked up and his arrest shown on Pakistan Television, I sent him a note saying that this was not what we should be doing and that it would damage the government’s image. Bhutto was not assured. When he picked up Altaf Gauhar, I went in to see him, having asked Noora where Sahib was. He was in the bedroom, his back cushioned against pillows, looking at files. “Yes?” he asked. I told him that I was troubled about Altaf Gauhar’s arrest and that it would do him and the government no good. He got angry. He said a lot of things about Gauhar, including that he was a CIA agent and that he was in cahoots with the Haroons to undermine him and the people’s government. He said Gauhar was a discredited bureaucrat who was camouflaging himself as a journalist now. He has a lot to answer for, he declared. I said Gauhar may be all the things he was said to be but he should be released because his arrest would turn liberal sentiment against the government. Bhutto replied that the liberals were cynical to begin with and it did not matter if he was to be abused in the coffee houses of Lahore and Karachi. “Who knows Gauhar in the villages of Pakistan where the real people of Pakistan live?” he asked me. I had to agree that not many did. Then he said, “All right, all right,” indicating that the meeting was over and I should leave the room. Before I left, he said to me, “Whose side are you on?” “I am on your side,” I replied, “that is why I am here.” I could see from the expression on his face that he did not think so. He later told Rafi Raza why I was critical of him. That day I knew that despite his affection for me, our association would not last very long.
The parting of ways came within a year. A private party in Lahore at the Intercontinental Hotel where nothing more reprehensible than a dance by two sisters from Hira Mandi, known all over Lahore as Vimto and Coca Cola was taking place, was raided by the police for no reason other than the Punjab Governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar’s animus against the hostess, Aqleem Akhtar, popularly known as “General Rani” because of her friendship with Yahya Khan. The police led by the city’s senior superintendent of police, Sardar Abdul Wakil, arrested the girls and their musicians and perhaps a couple of others while they were at it. What crime they had committed was not explained and, in fact, everyone was released a few hours later. It just happened that among the hundred or so people watching the dance performance were the two of us, Bhutto’s naval ADC Khalid Shafi and I. I was there because Khalid Shafi had dragged me there from the Governor’s House across the road where we were all staying with ZAB. Khalid Shafi, came from Gujrat, as did Aqleem Akhtar and on that “net” she used to phone him off and on. That day, she had phoned him several times inviting him and what friends he wished to bring to a gala evening of dance she had organised at the Intercontinental, which was no sin spot but the best and the most respectable five-star hotel in the city, and its only one. Sardar Wakil knew me from my Pakistan Times day and said to me, “You gentlemen have nothing to do with it, so I suggest you should leave.” That was exactly what we did. My late friend Khwaja Fayyaz Mahmood, who had come to the Governor’s House to see me an hour or so before we were due to leave for the “gala evening”, I had asked to come along too. The three of us walked out, got into out car and drove to one of the Abbot Road eateries which Fayyaz, Asghar Latif Sheikh and I used to frequent when I was working at the Pakistan Times. There was one memorable moment during the “raid”. When some policemen tried to advance towards the terrified sisters Vimto and Coca Cola, General Rani screamed at them in Punjabi, “O kambakhto ainaan da naqsha kali pay kharab karday ho.”
We were flying to Rawalpindi the next day in the Fokker Friendship propeller plane that Bhutto then used. It was later that he got himself his Falcon executive jet. Obviously, the night’s proceedings had been reported to him. Khar had told Bhutto, I later learnt, that General Rani was badmouthing him all over Lahore. If there was one thing Bhutto could not take, it was abuse. He had no tolerance for it. The fact was that poor Aqleem Akhtar was not badmouthing Bhutto but perhaps badmouthing Khar. It was a small-minded act and unworthy of a man who has many good things going for him. A day after we arrived in Rawalpindi, or perhaps the same day, Bhutto summoned me to his office. The President’s secretariat was small and part of the estate at the other end of which lay the President’s House. We entered through the back gate when we came for work. This gate faced the Murree Brewery Company, which I always found a bit ironic. The President’s House and the Central Jail lay on either side of the road. Bhutto was hanged in the Central Jail – since turned into a park – by Zia-ul-Haq’s pliant Supreme Court in 1979. In any case, when I walked into Bhutto’s room, he was at his table, with nothing in front of him except a bank of telephones on sat on a side table. The room was bugged, something I knew because whenever a foreign television crew insisted on interviewing Bhutto in his office, the intelligence and security people got very nervous because they feared that the television crew might disturb their listening devices. “I was looking forward to a long association,” Bhutto began. I immediately noted the use of the past tense. He then said, “However, after the Lahore incident, it is somewhat embarrassing for me to continue, so what I have in mind is that you should go abroad. Your wife is also a foreigner. Just tell me where you want to go and I will send you there.” I told him I would think about it. I also asked him if I could return to the Pakistan Times. “No, no,” he said, “I don’t think so.” Then he added, “Let me know in a day or so.”
Before I left his room, he said that before I left, I should complete the project I was working on, which was the collection, editing and compilation of all his speeches and writings from his student days to his becoming the President of Pakistan. I had been given this assignment by him and I had been working at it like a dog for several months. The work was almost complete. I had translated scores of speeches and statements whose texts I had obtained from the Intelligence Bureau. Bhutto had said to me in the beginning after I told him that the job involved heavy editing, “I trust you; you know my style.” Many people have since told me that a bigger compliment than that you could not expect from Bhutto who trusted nobody. I came home and told my wife Juanita, though I spared her the details of the Lahore incident. I did tell her though and it is true as well that though Bhutto had a great deal of liking for me and continued to look after me and show me much kindness, he was troubled by what he considered idealistic and unrealistic liberal approach to press freedom, basic rights and government by law. I talked to some friends, including I.A. Rehman who was an assistant editor at the Pakistan Times and who had helped me get into the newspaper as to what I should do. “Go abroad,” he told me, “because if you don’t, ZAB will see it as defiance and that won’t be good.” So I told Bhutto after a few days, after consulting my wife, that I wanted to go to Paris. I wanted to go to Paris not because I spoke French, which I did not, but because I had always had this romantic vision of Paris. “Paris it shall be,” Bhutto told me and it was to Paris that I went.
It was while I was in Paris that because of almost wholesale defection of Bengali officers of the foreign service, it was decided to induct people in the service through what came to be known as lateral entry. I sat for the examination in Paris and came first. I was appointed counsellor in the foreign service and exempted from the short training course that others had to take since I was already serving abroad in a Pakistan foreign mission. Some time later, Bhutto told someone, “I did not send Khalid into foreign service; he came on his own. He was first.” He came to Paris on an official visit and was very nice to me. He asked me to write the brief remarks he was to make at the official banquet arranged for him by President Georges Pompidou. This, I should add as an aside, irked M. Yusuf Buch, whom Bhutto had made his special assistant for information. As another aside, I want to state here that it was I who repeatedly urged Bhutto to give Buch a nice job. One day, Bhutto got so irritated with me on this count that he said, “All right, I have heard you, all right.” I had a letter from Buch which I have lost in which he had said that I was the only one who was writing back to him. No one else had shown him that courtesy. This is not to say that Bhutto, who knew Buch very well and was more than familiar with his exceptional abilities, would not have given Buch a nice job; but at the same time, I want to point out that at the time, there was so much happening around Bhutto and there were so many people asking him for favours, that Buch’s very genuine request may have gone by default or suffered a long delay. I noticed in Paris to my great disappointment that Buch had become arrogant and treated me with the superciliousness that comes naturally to all Pakistanis who gain important positions. More than a quarter century that he had spent in New York, doing the more serious writing work for the Pakistan Permanent Mission had failed to make him any different from the garden variety Pakistani big wig.
My first posting as a foreign service officer proper was made to Ottawa where I arrived on an extremely cold morning in 1974 and where I stayed until Bhutto himself ordered my posting to London as press counsellor because, he told me, when he cam to Ottawa in spring 1976, that he was going to hold elections in Pakistan and he wanted an effective person in London because the Jamaat-i-Islami had an organised network in that city and they had to be fought off. I told Bhutto that for that I would need funds because the Jamaat and other such reactionary groups operated with a lot of resources. “Funds will be provided,” Bhutto replied grandly. He also told me that after the elections, he would have something for me. I took it to mean – and he did seem to mean it – an important position, possibly on his staff. No such thing happened and the only “funds” at my disposal remained my royal entertainment allowance of $129 a month for which the mad Gen. N.A. M. Raza, head of administration had devised a statement where you were supposed to list those on whom you had spent the kingly sum bequeathed to you by the Government of Pakistan to conquer the Western media and effectively put of commission the Prime Minister’s political enemies. However, I did the best I could with what I had. Only once did a special remittance of five thousand pounds came to me because of a complicated rigmarole the embassy had got itself into in order to deal with a libellous, blackmailing Pakistani rag called Awam which abused Bhutto and everything that he stood for in every issue. While Awam did go out of business because of several reports of bounced cheques and bad debts against the editor whose name was Nasrullah Khan, the “misuse of public funds” was considered important enough by the Zia-ul-Haq regime to devote several pages to it in the White Paper issued against Bhutto’s “abuse” of the media of information.
Off and on, during my time with Bhutto, I would keep an off-an-on diary. Here are its and bits from some of the entries:
Larkana, 9 February 1972: It has been a mad, unrelenting whirl of activity and travel since I began working with B. I have travelled more than 20,000 miles in one month. There was the North African trip first: Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Syria. Then came China, January 31 to February 2 – a come-and-go thing. Cold and precise with plenty of Chou En-lai and Chinese wine thrown in … I have heard a lot of stories about Yahya from Arshad Sami Khan who has been ADC for six years, having started with Ayub. Here is one. Yahya was drinking most of the time during the last days (of united Pakistan). But he was completely unruffled and unconcerned. Yahya had actually become an alcoholic. He would drink a few quick, stiff ones before every ceremony or meeting, Everyone took full advantage of his weakness. PIA for instance. The moment he went on board, they would start doling out the booze. Favourite Yahya recipe: half cognac, half scotch with plenty of ice. Arshad Sami says once they landed in Kathmandu and Yahya was fully drunk. He began to chat and joke with the reception line. Finally, he spied a pretty foreign reporter and just held her hand for nearly fifteen to twenty minutes and while she struggled with her taperecorder to get it all on tape, the assembled dignitaries watched with hushed embarrassment. Arshad Sami says, “I felt so disgraced I was wishing the earth would crack and swallow me.”
