Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arguably the most gifted politician Pakistan has ever had. Born to a sindhi Arain family on January 5, 1928, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a stubborn Capricorn who would get his way no matter what it took. In the end, it took way too much. Bhutto’s early years were spent in Bombay where he attended Cathedral and John Connon School while his father was the dewan of the princely state of Junagarh. Just like his father, Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, who had secured the Junagrh’s accession to Pakistan, the young Bhutto was also an ardent supporter of Pakistan in his youth days. He even became an activist in the Pakistan Movement at that young age. Bhutto family poses for a picture RTL: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Sanam Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Shahnawaz Bhutto Bhutto was married of to Shireen Amir Begum in 1943. He was just 14 at the time but the family pressures forced him to get married to a woman almost double her age. He married a second time in 1951. Begum Nusrat Ispahani of Iranian-Kurdish descent was his wife who remained with him till his death and bore him four children including Shahnawaz Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Sanam Bhutto. Rise to power After completing his studies in Berkeley and Oxford, and training as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn, Bhutto returned to Pakistan and joined President Iskander Mirza’s cabinet as the minister of commerce. Although Mirza’s government was removed after a short stint, Bhutto had always been in the good books of the then army chief General Ayub Khan, who had assumed the position of Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) after removing Iskander Mirza’s government in a coup d’etat. General Ayub Khan converses with Bhutto in Tashkent Bhutto was made the minister of Water and Power, Communications and Industry. Renowned author and former bureaucrat Qudratullah Shahab has mentioned in his book how fond was Ayub Khan of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in those early years of his rule. “He is the star of Karachi’s night life these days”, Ayub had once told Shahab. Gradually, Bhutto rose in influence and power as Ayub Khan’s reliance on him increased with the passage of time. The dictator trusted Bhutto so much that he made him the foreign minister of the country in 1963. Bhutto’s profound knowledge of the international relations and diplomacy became his most powerful tool during the years of his own rule. However, his socialist inclinations that he had garnered during the time of his study at Berkeley and Oxford helped Pakistan secure its most enduring friendship with People’s Republic of China. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto meets Mao Zedong China had only recently defeated India in a full scale combat the previous year and the Chinese victory had convinced both Bhutto and Ayub that there was no point continuing to mull the ‘joint defence’ pact with India and that Pakistan now needed to cultivate China as an ally in the region, in order to both counterweight the United States and at the same time keep it by Pakistan’s side as well since the Soviet Union had, in 1964, broken all ties with China over ideological issues. Pakistan helped bring People’s Republic of China closer to the US and thus helped the Beijing government to secure not only a permanent seat at the UN Security Council but global recognition as well, almost eliminating the parallel government in Chinese Taiwan on the diplomatic front as a result. Pakistan went to a war with India the following year. The 1965 war, where the young Pakistani nation was somehow able to defend its territorial integrity against an enemy five times bigger in size, also turned out to be the turning point in Ayub-Bhutto relations. As Pakistan went to Tashkent in the January of 1966 in order to finalise a peace declaration with its South Asian neighbour, the peace agreement that was signed didn’t live up to the expectations of the people of Pakistan who had been led into believing through all forms of propaganda during the way that the country was going to win it. While the Ayub government was already facing this serious political