Rawalpindi, 24 April 1972: Martial Law is gone, though the Emergency remains and with it wide executive powers. There is a constitution … interim … ZAB wrote somewhere, ‘If I hear the word interim again, there will be trouble.’. The constitution is being described as parliamentary but it is not ‘it’ exactly. ZAB prefers a presidential system. There is nothing wrong with it except that without proper checks and balances, and a formidable committee system, it becomes despotic … Many things bother me. First of all, there is Rafi Raza. He is arrogant, self-willed and has pronounced fascist tendencies … Apparently, he used to be a very liberal person before ZAB came to power; but then he must always have been a limousine liberal who, when it comes to the crunch, is a latent fascist. Rafi is nervous, always nebulously preoccupied and in a state of quasi “flappiness”. He does have a lot on his plate which he obviously relished, though half heroically, he complains about it. Once I told him that the Supreme Court will give a judgment in the Gauhar-Jilani case which the government will not like. And he replied, “They dare not! We will screw them.” It shocked me because he is a lawyer … In front of ZAB, he is timid. I have never seen him having a truly adult conversation with him. I doubt if he will make a point he was sure would annoy ZAB. Rafi’s general attitude and stance are shared by all else in varying degrees of servility. They may make a point but they will not push hard if they apprehend displeasure or opposition from the President. I was in the early weeks at a small inner-party caucus at the President’s House. There was Jatoi, Kundi, Gen. Akbar, Pirzada, Mubashar and a couple of more chaps. Whenever the President would say something, they would pull out a notebook and scribble furiously. No questions were being asked.
Larkana, 5 May 1972: Arshad Sami says a lot of what he sees by way of servile behaviour or efforts to gloss over the truth, remind him of Ayub’s days. ZAB is the central figure, the source of all power, inspiration and authority … Perhaps when the legislatures are swinging freely and political debate and accountability become more than verbal concepts, things would change. They have to. Arbitrariness is dangerous. One man’s judgment is basically not always safe, although, so far, in all major crises, ZAB has instinctively and ultimately acted with political vision and plenty of commonsense … Maulana Kausar Niazi, who is information minister, actually had a PTV panel discussion held to discuss (in M.B. Naqvi’s words) “the grave situation arising out of the President’s refusal to accept the Nishan-i-Pakistan.” I tried to have it stopped by sending a note to ZAB on what I called “servile PR”. While ZAB reluctantly conceded that there was need to “curb the enthusiasm of the Minister”, he does not seem to have done anything of the sort. So perhaps he approves … Oriana Fallaci (whom I had told ZAB I did not trust) has published her interview and I have been vindicated. ZAB said the other day, “She was a bitch – a strange woman who exaggerated and distorted what I said.”
Larkana, 15 May 1972: Larkana is hot as hell. ZAB all right except that he wanted to see me the night before and I was at the Circuit House. He got angry with the ADC who could not trace me. Next morning, we had a chat. He gave me what he called “a big, major assignment”. He wants me to draft a kind of manifesto. Salient features: PPP only accepts the scientific, economic aspect of Marx, not dialectical materialism; the emergence of Bangladesh does not nullify the Two Nation Theory; the state is not an instrument of coercion nor will it or should it wither away; a classless society is a dream and perhaps not the best; talent and need and equal opportunity are the three cornerstones … ZAB says Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan told him in Lahore, “We shudder to think of the types you lent respectability to. They couldn’t even have made a municipal election, much less the assemblies.” “Isn’t that true!” ZAB said. He agreed that every big movement throws up oddities. I think oddities he understood to be the party’s radical left.
Quetta, 18-22 May 1972
Princess Ashraf Pehlavi, along with her daughter Princess Nilofar, arrived on the afternoon of the 19th. Received a big welcome, all PPP-staged. The NAP people played it cool. In the evening, Khan Abdul Qayoom Khan brought with him 43 Qayoom Muslim League volunteers, all wearing green caps and sashes. ZAB met them. The same evening, while strolling the streets, they had a skirmish with NAP supporters of Pakhtun Zalmes. QML men opened fire, two killed, probably bystanders. The city was electrified. Big crowd outside the Residency where ZAB and all of us are staying. Ghaus Bux Bizenjo and Sardar Ataullah Khan Mengal went to the gates to talk to the crowd. Princess Ashraf’s reception had already begun, though she and ZAB were still upstairs … In his banquet speech, ZAB said that many forces had conspired to make the Princess’s visit a failure. He charged the NAP, though indirectly, with what had happened. He said there was a conspiracy to prevent him from holding his public meeting on the 21st. “I am determined to hold it. If it is a success, we shall all rejoice. I’ll hold it even if I have to hold it alone. If it is a failure, I’ll not go back to Islamabad; I’ll go to Larkana,” he thundered. A hush fell over the banquet. I recorded ZAB’s speech and gave it to Haye Qureshi, an information chap for release. There was a cultural show. Meena Chadhry from Hira Mandi, Lahore, danced. Farida Khanum, Mehdi Hasan, Misri Khan Jamali and Nazir Begum were also there. I was in the main living room chatting with Farida Khanum when Bizenjo who was sitting in a corner with Mengal, Khair Bux Marri and Yahya Bakhtiar called me over and said, that portions in ZAB’s speech relating to the public meeting must be excised. I told him it was too late. He looked upset and much worried. He said something had to be done. I said I must ask ZAB. I walked out and he followed me. ZAB was with the Princess and a few others, including Khar. When I conveyed Bizenjo’s message, he asked Khar what he thought. “Since we are going to hold the meeting anyway, what does it matter,” he replied. “OK,” Bhutto said and that was that. The next hour or so I spent in trying to get the story withdrawn by APP.
Rawalpindi, 10 June 1972
ZAB is amazing. His energy and his capacity for work border on the unbelievable. I think he thrives on work. He would not do what to do were there no work. He recharges his batteries by working. Like all intelligent people, he is also an insomniac.
The day he was removed from the office to which he had been elected, the hostility in the streets that his government had encountered in the previous three months vanished completely. When he was briefly released, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets to welcome him. The city of Lahore that had seen some of the most massive anti-Bhutto demonstrations just days before suddenly became his bastion. Some opposition leaders who only a few days earlier would have been garlanded and raised shoulder high, were roughed up by the angry crowd. If the Zia gang had any second thoughts about Bhutto’s re-arrest, his emotional Lahore reception led to his imprisonment, trial and execution at the hands of pliant judges. It has been often said by Bhutto’s enemies that, if he was so popular, why did the people not mount any protests during his trial in Lahore and Rawalpindi? They have interpreted that to mean that Bhutto’s popularity was illusory. This is not true, but what is true is that it is not possible for unarmed civilians to stand up to armed force. The huge demonstrations in Iran that forced the Shah to flee and Ayatullah Khomenei to make his triumphant entry only took place because the army had turned against the King. Had the army stayed loyal to him, whatever the scale of the street protests, they would have been controlled, if not crushed.
The Zia-ul-Haq regime was repressive and cruel. According to one estimate, at least 80,000 people were given public lashings during his years in power and a great many were executed, some of them publicly in Lahore. It would have shown no compunction were it to come to a showdown with the people. However, that eventuality never arose.
Bhutto once said that the contradictions people saw in him were the contradictions of his society and the culture that had thrown him up. His failures and his strengths were the failures and strengths of his environment. The great Lahore public reception on his short-lived release was reminiscent of the pre-1970 election rallies. The same people who had been calling for his head and cheering people like Asghar Khan when he threatened to hang the Prime Minister at the Kohala Bridge, now wanted him to march at their head straight to the Governor’s House and capture it. Bhutto did not do so. One wonders what would have happened had he physically captured that great colonial symbol of state power. Would Zia have stormed it? Would he have been prepared to kill a large number of people because surely an onslaught of that kind would have been resisted? It is one of those imponderables and one really cannot say with certainty what would have happened that day had Bhutto, instead of going to the Nawab Khakwani residence where he was staying, gone where the crowd wanted him to go.
Bhutto changed the style of politics in Pakistan when he made a bid for power in 1967 with the formation of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Before him, the politics had been practised indirectly. He eliminated the middle man, the intermediary, the power broker, by going to the people directly. When he started, he hardly even spoke much of their language, but as he went along, he changed the diction, the vocabulary of political speech. His political rivals accused him of bringing things down to the street level and using street language, not realising that it was exactly what he had set out to do. Therein lay the secret of his popularity and his direct rapport with the masses. They said he indulged in “vulgarity” at his public meetings. What they called “vulgarity” was in Bhutto’s book speaking in the people’s language and getting down to their level. That was the only way, he had worked out, to have any direct communication with them.
Bhutto was the first politician to use colourful language. Unlike the great orators of the past like Syed Ataullah Shah Bukhari who could keep a crowed mesmerised for the better part of the night, flooding them with literary and religious references, reciting verse after Urdu verse and sentimentalising Islam, Bhutto did not even attempt to do any such thing because he was not equipped to do so. There was no learned pseudo-parliamentary sophistry to the political idiom that he evolved. The language that he used in speaking to them was new, raw, refreshing and much closer to the people’s day-to-day lives than the ‘nobler’ orations they had been subjected to in the past. People enjoyed listening to him and they liked his earthy humour. He made them laugh.
The veteran Muslim League politician Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, it was commonly believed, was gay. In one speech at Lahore in 1968, Bhutto said, “This Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan should be called double barrel Khan. He has a Khan in front and a Khan at the back. He also loves to eat kela – banana in Urdu - , one from the front and one from behind.” He had the crowd in stitches. He gave Air Marshal Asghar Khan a name he simply could not live down. He called him “Aaloo Kachaloo Khan”. Once at a meeting in Lahore in 1971, he took a dig at Yahya Khan. “O Yahya Khan, you have three caps. One cap says, Chief Martial Law Administrator, one cap says, President, one cap says, Chief of Army Staff. O’ Yahya, what cap are you wearing today because you keep changing your caps?” The crowd could not stop laughing. The West Pakistan Governor, General Muhammad Musa, made a speech about Bhutto in 1967 at Hyderabad where he called him “a leader of tonga and rickshaw walas”. Then he added, “I am going to take his pants off.” Bhutto’s reply came a few days later when he said, “If he takes my pants off, he will see something he may not have seen in all his army service.”
Before Bhutto, politicking was city-centred. He changed it by frequently moving out of the big cities into the countryside. The cities he had already taken by storm. He went to Pakistan’s small towns that no national politician had until then done on the scale on which Bhutto did. He once said that he had taken politics out of luxury living rooms into the streets, lanes and byways of Pakistan. He had gone to the countryside where the small people, the salt of the earth, resided. He would begin every address with: My dear workers, peasants, labourers and hard-working people of Pakistan. He also abandoned the established attire of the leader — the sherwani, cap and Aligarh pyjamas – to don what came to be known as the Awami dress, the long shirt and the baggy shalwar. Instead of the Jinnah cap, he put on a Mao cap, a powerful symbol of anti-imperialism that the people sympathised with. China had always been popular with the people of Pakistan and Bhutto took full advantage of that. No politician before him would have been caught dead dressed like that. Bhutto would also keep the top buttons of his long shirt, his kurta, undone. That gave him a kind of actor-like look. Once Sardar Muhammad Sadiq said he had a new name for Bhutto. Asked what the new name was, he replied, “Zulfi Bai, Larkanay wali.” Abdullah Butt used to say, “This man has become the leader of the Punjabis through the barak.” The barak is something very Punjabi. It is the loud menacing sound you hurl at your rival or enemy before charging him in a fight. No Punjabi movie is complete without the barak. The greatest hurlers of the barak in the Punjabi cinema were the late actors Mazhar Shah and Sultan Rahi.
It is ironic that in the last years of his rule, he was physically isolated from the very open spaces which he had roamed in his Awami kurta and Mao cap. He was back in fortified living room, available for the most part only to deferential courtiers and jacked up bureaucrats, intelligence chiefs (none of whom was able to predict the 5 July coup) and discredited feudal lords. Long before his overthrow, he had deprived himself of the advice of those who were capable of honest and wise advice. He had turned his back on his constituency and instead chosen to exercise power through the same functionaries and representatives of civilian and military bureaucracy that he had once denounced as irrelevant to the rhythm of Pakistani life.
When Bhutto fell, not a single one of the men he had surrounded himself with was a public representative. His original companions had mostly fallen by the wayside or been pushed out in favour of more those who asked no questions and offered no opinions except those they were sure would be in line with the leader’s own thinking. I am told, he did realise near the end that the men he had cast aside were his real friends and followers, but by then it was too late. The doomsday clock had started the countdown. In the brief interlude that he was allowed by the Zia-ul-Haq regime to breathe as a free man, he told my great friend, the late Inam Aziz, editor of the firebrand London Urdu daily Millat, that he now understood where he might have gone wrong. He said he wanted another chance to start all over again, back to the real fountainhead of his power, but history is merciless and it awaits neither king nor beggar. It had moved on. Repentance can only pay dividends if it is done in good time. Repentance out of office may be privately redeeming but it cannot undo the wrongs that have been done. I may add that one of my tasks in London was to save clippings for Bhutto’s personal records. I would send them periodically by bag to his private secretary, a great character called Zahid Hussain who was a phenomenal typist and shorthand taker. He was Bhutto’s personal assistant when he was foreign minister. When I resigned from the foreign service after the coup, one of the things I took away from the embassy was a thick pile of clippings that I had been saving for Bhutto, also some books that I had bought for him. I asked Inam Aziz to give them to ZAB. Inam said he was both moved and pleased and said, “Please thank Khalid.”
Bhutto was born into affluence and he was aristocratic by temperament. He always knew where he was going. He wanted to court fame, first as an actor, then a cricketer, then an architect and, finally, a politician and statesman. He was never frivolous and he did not make friends easily. During his entire life, he did not enter into more than two or three deep friendships, his best friend being his schoolfellow in Bombay Piloo Mody. Bhutto was a shy and private man with a profound sense of personal dignity. Those who slighted him, even unwittingly, or even in jest, were rarely forgiven, if at all. At the same time, he remembered good turns he had been done, no matter how minor. Even kind gestures made were remembered and acknowledged in palpable ways. He once asked me to check out a certain person next time I went to Lahore. When I did go to Lahore, I found that the man was saying bad things about Bhutto all over the place. I came back and only told him what I had learnt when he asked me. His brow furrowed. “His credit in my books has not quite run out yet,” he said. I shuddered to think what would happen when the man’s credit did run out.
Bhutto admired his father Sir Shahnawaz Ali Khan Bhutto deeply and was bitter about his not having been treated right in Pakistan or even given his due place by the chroniclers of Pakistan’s history. He believed that his father had played a crucial role in the movement for the political emancipation of the Muslims of India. In his own rise to fame and political office, Bhutto saw the vindication of his father. The son had claimed finally what the father had been denied. Once he showed me an old document in his library — which was superb with its unique collection of books on Napoleon – which referred to Sir Shahnawaz in glowing terms while describing the Quaid-i-Azam as “a Muslim leader”. Then he added, “But of course we can’t say this to anyone, can we?” But it was his mother whom Bhutto really loved. He once told me that he had learnt compassion for the downtrodden and the poor from her. There can be and have been Freudian explanations about his relationship with his parents and how the sense of hurt he felt on her behalf affected and shaped his character, but I leave such interpretations to those who know more about the inexact science, if it be science, called psychology.
He went to Berkeley on the eve of the establishment of Pakistan and stayed abroad until 1953. In Berkley, he had two of his friends with him, Omar Kureishi who knew him from his school days and Bashir A. Khan. Bhutto cut a dashing figure at the university and became well known as a debater. He studied under Kelsen, the progenitor of the infamous Doctrine of Necessity under whose baleful protection so many military dictators have ruled Pakistan and had their acts, including their abrogation of their constitutional oath of office, legally upheld. Omar Kureishi told me of a most amusing incident from their Berkeley days. Bhutto, Omar and another friend were having a drink in a bar that they sometimes went to. There they met an old Englishman who ordered them a drink. They in turn ordered a drink for him. The old Englishman raised his glass and said, “Gentlemen, to the Queen.” Bhutto rose to his feet, raised his glass high in the air and said, “Fuck the Queen.” The Englishman put his glass down without putting it to his lips, stepped down from the bar stool on which he was perched , walked three steps and punched Bhutto on his right cheek. Bystanders intervened and no further toasts were drunk or blows dealt out.
From 1950 to 1953, Bhutto was at Oxford, studying under Prof. Hugh Trevor-Roper among others, and at Lincoln’s Inn where he was called to the bar. He returned to Karachi, and set up a legal practice by joining the extant chambers of a well known Hindu lawyer. He was 25 years of age and the world was his oyster. He was much in evidence socially and he kept his ear close to the ground. Because of his family, his youth, his breeding, his dashing personality and his money, he was soon moving in the higher political and government circles.
He returned home at a time when the four West Pakistan provinces were being hammered together into a single unnatural bloc to be called West Pakistan so that the power elite in the West could outdo East Pakistan. The young Bhutto, like all Sindhis, Balochis and Pashtuns, was opposed to this cynical move being sold to the people in the name of national unity. However, all his opposition amounted to in practical terms was a six-paragraph statement carried on the inside pages of The Dawn. By the time, Pakistan’s first coup d’etat took place in October 1958, Bhutto had made enough friends in the right quarters to be admitted to the inner circle of Iskandar Mirza and his glamorous wife, the Iranian-born Naheed. The fact that he was from a Sindhi land-owning family, the son of a knight, a barrister-at-law and young and charming, made him into something of a catch. He was taken into the first cabinet announced by Gen. Ayub Khan and so, at the age of 31, young Zulfi could say that he had arrived.
He rose rapidly. He was young, articulate and ambitious. He was also single-minded in the pursuit of his political career. It was natural for him to soon become the regime’s intellectual and ideological warrior. Once at a gathering of university students as Lahore, where he had been invited to speak, he reacted to persistently hostile questioning by students as to the legitimacy of the regime he was representing by taking off his jacket and saying, “Step out and I will deal with you,” or words to that effect. The gesture was greatly appreciated, he from then on being seen as one of the boys. He became the principal idea man of the Ayub government. It was he who suggested that all civil servants should be inducted into the ruling party, and even that Ayub should declare himself as Field Marshal, which he did. Bhutto did not believe in the British concept of civil service neutrality, something that became far more evident when he came to power. But in those early days, his goal was to become Pakistan’s foreign minister, something for which he did not have to wait long. He had a natural ability to put disparate things together and not only see the trees but also be aware of the wood. He could group intricate issues together and thread them with logic. Pakistan’s politics is unlikely to have a leader with a sharper mind than Bhutto’s. His intelligence was in the exceptional category. His grasp of issues was immediate. He had the rare ability of quickly separating the inessential from the essential, something few of us are able to do. He did not waste his time and he did not suffer fools.
Ayub treated him like a son and he used to call him daddy. Once when the cuckolded civil servant husband of a woman of legendary beauty with a reputation came to Ayub to complain that his foreign minister was sleeping with his wife, Ayub called in Bhutto the next day and said, “Zulfi, toon baaz aa ja varna mein teri … kup dayan gaa.” Or, Zulfi, you better lay off or I will snip off that thing of yours. As minister of industries, Bhutto was instrumental in the signing of a cooperation agreement, the first major one, with the Soviet Union. The Americans never forgot that and continued to view Bhutto with suspicion as the man mainly responsible for making Ayub multiply his options and form closer bilateral relationships. Bhutto’s role in the establishment of close ties with China cannot be overemphasised. In those days, when the United States still believed in the fiction of Two Chinas, any country trying to draw close to mainland China was not exactly a friend. And here was Pakistan, heavily dependent on American aid, both economic and military. While Bhutto was the principal influence on Ayub in Pakistan’s move towards bilateralism, the ultimate credit must go to Ayub Khan who accepted the advice. He could as easily have said no and the Americans never let him forget that he was following a dangerous course. History has shown that Bhutto was the most farsighted of Ayub’s advisers and ministers. The Shoaibs of Ayub’s days have been all but forgotten and if they are remembered at all it is invariably with an amount of embarrassment, while Bhutto’s contribution to the widening of Pakistan’s options as a state is acknowledged even by those who do not usually see eye to eye with him .
The 1965 war with India, some people like Altaf Gauhar and Air Marshal Asghar Khan, have claimed was of Bhutto’s making. This is a ridiculous charge. How can a government which at best was a benign dictatorship be forced into a war by one of the cabinet ministers. In any case, in Pakistan it is the Pakistan army which has been the immediate and the ultimate decision maker when it has come to war or relations with India. Even if the entire cabinet of Ayub Khan and every member of his National Assembly, not to forget Basic Democrats, had decided unanimously that Pakistan should make war on India, not a single bullet could have been fired were the Pakistan army against such a course. In any case, in 1965 Ayub was totally on top of everything and not a leaf stirred without his express orders or assent. How can then Bhutto alone be castigated for forcing Pakistan into a war? I once asked Altaf Gauhar, one of the principle architects of this theory and Ayub’s powerful Secretary of Information and Broadcasting in 1965, why he thought Bhutto wanted a war with India. His answer was quite amazing and unbecoming of a man of his intelligence and good sense. He replied that Bhutto knew that a post-war Ayub would be weak and it would then be easy to topple him.
This is simply not acceptable because it is an argument that rests on too many improbables. It also makes Bhutto into a traitor who could not care less what happened to his country and its people as long as he could weaken the President and push him aside. In any case, in 1965, Bhutto’s stock in the Ayub government was running high and he enjoyed the President’s implicit trust. Gauhar always said that the first he heard of Operation Gibraltar, the plan to send plainclothes soldiers across the Ceasefire Line, was when he was summoned one morning and asked to arrange the setting up of a “clandestine” radio station that was to be called Voice of Kashmir or Sadai Kashmir. The radio lasted a week or two longer than Operation Gibraltar and the 17-day September war operated from Rawalpindi and not Kashmir’s “liberated” areas. What Gauhar’s grouse was that he who at the time considered himself and was considered by the general public as the man closest to Ayub, had been kept out of the small committee that planned the Operation. Had Gauhar been a part of it, he would not have blamed Bhutto or Aziz Ahmed or Gen. Akhtar Hussain Malik. Gauhar’s hatred for Bhutto was visceral, despite the fact that he had made up with him after having been jailed by him on trumped up charges. But that is another story and it does not belong here.
Operation Gibraltar could have worked, had there been preparation for it. The first thing wrong with it was that no Kashmiri leader had been taken into confidence. K.H. Khurshid who on learning of the plans ran from pillar to post in Rawalpindi trying to talk the Government of Pakistan out of what he predicted correctly would turn out to be a political if not military morass. This was seen as an attempt to sabotage the plan to finally grab Kashmir. He was picked up from Mir Waiz Maulana Muhammad Yusuf’s house, thrown into a jeep and driven along the Jehlum Valley Road, past Murree and thrown into the infamous Dalai Camp. In fact, he was the first prisoner of Dalai Camp. Long before independence, the Dalai Camp overlooking the River Jehlum used to serve as the occasional hideout of the colourful Maharaja Pratab Singh of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh’s uncle. There he would be, sitting in a reclining chair, watching the river flow by and smoking opium. Operation Gibraltar went awry because it was ill-planned and ill-prepared though well intentioned. Pakistan’s armed forces at the time had the kind of parity with India which, though in the latter’s favour, was still seen as suited to the achievement of major gains. Had those gains been made and had the hoped-for uprising in the Valley taken place, it is possible that India would have been forced to negotiate a solution of the Kashmir question that would have satisfied Pakistan. Ayub agreed for the operation to go ahead with the greatest reluctance, but he it is who must take final responsibility because the desk where the “buck stopped” had him on the other side. So ill prepared was the operation that when they infiltrators appeared in the Valley, few were sure of who they were. Quite a few were turned in. After it was all over, it was the people of Kashmir who had to bear heavy penalties and reprisals at the hands of the Indians. Refugees from the 1965 stayed in camps in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan well into the 1970s. To sum up, Operation Gibraltar was irresponsible.
One of the charges against Bhutto and his foreign secretary Aziz Ahmed is that they assured Ayub that under no circumstances would India cross the international border. If they did so, it was an opinion and opinions can be wrong and often are when countries go to war. What should have been kept in view was the Indian position that Kashmir was an integral part of India, its “atoot ang”, and an attack on Kashmir was an attack on India. Pakistan, of course, held – and holds to this day – that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory under Security Council resolutions. However, it was unwise to ignore or overlook the fact that India had long since repudiated those resolutions and no longer considered undertakings given at the UN binding. One should always look at things from the point of view of the enemy and not entirely from one’s own. The point to note is that it is unfair to hold Bhutto entirely responsible for Operation Gibraltar or the 17-day war that it led Pakistan and India into.
Bhutto stayed on in the government and, in fact, wrote the first draft of the Tashkent Declaration that he later denounced as a sell-out. He also defended it in the National Assembly. However, in the public mind, he was seen as not associated with the anti-climax that was Tashkent. Pictures of Bhutto looking drawn and unhappy were viewed as evidence that he had had nothing to do with the betrayal of Kashmir and that the blood of Pakistan’s martyrs was not on his hands. One joke going the rounds in those days ran that when Bhutto was woken up in the middle of the night to be told of Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Sahstri’s death from a massive heart attack, the man who brought him the news said, “Sir, the bastard is dead.” “Which bastard?” Bhutto asked. Tashkent was a turning point in Bhutto’s political career and the history of Pakistan. He knew that the nation, thrown into a state of jingoistic euphoria by the Altaf Gauhar-run Ministry of Information would find it hard to live with the disillusionment, if not humiliation, of a dictated peace. Gauhar who later became Bhutto’s main accuser insofar as apportioning blame for the 1965 war was concerned, preferred to forget his own role. He not only had the entire state-run media in the country extolling the great battle between the forces of light and dark, as Pakistan and India were portrayed, but after the ceasefire, went round to various fronts and filed stories that duly appeared on the front pages of the newspapers of the National Press Trust. One of the stories that moved people deeply was that of a simple village pesh-imam who met his end at the hands of the Indian army while bravely intoning the call to prayers. The story was called ‘The Last Azan’. It later turned out to have been a hoax. Nasir Ahmed Farooki, who had no doubt about its not being a hoax, was right to include it Under the Green Canopy, an anthology of Pakistani short stories that he published under his short-lived Afro-Asian Book Club in Lahore. It was Muslehuddin who worked for the Associated Press of Pakistan at the time who summed up Gauhar’s foray into patriotic journalism in a memorable one-liner. He said, “Altaf Gauhar is not a war corespondent: he is a post-war correspondent.”
Bhutto knew that a military ruler who takes his country to war and then fails to win cannot last long after the fiasco. He also knew that the fate of Kashmir was now forever sealed. There would be no comebacks. Over the years, he had come to be regarded as Pakistan’s most eloquent spokesman on Kashmir. He could not allow himself for long to be associated with what people saw as the bartering away of the national interest at Tashkent. And although Bhutto had to defend the Accord in and out of parliament, in private conversations he began to distance himself from it. During the war, in a meeting with the US ambassador in Rawalpindi, Bhutto had accused America of “stabbing us in the back” and assuming neutrality between an ally and an aggressor. In so doing, he charged, Washington was siding with New Delhi. The Americans did not forget that. However, the Americans were not too thrilled about Tashkent because it had given the Soviet Union more than a toe-hold in the subcontinent. Once things had settled down, the United States began an effort to mend its fences with Ayub. However, it saw Bhutto as a bad influence on Ayub who was always pushing him towards China and who favoured a militant, defiant stance against India. To what extent was the US responsible for Bhutto being sent home, is not clear, but what is clear is that when Ayub did send him packing, no tears were shed in Washington.
Nobody was more surprised by the spontaneous public reception he received after leaving the Ayub cabinet than Bhutto himself. He travelled by train from Rawalpindi to Karachi and wherever the train stopped, there were milling crowds to greet him, especially at Lahore where his welcome was highly emotional. Bhutto’s course of action was now clear. He had to cash in on the sense of national disgrace that people felt after Tashkent. No effort was necessary, because it was already believed, and believed widely, to convince the people that he, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had left the government because he had refused to be part of the nation’s betrayal at Tashkent. But he moved cautiously. He first thought of joining one of the existing political parties but being a good politician, thought better of it. He knew that he needed a new platform and a new party. He travelled abroad – which is what Ayub wanted him to do – cooled his heels in Europe for a while and used his time to meet expatriate Pakistanis to test the waters, as it were. He found widespread disillusionment with Ayub and his regime. He also found that he was not being associated with any of the misdeeds of the government he had just left and of which he had been such an important member. In Paris he met J.A. Rahim, the veteran diplomat who was Pakistan’s ambassador on the verge of retirement. Rahim was a die-hard socialist and he it was who convinced Bhutto that he must form a new party with a new, progressive platform. It was Rahim who wrote the manifesto of the new party and what came to be known as its foundation documents. I am not sure if it was Bhutto or Rahim who chose the name the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) but the name was an instant hit. It caught the imagination of the people.
The PPP was formed in Lahore in 1967 by what the Pakistan Times called – I being the author of the report – “briefless lawyers, crypto communists and plucked students”. The “convention” was held under a canopy on the front lawn of Dr Mubashar Hasan’s house on Gulberg’s Main Boulevard. His wife later complained that all plants and flower beds had been ruined. I went there with Maqbul Sharif, my senior colleague, and found no more than a couple of hundred people. The man most in evidence was the firebrand student leader Ahmed Raza Kasuri, who, ironically, only twelve years later would cause Bhutto to be executed on the gallows for the murder of his father. The PPP was slow to start but in a few months’ time, partly because of the government’s standard heavy-handed tactics and partly because of the appeal Bhutto had among students, the party took off in the Punjab. And that is the province where its main appeal has lain. Bhutto’s “political goondaism”, as Abdullah Butt put it, had caught the imagination of the Land of Five Rivers. Butt also used to call Bhutto “Syasi Dilip Kumar”. And as mentioned elsewhere earlier, the great political wag of Lahore, Sardar Muhammad Sadiq had given him the title: Zulfi Bai Larkanay Wali.
The government did what the government, any government, has always done in our country. It began to register cases against Bhutto, some of them so ridiculous that they caused nationwide mirth. Bhutto was accused of having used government-owned tractors on his land in Sindh. He was stalked by police and intelligence agents wherever he went. His phone calls were monitored. His mail was opened and, through it, those who were seen as sympathetic to him were paid visits by gentlemen in dark glasses and plain clothes. This did not scare Bhutto. In fact, he welcomed it. By now, Ayub had fallen ill, having suffered a stroke, and Bhutto knew that the man who had stood over Pakistan like a colossus was tottering. As Abdullah Butt once declared over Sunday morning tea in Shezan after he got tired of reading statements from Ayub’s ministers and sycophants that the President’s hands should be “strengthened”, “I say somone also strengthen his feet because he is going.” The official media was pressed into service against Bhutto. The only newspaper that accorded him space and positive coverage was Nawai Waqt. Newspapers and the state-owned radio and television notwithstanding, Bhutto’s popularity grew by the day. He now epitomised all the anger that the people had nurtured for years against the authoritarian Ayub regime.
At first carefully, then openly, he began to attack Ayub. In those days, it was unthinkable to do so. Bhutto broke that taboo and, thereafter, as the movement against Ayub grew, the streets would reverberate with the day’s most popular slogan: Ayub kutta hai hai. Down with Ayub the dog. It is ironic but the movement against Ayub began almost the very day the Information Ministry-planned and choreographed one entire year of “celebrations” to mark ten years of Ayub in power ended. Public patience with Ayub had run its course. Protests that had begun in big cities now moved to smaller towns and then the countryside, especially in East Pakistan. While in East Pakistan, the beneficiary of this situation was Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and his Awami League, in West Pakistan, it was Bhutto who spearheaded the anti-Ayub movement. Of course there were many other factors that had turned the people against Ayub. He had been in power for a decade and for one whole year, under Altaf Gauhar’s advice, the entire nation had been subjected to the celebration of what was called the ‘Decade of Reforms’. Day in and day out, that is all you heard on the radio and saw on the television. That was all you read in the government-owned newspaper. It was sickening. Then there was the corruption of Ayub’s sons, especially the eldest, former Captain Gauhar Ayub, who had simply taken over the General Motors plant in Karachi. His Gandhara Motors became a rallying cry as the crowds took to the street. People also resented the unchallenged power of the CSP mafia which was seen as accountable to no one. Then there was the regime’s draconian hold over the information media, not to mention the wide powers given to the intelligence agencies and the arbitrary manner in which these powers were exercised. Last but not least, Ayub was not a well man. He was no longer the dashing, resolute figure of the past who strutted across the length and breadth of Pakistan. Altaf Gauhar once told me that had Ayub’s health not deteriorated, “we would have swung it.” Maybe yes, maybe no; it is one of those what-if questions that nobody knows the answer to.
Bhutto attacked the regime, initially, by innuendo and in humour which soon turned into frontal attack on Ayub’s person, his family, his politics and his corruption. Bhutto’s main theme, however, remained the “great betrayal” at Tashkent. He would always say at his public meetings or in statements that he would “reveal” the secret of Tashkent at the “appropriate time”. He never did for the simple reason that there was no secret to reveal. How Bhutto exactly expected Ayub to go has not been clear. He boycotted the Roundtable Conference (RTC) finally called by Ayub, who by then was so weak that he had even agreed to the politicians’ demand (though not Bhutto’s) to release Mujib and fly him to Rawalpindi. Two politicians boycotted the RTC: Bhutto and the wily socialist from East Pakistan, Maulana Bhashani. The talks ended in confusion. S.M. Zafar, Ayub’s law minister, told some of us in Lahore when he flew in for a quick visit and to “take the temperature” of the city, that if the politicians failed to give Ayub an exit with honour, the army would take over. General Yahya Khan was, by then, already planning his deftly-executed coup. I remember a meeting Bhutto addressed in Lahore at which he said, “The conspirators are holding their RTC in Rawalpindi, but I am holding my RTC here in Lahore with my awam.” The cheering and the slogans were deafening. ‘Jeeway Bhutto’ was all one heard. Voices of reason nobody paid attention to.
Ayub’s end was swift. Yahya Khan took over in 1969. Ayub had come through a coup: he went with one. ‘Those who live by the sword …’ This was the second martial law in Pakistan’s 22-year history. As soon as the army took power, the agitation in the streets died out. The relief at Ayub’s exit was so great that for some time nobody quite realised that the country was once again in the grip of the army. My old friend, Zafar Rathore, is fond of saying, “The Pakistan army has always fulfilled the will of the people of Pakistan and after doing so, it has always decided to stay.” Yahya Khan promised elections. He also took some major decisions including the disbanding of the unpopular One Unit of West Pakistan that had played havoc with the interests of smaller provinces of Sindh, Balochistan and Frontier.
Yahya Khan, like all military dictators, also decided to stay on. While it is true that he held elections — some say the fairest in Pakistan’s history, though I disagree – he had no intention of making a genuine, meaningful transfer of power. He wanted to remain in the driving seat even after the elections had been held. It was the regime’s view that a whole range of political parties and groups would be returned to parliament, which would enable Yahya to preside over what in Urdu is called “choon choon ka murraba”. The regime was pumping money into right-wing parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami and some factions of the Muslim League. The “staff scenario” that the advisers and strategists of the regime had prepared turned out to have been entirely wrong. The Awami League swept East Pakistan, while Bhutto’s PPP emerged triumphant in Punjab and Sindh. What was the General going to do now? He procrastinated, playing games, first with Mujib, then with Bhutto. Mujib and his supporters were getting more and more headstrong because of Yayhya’s dithering. The more confusing the signals that emanated from Yahya, the greater the pressure of Mujib to take the secessionist road.
It was Mujib’s mistake not to strike a deal with Bhutto. The West Pakistani politicians whom Bhutto had defeated were bitter and they wanted their revenge on him. Their influence on Mujib also played a part in the hardening of the Awami League’s position. They told Mujib that Bhutto could not be trusted. They assured him that he was hand in glove with the army and so he would see to it that Mujib does not come to power. Bhutto has been much maligned for his “intransigence” but there was no one more intransigent than Mujib. With each passing day, his attitude hardened. Some of the people around him, men like Rehman Subhan, the author of the concept of Two Economies for Pakistan and the economic godfather of Six Points, were by now out and out secessionists. They constantly urged him to move towards separation. India, which was not exactly short of its sympathisers in the Awami League camp, used the opportunity, the political vacuum that Yahya’s dithering had created to push Mujib more and more towards secession. What could have prevented the breakup of Pakistan, it has been asked? First things first. The results of the election of 1970 notwithstanding, the National Assembly should have been convened without haste and allowed to find the compromise that was needed, given the fact that the majority party in East Pakistan had managed to win not s single seat in West Pakistan and the majority party in the West had not even fielded candidates in the East. Politicians, given the opportunity to meet and interact, would have found a workable compromise. This, unfortunately, Yahya Khan did not allow.
It has been said that the National Assembly was not summoned because Bhutto had declared in Lahore — I was present at that meeting and I reported it with Syed Amjad Hussain, my chief reporter, for the Pakistan Times – that he would break the legs of those who went to Dhaka. This happened in February, but between December 1970 and February 1971, the signals coming from Yahya certainly did not suggest that transfer of power was going to take place. Once the elections were over, the army’s role should have ended. And had Yahya wanted to remain the figurehead President of Pakistan, there is every likelihood that Mujib would have agreed. But at no time was Yahya or his deputies and those who spoke on his behalf were straight. Bhutto did make one effort to come to an understanding with Mujib. He sent a team made up of Mian Mahmood Ali Qasuri, Dr Mubashar Hasan and Skipper Abdul Hafiz Kardar to meet Mujib and other Awami League leaders but the three interlocutors returned empty-handed. Mujib appeared unwilling.
It is my view that had Mujib come to Pakistan after winning the election and gone to every major city and town and held public meetings and interacted with people direct, he would have been able to defeat whatever the conspiracies that were being hatched or were to be hatched. He did no such thing, placing more reliance on army intelligence-fed reports that his life would not be safe in West Pakistan than his own instincts and his charisma as a political leader.
Bhutto has been singly held responsible for the breakup of Pakistan. Over the years, the right-wing parties, the religious zealots, the self-aggrandising patriots, generals in and out of uniform, have all put the blame for 1971 on Bhutto’s doorstep, attributing it to his blind ambition and love for power. It has been said that had Bhutto only gone to Dhaka and not boycotted the National Assembly session that was to take place on 3 March, Pakistan would have remained one and united. Such criticism, which is an article of faith with many people, does not take into account the strange and anomalous situation that the results of the 1970 elections had created. I would like to quote from two speeches Bhutto made, both at Lahore, one on 22 February 1971 and one on 28 February. I was present at the second one which he made at Minar-e-Pakistan in Iqbal Parks, Lahore. In fact, while the main speech was reported by my chief reporter Syed Amjad Hussain, I wrote the sidebar story for the Pakistan Times. Let’s examine without prejudice and preconceived ideas what Bhutto said and what response he received from the Awami League.
In his first speech on 22 February, delivered at the Punjab University New Campus, Bhutto said, speaking in English, “I know some people are demanding that we should explain our stand in the National Assembly in accordance with established democratic principles. True, a constitution is framed after debate and discussion in the Assembly, but we are faced with a peculiar situation. It would have been a different matter were a Constituent Assembly already in existence. Since the Awami League calls the Six Points the basis of the constitution, no room is left for any compromise whatsoever on that stand. It would not be helpful if a deadlock was created in the Assembly on account of these two factors. Is it not better not to hold the National Assembly session until these problems are resolved outside the Assembly? … We want a constitution, not a deadlock. We would have participated in the framing of the constitution had it not been already written on the basis of Six Points and had there been no limit of 120 days. It would have been another matter if this one were the first Constituent Assembly. But the mutual distrust of the past 23 years, coupled with the atmosphere in which the year-long electioneering campaign was conducted has generated extremism. It has lead to the playing up of the Six Points. We won the election on the basis of a new economic system and an independent foreign policy. They had the Six Points as their prime problem, while economic deterioration and independent foreign policy were the issues we raised … I held conferences with my colleagues in Lahore, Multan and Karachi. We retreated so much that people began to ask what had happened to Bhutto. But it is regrettable that Mr Mujib remained rigid. Those politicians who has lost their securities in the elections made a beeline for Dhaka. The Sheikh then thought that he had succeeded in his mission. The President of Pakistan went to Dhaka and announced that Mujib would be the Prime Minister of the country. Both said they had had satisfactory talks, so it was presumed that the constitution had virtually been framed. But we have a duty to those millions who elected us. Their views on the constitution have to be heard and taken into account before it is finalised. We shall try our best to live up to the expectations of the people. We have regard and respect for all. Let the newspapermen take note of it. If any of them misreports, please remember others have heard me and can bear witness.”
In his much maligned and much misquoted speech of 28 February, Bhutto said, “I propose two alternatives to resolve the present crisis – postponement of the National Assembly session of removal of the 120 day limit for the Assembly to frame a constitution. If either of these alternatives is accepted, I shall go to Dhaka tomorrow to meet Mr Mujibur Rehman to resolve the pre-session deadlock. If the session of the Assembly is held on March 3, as scheduled without PPP’s participation, I shall launch a popular agitation from one end of West Pakistan to the other … I have never opposed the Six Points, although the programme is not acceptable to me personally. However, we narrowed down our disagreement to foreign trade and foreign aid which cannot be entrusted to the provincial governments. Both the subjects are concomitants of foreign affairs and should be in the charge of the federal government if the centre is to be effective. Agreement can be arrived at on inter-wing currency arrangements and on taxation power but we cannot give in on foreign trade and aid. I refute the allegation levelled by Mr Mujibur Rehman that I have been placing impediments in the transfer of power. This allegation is a lie. It is unimaginable that I could be in league with bureaucrats or the capitalists or the regime, or any foreign power, because all of them have shown consistent hostility to the People’s Party … East Pakistani leaders wanted a federal constitution for the country and the PPP agreed to it. But in that case, the federal constitution must be endorsed by each federating unit. It is being suggested that the PP should accept the normal democratic procedure and debate the constitution on the floor of the House. But it should not be forgotten that an extraordinary situation has arisen because the Awami League has already drafted a Six Point constitution and wants the Assembly to rubber-stamp it. And at the same time, a 120-day limit has been imposed for the framing of the constitution …
“I have never talked of a ‘strong centre’ as I believe that it was because of a strong centre that East Pakistan suffered exploitation. We want an effective centre although with a minimum number of subjects. This is in the interest of the country. It is being suggested that the centre should only be responsible for defence and foreign affairs, and that foreign trade and foreign aid should be under the provinces. I wonder how the defence of the country can be managed and independent foreign policy pursued without the centre having control over foreign trade and aid. Without trade and aid being federal subjects, Pakistan would not be able to survive as one country … The Awami League is in favour of a federal system in Pakistan but there is no country in the world where a federal system can operate without a bicameral legislature. I am prepared to accept a federation in which all the federating units can enjoy equal autonomy. What is not acceptable to me is that one province should have more autonomy than others. If East Pakistan is to have autonomy, a similar quantum of autonomy should be provided for the Punjab, Sindh, Frontier and Balochistan. It has been pleaded that the two wings of the country have two separate economies. It has been subsequently maintained that their politics is different too. And, finally, it has been suggested that they should have two separate constitutions. If Pakistan is one country, it must have one integrated constitution. One document containing two different constitutions for East and West wings would be an oddity, which would not be acceptable to the people ….
“I have also been accused of hurling insults at East Pakistan. Exception has been taken to my statement that the PPP members would be ‘double hostages’ in East Pakistan and that the National Assembly would be a ‘slaughter house’ for them. I cannot afford to be away from West Pakistan for 120 days when Indian troops are massed on the West Pakistan borders. My duty is to be with my people when their security is being threatened. I had described the Assembly as a ‘slaughter house’ in the context of amendments and what the brute majority by the Awami League would do to them. I cannot dream of insulting East Pakistan where the majority of the population of the country lives. In fact, the people of West Pakistan felt insulted when the Prime Minister-to-be of the country refused to visit their half of the land. My insistence on an understanding between the major parties on the basic constitutional issues was and is well intentioned. I have kept the door open for negotiations and am prepared to go to Dhaka if the necessary assurance is given to me that my point of view along with reasonable suggestions would be considered dispassionately … But in the present circumstances, how can PPP members attend the National Assembly session? If they go there and abstain what good will it do? If they rubber stamp the Awami League’s draft constitution they will have no leg to stand upon on their return to their respective constituencies here. Voting for the Awami League draft constitution will be like breaking the backbone of national integrity. It will not be allowed. If the National Assembly meets on 3rd March, my party will launch a campaign of protest … Former Constituent Assemblies took years to frame constitutions. The 1956 constitution was prepared after the Assembly had debated it for seven years. The 1962 constitution was the result of a three-year debate. It is surprising that in the case of the present Assembly, a 120-day time limit has been imposed. If the two alternatives – postponement of the session and the removal of the time limit – are not accepted, the present deadlock would continue. That would mean the end of democracy in the country.”
Another charge against Bhutto that does not go away is that had he not declared at a Nishtar Park, Karachi public meeting, addressing Mujibur Rehman, “Uddhar tum, iddhar hum.” (You stay there, we stay here), Pakistan would have remained united. These words are said to have set the seal on Pakistan’s dismemberment. The truth is that these words were never said by Bhutto. It was Abbas Athar, news editor of the Lahore Urdu daily Azad, who ran the Bhutto speech under this brilliant though misleading headline. Abbas Athar was a pastmaster at thinking up such startling headlines. This famous headline appeared in Azad on 15 March 1971. What Bhutto had said was, “If power is to be transferred to the people before a constitutional settlement, then it is only fair that in East Pakistan, it should go to the Awami League and in the West to the Pakistan People’s Party, because while the former is the majority party in that wing, we have been returned by the people of this side.”
Yet another charge that does not go away is that Bhutto tore up a Polish Resolution in the Security Council that, if accepted, would have saved Pakistan in 1971. Some years ago, I decided to fish out the text of this much-hyped Polish Resolution that is mentioned in the same breath to this day with the breakup of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. Here are the facts. What Bhutto tore up was not this Resolution but his notes and doodles. Iftikhar Ali, the distinguished Associated Press of Pakistan correspondent, who was then based at the United Nations and was present in the Security Council, walked up to Bhutto’s table and picked up all the torn up papers, examined them carefully and put them back, before rushing out after Bhutto to get a comment from him before filing his report. And now for the Polish Resolution. On 15 December 1971, the Security Council met at Bhutto’s request. Bhutto had agreed to rush to the United Nations as it debated the war and crisis in East Pakistan. Two draft resolutions had been submitted to the Council on that day. There was an Anglo-French resolution that called for a cessation of hostilities, the urgent conclusion of a comprehensive political settlement and the appointment by the UN Secretary General of a Special Representative to “lend his good offices, in particular for the solution of humanitarian problems.”
There was also a Polish resolution that called for peaceful transfer of power in the Eastern theatre of conflict to “the representatives of the people lawfully elected in December 1970.” It also called for negotiations between India and Pakistan for troop withdrawals in the Western theatre. Now if any resolution should have been accepted by Bhutto, it should have been the Anglo-French one. However, by now this really was all academic as Gen. Niazi had already thrown in the towel and East Pakistan under Indian bayonets had become Bangladesh. Bhutto’s move was brilliant. It was the only way a defeated and humiliated Pakistan could retrieve what it could of its honour. The Polish Resolution, moved at the express instructions of the Soviet Union which was backing India not Pakistan, Bhutto’s detractors should remember, was an unvarnished demand for power to be transferred to the Awami League with immediate effect.
Bhutto had decided the night before what he was going to do the next day. My friend Hayat Mehdi, who was deputy permanent representative at Pakistan’s UN Mission, Agha Shahi being the permanent representative, told me that as he went to Bhutto’s room to pick up some papers that he wanted, he nearly fell to the floor with shock when he heard the teenage Benazir, who had come from her school in the East to be with her father, chattering away on the phone to a friend telling her what her father was going to do the next day at the UN and that she should not miss it on television. I am not sure if Mehdi snatched the phone from her hand or put his hand on her mouth, as she was giving away the best-kept secret of the day. Next day, Bhutto entered the Security Council looking grim and made the most emotional, though well-prepared, speech of his career. It was in that speech that he said, “I have not come here to accept abject surrender. If the Security Council wants me to be a party of the legalisation of abject surrender, then I say that under no circumstances, shall it be so. The United Nations resembles those fashion houses which hide ugly realities by draping ungainly figures in alluring apparel. The Permanent Representative of the Soviet Union talked about realities. Mr Permanent Representative, look at this reality. I know that you are the representative of a great country. You behave like one, They way you throw out your chest, the way you thump the table, you do not talk like Comrade Malik, you talk like Czar Malik. I see that you are smiling, well, I am not because my heart is bleeding. I am leaving your Security Council. I find it disgraceful to my person and to my country to remain here a moment longer than necessary. I am not boycotting. Impose any decision, have a treaty worse than the Treaty of Versailles, legalise aggression, legalise occupation, legalise everything that has been illegal up to 15 December 1971. I will not be a party to it. We will fight. We will go back and fight. My country beckons me. Why should I be a party to the ignominious surrender of a part of my country? You can take your Security Council. Here you are. I am going.”
I was in Lahore and working at the Pakistan Times and it was my belief then and it is my belief today that Mujib would have taken West Pakistan by storm. The people of Pakistan would have embraced him as their next Prime Minister. He never came and people wondered what kind of a Prime Minister this was who was not even willing to visit the Western wing which held power and where the army was based. All these are, of course, surmises, but they are reasonable surmises. My own view is that all the principal actors of the 1971 tragedy which saw the break up of Pakistan were unable to comprehend and, what is more, unable to deal with the enormity of the challenge posed by the lopsided outcome of the 1970 election. If Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was to become the Prime Minister of the federal state of Pakistan, he had to have backing from all parts of the country and all constituting units. Since he did not have that, it was necessary for him to broaden the base of his government by co-opting other political parties. However, all he kept insisting on was his majority in terms of the number of National Assembly seats captured by his party, not a single one of which was from West Pakistan. Bhutto’s suggestion of a “grand coalition” was politically not unrealistic and should not have been scoffed at, as the Awami League did. One factor that kept widening the gulf between Mujib and Bhutto was anti-Bhutto politicians like Wali Khan, Mian Mumtaz Daultana, Asghar Khan, Maulana Maudoodi and Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan continuing to assure Mujib that once he formed the government, there would be massive defections from the PPP to the party in power. Perhaps those returned to parliament from feudal families and backgrounds may have chosen that course, as they have always done, but the new leadership that the PPP had thrown up would never have abandoned Bhutto. In fact, a Bhutto on the opposition benches would have been a formidable foe who would have kept the Awami League leader on his toes all the time.
The situation in East Pakistan kept deteriorating with the Awami League becoming more and more belligerent and demanding immediate transfer of power. The writ of the federal government, never very strong there unlike what it was in West Pakistan, began to weaken, till it remained more in the breach than in the observance. The Governor of East Pakistan, Admiral M. Ashan and the General Officer Commanding of the Eastern Command, Sahabzada Yaqub Khan were both strongly in favour of accommodating Mujibur Rehman. Yahya was not happy with them and thought them too weak. Of Sahabzada Yaqub Khan he said at one point, “Jacob is shitting in his pants.” Admiral Ahsan who had been the Quaid-i-Azam’s ADC and was a man of great tact, charm and intelligence could not see eye to eye with Yahya and both were eased out. Had they been allowed to remain in their posts, the tragedy that followed may have been averted or may not have had the horrendous consequences it in the end had.
East Pakistan, there is no question, was in a state of revolt, especially after Bhutto’s Lahore speech at Iqbal Park where he had announced his boycott of the March 25 National Assembly session unless certain conditions were met by the Awami League or the martial law government of Yahya. The limit of 120 days set by Yahya Khan for the Assembly to produce a constitution was ridiculous. Whether it was deliberately so or whether it is to be attributed to the ignorance of the gang in power in Rawalpindi is hard to say. I think it was a bit of both. The killings of non-Bengalis before the military crackdown ordered by Yahya on 25 March 1971 were chilling. The Bengalis were taking out their frustration with the West Pakistani ruling elite on the hapless Biharis who were seen as no better than the touts and agents of the by-now hated rulers. The ferocity with which the army killed the Bengalis, burnt down the villages and raped the women is partly attributable to the horrendous crimes committed against the Biharis and Punjabis unfortunate enough to be caught in the maelstrom.
Two days later Yahya “let loose” his “tigers” on the Awami League and the people of East Pakistan. These were the words he used to describe the military action to his ADC Lt. Commander Khalid Shafi, as they flew back from Dhaka with the army on the rampage. Shafi told me this story in 1972 when we were both working for Bhutto, he as his naval ADC and I as his first press secretary. Two days after the crackdown began, Bhutto, who was in Dhaka, was taken to the rooftop of the Intercontinental Hotel on the night of the crackdown to get him a bird’s eye view of the city of Dhaka with fires burning in many areas and the sound of gunfire echoing in the night air. Two days later, he took a flight to Karachi. On arrival at the airport, there was only one reporter to receive him, I. A. Khan of the Associated Press of Pakistan to whom he said, “Thank God, Pakistan has been saved.” He was never able to explain or justify this statement as long as he lived. In fact, when the case proving Bhutto’s complicity in the military crackdown on East Pakistan is argued, this single-line statement is cited as the smoking gun. The blood bath in East Pakistan continued through the summer of 1971, but not once did Bhutto make any reference to it in his speeches or statements. On the contrary, his contact with Yahya and men like Gen. Pirzada, Yahya’s chief-of-staff, whom many considered the real evil presence in the General’s secretariat, increased.
I once said to Bhutto on one of his visits to Lahore that he should raise his voice against what was going on in East Pakistan. He turned to me and replied, “Marain gai.” I do not think how Yahya could have justified a crackdown in West Pakistan as well, although it is true that by June when Yahya was sure that the Awami League had been by and large neutralised, there were people in his inner cabinet who advised him to go for Bhutto now. Yahya once told Bhutto, “I don’t say that but there are some of my generals who think that you are a secessionist too.” They argued that if Yahya was strong enough to crush Mujib, compared with the Awami League leader Bhutto was “small potatoes”. I remember that Muslehuddin of Pakistan Television news and I interviewed Gen. Tikka Khan at Lahore airport (he was on his way to Dhaka or had come back from there) and asked him how things were. He told us confidently that everything was under control and the situation had almost come back to normal. I am not sure what month it was, probably May. What we need to remind ourselves, but don’t, is that there was hardly a voice raised in West Pakistan against the army action in East Pakistan. In fact, the overwhelming opinion in the Punjab was that Yahya had done the right thing, his only mistake being just one: he had moved too late and let the situation deteriorate. In Lahore, the only person who publicly spoke against the army crackdown was the journalist and life-long communist Abdullah Malik who told a meeting of students at the Engineering University, “We are with the suppressed people of Bangladesh.” He had said in Urdu, “Hum Bangladesh ke mazloom awam ke saath hain.” Malik was hauled up, produced before a summary martial law court and sentenced to a jail term and a fine. He was spared lashes because the major presiding over the court said he was being spared that particular punishment because of his “age”. The ever youthful Malik, then 51 years old told us, “This offends me more than my sentence.”
The inevitable happened. India invaded East Pakistan. The Pakistani defence collapsed after a few weeks and Gen. “tiger” Niazi surrendered. I recall Air Marshal Nur Khan telling a news conference in Lahore, “He could have at least died like a soldier and retrieved some honour.” Bhutto who had in the meanwhile accepted the office of deputy prime minister under Yahya and been rushed to the United Nations in New York (where he tore up his notes which to this day his detractors say was the Polish resolution – but more about that later) returned. He was most apprehensive that the generals would actually let go and he sought several assurances before he returned through a circuitous route. He was sworn in on 20 December 1971, four days after the Fall of Dhaka and the surrender in Paltan Maidan, as the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator of Pakistan. His life’s ambition had been fulfilled but at what cost and under what circumstances! Even after taking over, Bhutto did not denounce the army action in East Pakistan and on the few occasions that he did, he did so in mild terms. He did not want to alienate the army or humiliate it more than it had already been humiliated at the hands of its leaders.
The six and a half years of Bhutto’s power were heady. He enjoyed the razzle-dazzle of office, the uniformed attendants, the 21-gun salutes, the guards of honour, state visits to world capitals, international diplomatic showmanship, he relished it all. He spotlight of history was finally on him. He celebrated his first birthday in office, his forty-fourth, in Larkana. The entire diplomatic corps from Islamabad had been brought in a special well-appointed train, the kind viceroys of British days used to travel in, to the dusty Sindhi town to pay homage to Pakistan’s youngest and its most charismatic ruler with revolutionary slogans. It was a great party which was supposed to serve notice on the world that Pakistan had a new leader who was determined to turn his back on the past and bring in a new social, political and economic order.
Bhutto moved quickly to put his stamp on Pakistan. The style of government changed, though the apparatus of the state remained the same. The “revolutionary” reforms that he brought in one by one, reforms that he promised would change the face of Pakistan, failed to do any such thing. The rhetoric of the left was much in use but in substance, there was little change. Government was no longer just government but “your government” or “the people’s government”, the “awami hakoomat”. When Bhutto went abroad, the elected leader of what he called ‘the New Pakistan”, he travelled with an entourage the size of a small battalion. Once or twice, he took a troupe of dancers and musicians with him to enthral his hosts at state banquets. The world media descended on Pakistan in droves to interview Pakistan’s new President – and its first civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator. The correspondents, some of them the world’s most hardened and cynical, returned home dazzled by the wit and brilliance of this most articulate of Asian leaders. He saw himself in the same league as Nasser, Nkrumah, Nehru, but most of all, Sukarno, whom he admired greatly and who, in turn, admired him. He had much in common with the founder of modern Indonesia: dazzling oratory, mass appeal, a taste for the good things of life and a romantic attachment to Revolution. Bhutto named the square outside his walled Larkana residence, Al-Murteza, Sukarno Square, complete with a monument to the great Indonesian leader. The Lahore Stadium where he held a mass public meeting, Chinese style with buntings, giant streamers and folk dancers, was named Gadhafi Stadium, which it remains to this day. The city’s Gol Bagh from which he had been chased out more than once during Ayub and Yahya’s days by the police, was renamed Nasser Bagh, which it also remains to this day.
Bhutto designed an official PPP uniform for his ministers and senior party cadre, white for summer and blue for winter. The jacket, unwittingly, was a replica of the Nehru jacket, as it is called in the West. The collar was kept buttoned, something utterly unsuited to Pakistan in the summer, and there were stripes on the collar – blue for summer and yellow for winter – and along the trouser leg. It was immediately nicknamed by the people as the PPP “bandmaster uniform”. Bhutto wore the uniform on state occasions and expected his ministers to do likewise, including those like Maulana Kausar Niazi who had never worn Western clothes in his life. Once Bhutto said to someone, “You know Aziz Ahmed and what a “Patay Khan” he is? I have put him in a uniform.” Bhutto’s critics and wags from the chattering classes saw the uniform as another sign confirming his “fascist” tendencies. While that may or may not have been true, it is a fact – and I have seen a long note recorded by Bhutto on the subject – that he intensely disliked the sherwani which he thought was reminiscent of the decadent culture of a faded Urdu-speaking gentry. He found nothing Muslim or Pakistani about it. That the Quaid-i-Azam adopted it as the national dress, complete with Jinnah cap, did not seem to weigh with Bhutto. He saw the sherwani as a symbol of Muslim decadence. He never wore one himself. Speaking of clothes, he did not like tweed jackets. He fancied blazers and dark, tailor-made suits. His tailor in Karachi was a greatly sought-after figure and some of the ministers, like Abdul Hafiz Pirzada, also a natty dresser, had him stitch their suits too, even though the wait could be long. When Bhutto was a student at Oxford, he used to have his shirts stitched by Turnbull & Asser, the famous Jermayn Street clothiers. One of the Turnbull & Asser managers told me in 1976, “Mr Bhutto has been getting his shirts from us since he was at Oxford.”
Bhutto believed in the formal dignity of his office which, he felt strongly, must be augmented by pomp and ceremony. Those who had expected him to break from past colonial tradition by adopting a more Spartan style of living were to be disappointed. He insisted upon protocol and all the clap-trap that goes with it. Even when he became Prime Minister, he continued to have ceremonial staff made up of a military secretary, a deputy military secretary and three ADCs, representing the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. He loved these trappings of power and he would not tolerate a protocol breach. Once I recall when we were in Murree for the weekend, his Naval ADC, Khalid Shafi, had Begum Nusrat Bhutto on the line from Rawalpindi. “One moment, Begum Sahiba,” he told her. Then the buzzed Bhutto, who was still the President. “Your wife on line one, sir,” Shafi said. “She is my wife to me, but to you she is Begum Bhutto or the First Lady,” Bhutto told him curtly. Once while Bhutto was speaking to some people, he guessed from the amused expression on the faces of some of them that there was something happening at his back of which he was not aware. He sharply turned his head and found a police officer by the name of Qadir Haye, who was part of Bhutto’s security detail, snickering. The man was suspended the same evening and remained in that state for quite some time. Such behaviour Bhutto considered rude and impertinent.
As time passed, the distance between Bhutto and the “shirtless ones”, to quote Peron’s phrase, kept increasing. The people would now watch him mostly driving past them in his black Mercedes 600 or fly over their heads in his newly acquired Falcon executive jet. He even had an official emblem designed for himself when he became Prime Minister. It showed a black sword across an orange-yellow circle. An inquiry addressed to the French government as to what emblem of office their Prime Minister carried on his official stationery brought the reply that it was against the French republican tradition for the Prime Minister to have an emblem, that privilege being solely the prerogative of the French head of state. Bhutto dropped the idea. I still have a copy of one of Bhutto’s rejected drafts on that abandoned stationery. I do not recall who the designer was but it was a fetching design.
The party which Bhutto had formed was never put through the process of elections. More than thirty years and massive upheavals later, that remains the case. Appointment to party office is still an executive decision. The pyramid-like structure of the party remains intact. It is now Benazir Bhutto whose word is law. She remains the “Life Chairperson” of the party, which doesn’t say much for the party’s democratic character. The chemistry between the Bhutto family and the Pakistan People’s Party is a unique feature of Pakistan’s politics. It has been said that without the Bhuttos there is no PPP. Perhaps this is true. It is also true that anyone who has left the party and tried to form a bloc of his own within the party has failed to make any headway. This happened to Maulana Kausar Niazi during the Zia years and it was once again demonstrated when Ghulam Mustafa Khar tried the same thing. Once Benazir said, “Jo Party se takrai ga, wo paash paash ho jaye ga.” He who tries to match muscle with the Party will be crushed into a powder.
Bhutto once said, “I am the PPP,” and he was right, as can be his daughter. Though she has never said it in so many words, there is no question that she believes in ‘L’etat, c’est moi’ as much as her father did. The leftist element that had so enthusiastically thrown in its lot with the party because of its heady socialist slogans was soon done away with. The “young Galahads and romantics” to the PPP who had tried to take over the National Press Trust newspaper in early 1971 had red circles put around their names. Bhutto once said, “Nobody can push me from the left.” The right-wingers in the party became the favoured ones. As time passed, every feudal landlord the PPP had trounced in the 1970 elections was reclaimed from the garbage can of history and reinstated with full honours. A Federal Security Force (FSF) was set up under the command of the notorious Masood Mahmood, who was to testify against Bhutto in his murder trial and hold him responsible for the killing of Nawab Muhammad Ahmed. His testimony was pivotal in sending Bhutto to the gallows. The FSF was set up to act as a counterpoise to the police and the army. It could only be deployed in the provinces under the direct orders of the federal government — and that meant the Prime Minister.
Bhutto had grown to political manhood under Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s highly centrist, paternalistic system and he never outgrew his preference for concentration of all state power in the hands of the one, single individual sitting on top of the heap. All power was to flow down from him. Authority could be exercised by those below but, by and large, delegated authority. Anyone who was feared growing too big for his boots was neither to be trusted nor allowed to remain in a position of power any longer. That was what happened to the man closest to him, both as a friend and a political colleague: Ghulam Mustafa Khar, whom he had once named his successor. The other man whom he had named his successor – this was somewhere in 1968 or 1969 – was Mairaj Muhammad Khan. While Khar was fated to make a comeback in Bhutto’s last days in office, Mairaj was never to know any such moment of forgiveness. Khar was seen as too ambitious and since he was a Punjabi politician, Bhutto could not rule out that one day Khar might make a bid for power and might even find support from the Punjabi-dominated army. If there was one man whose loyalty to Bhutto could be taken for granted, it was Khar. However, it was his flamboyant style, his youth and his growing popularity in the Punjab that cost him his place in the PPP government. Long after Bhutto was gone, Benazir acted the same way towards Khar. She simply did not trust him and kept him at arm’s length.
The 1973 constitution was federal in character but its essential provisions were breached almost as soon as it was signed with such fanfare. The National Awami Party government in Balochistan was dismissed on highly questionable charges and when the opposition government in the Frontier province resigned in protest, a great sigh of relief could be heard in the corridors of power in Rawalpindi. Today Rawalpindi is political shorthand for the Pakistan army whose General Headquarters are located in that city, but in the early 1970s, Rawalpindi was the capital and the shift to Islamabad had not begun. Bhutto disliked Islamabad. Once he said it was a city architect-made for a coup. All you had to do was to cut the two roads that led to it and you had the government bottled up. However, his continued stay in Rawalpindi proved no defence against the military takeover when it came. After the removal of the two thorns that the non-PPP governments in Balochistan and Frontier were to Bhutto, PPP governments were set up, quite blatantly one should add, in the two provinces which had never elected them. Bhutto’s hold over power from Karachi to Landikotal was complete.
The deployment of the army in Balochistan to fight dissidents was a minor reenactment of the Bangladesh episode. Almost all through Bhutto’s years in power, the army remained in a state of combat in that unfortunate province, Pakistan’s largest in terms of size, and its poorest and most backward. There was neither need for it nor justification. This also gave the army the psychological justification for one day moving against the man who professed democracy but was willing to deploy coercive state power, indeed military force, to deal with his political opponents and promote his future executioner over the heads of five of his seniors against the only sane counsel given by the outgoing Commander-in-Chief Gen. Tikka Khan in his entire career. He had not recommended Zia but Lt. Gen. Muhammad Akbar Khan, whom Zia sent as his high commissioner to London but who did not live long in his post, dying of a sudden and massive heart attack. Zia was chosen by Bhutto not because he had the reputation of being a “maulvi type” but because he would do anything to ingratiate himself with those in authority. Zia’s part in Operation Black September against the Palestinians in Jordan (Zia was adviser to the Jordanian army), was not unknown to Bhutto. If Zia could do one king’s bidding, although the king was not his king, he could be relied upon to do whatever was required of him by his constitutional chief, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Another reason for preferring Zia must have been the fact that he was a refugee from East Punjab and had no feudal, landowning connection. What Bhutto failed to see was that a man who was prepared to carry out orders, regardless of moral or legal considerations, had to be deeply and ruthlessly ambitious. Such was Bhutto’s confidence in Zia’s ability to deliver whatever the Prime Minister might desire, that he put him at the head of the special military court that tried a group of disaffected army and air force officers at Attock.
What were the basic strengths and faults of the man called Zulfikar Ali Bhutto whose imprint on Pakistan and its history has outlasted him? He was a natural born practitioner of the art of politics but his genius was flawed. He believed in the concept of the stern philosopher-king, who could be ruthless when required and benevolent when it pleased him. He found dissent an encumbrance to smooth administration. His appearances in the National Assembly were ceremonial. He did not believe that the Prime Minister should be subjected to the “indignity” of explaining or justifying the actions of his government on the floor of the house. Bhutto was a born charismatic leader. He admired men like Sukarno, Nasser and Nkrumah. He liked their larger-than-life gestures, their mesmerising hold over the masses, their spectacular style of statecraft and their quasi-imperial manner of governance. What he did not perhaps pause to analyse was that when they departed, they left their countries at the mercy of military juntas, with the coloured pieces of dreams they had made their people dream scattered at their feet, their Napoleonic monuments to their glory fallen from their once-high pedestals.
And yet there is something that will ensure Bhutto his place in history. He changed the direction of politics in Pakistan. He was the first political leader to articulate popular aspirations, giving the voiceless a voice. He changed the idiom of politics and more that that its style. He gave politics a new grammar and a new revolutionary syntax. He was the first Pakistani leader – and so far the last – to speak of the rights of the poor. He gave workers and peasants a new identity, giving them political respect. He made them not only conscious of their rights but he told them that they must demand these rights, if necessary, through aggressive means. Every leftist leader, once he comes to power, realises that he can either rule or fulfil his promises. Consequently, he tries to rein in the people whom he had let loose. He tries to modify his rhetoric. He tries to cool the very passions that he has aroused. This results in disillusionment. Those who say that Bhutto never meant a word of what he said about the poor, do him injustice. He did believe in it. He did feel for the downtrodden and he did want them to have a better deal than they had had. However, his penchant for power and his insecurities led him into becoming authoritative and distrustful. He had not come to power through an arrangement. Regardless of what happened before 20 December 1971, once he was in office, he was a popular leader. He should have relied on his basic strength, the people, and not tried to derive his strength from such quarters as the army or the coercive arm of the state. He it was, it is necessary to remember, who modified the Inter Services Intelligence or ISI’s charter to include domestic intelligence. This was a fateful and tragic decision and it was to reach its tragic and disastrous climax in Afghanistan in the form of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda terrorist movement. The ISI’s growth into the powerhouse it became started from the day Bhutto enlarged its original mandate.
Bhutto is long gone but the Bhutto constituency has survived more than one martial law and several rigged elections. It survives despite the fact that Benazir had to leave her office with little credit to her name or to that of her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Her exile has not dimmed her appeal nor shrunk the size of her following. The elections that saw Nawaz Sharif returned to power in 1997 with a “heavy mandate” were partly rigged and partly the result of the traditional PPP voter having opted to say home on election day because he was disillusioned with the party and its leader. However, he did not vote against Benazir. A street female sweeper in Lahore who had voted for Bhutto and was still cleaning the streets when he fell, when asked why she sill felt the same way for him when he had done little to change her life, replied, “At least, he took our name. He acknowledged our existence.” Bhutto continued to align himself and Pakistan with anti-imperialist causes. He spoke in defence of Palestinian rights and racist governments such as those of South Africa and Rhodesia. He talked of forming counter-groupings of the world’s poor and dispossessed. In Lahore in the year 1974 he played host to the largest gathering of Muslim leaders in Islam’s entire history. Yassir Arafat said that the state of Palestine had taken birth in Lahore.
Bhutto it was who decided that Pakistan must have a nuclear bomb. Some say he fell because of that. While there is no evidence that it is true, the fact is that Pakistan’s taking the nuclear road was severely resented by the United States and some other Western governments. Pakistan did not have oil: it only had Islam. Bhutto felt that if Pakistan became a nuclear power, it would walk tall. Pakistan did get the bomb in the end, an effort which was pioneered by Bhutto but an effort which those who followed him, continued despite enormous pressures. Time has proved that Bhutto’s decision was both correct and long-sighted. Pakistan is an important country today, which is due in no small measure to its nuclear status. The bomb has also secured Pakistan against aggression from India. Had Pakistan not have the bomb, it is not hard to imagine how India would have rubbed our nose in the dust. The cost of Pakistan of developing a nuclear weapon has been enormous but it has been a cost well worth paying.
There was great dissatisfaction among the people in the last years of Bhutto’s government with his strong-fisted rule and his impetuous actions, no less than because of his increasing petulance and lack of tolerance. He subjected the constitution that he himself had given to the country to several amendments for largely political reasons and he kept the judiciary under pressure. A large number of black laws continued to remain on the books. However, in the end Bhutto was removed not be the people but by a cabal of generals. Bhutto had many personal failings, including an inability to trust others or repose confidence in them, a congenital suspicion of friends, high sensitivity to personal criticism, a penchant for squandering public funds and his belief that democracy had to be tailored to meet Pakistan’s needs. He could not suffer fools and yet he tended to avoid those who could give him intellectual fellowship. As time passed, he appeared to prefer being surrounded by people for whom he had little respect. He did not like his word or his judgment questioned. He also found it difficult to forgive what he saw as acts of disloyalty. He could turn against even those he trusted over trifles sometimes. He loved the people but preferred to do so from a distance as years passed by.
Bhutto had all these faults but, in the final analysis, a man is to be judged by what he leaves behind. Bhutto galvanised the working people of Pakistan and gave them a sense of confidence and belonging. He also tried to create a sense of nationalism by emphasising that the first loyalty of a person lay with the piece of earth that had given him birth and the bit of sky that stretched over him. He wanted people to be both Pakistanis but at the same time Sindhis, Punjabis, Pathans and Balochis. He saw no contradiction in that. He once told me that he wanted to make the people of Pakistan feel proud of their own land and language. He did not want them hankering after cultures or ways of life which were not theirs and not natural to them. He was well aware of the extraterritorialism that has always prevented the Muslims of the subcontinent from identifying themselves fully with their own culture and its innate power. Did he succeed? Perhaps not because what he set out to do will take more than one generation. However, he had identified the Pakistani identity dilemma correctly. The role played by Pakistan in the rise of the Taliban, the call to wage jihad in neighbouring countries and countries as far flung as Chechnya, the central Asian republics or the former Yugoslavia proves Bhutto’s point. Had the hold on territorial nationalism been as firm as it is in, say, Arab lands, thousands of young and misled Pakistanis would not have lost their lives in defence of a shadowy cause in the dark and dreadful Afghanistan of the Taliban.
Bhutto once said, “I would like to be remembered as a revolutionary and a poet.” That is as good an epitaph as any and, he rests in peace in the timeless land of Sindh, knowing that is how most people in Pakistan do still remember him.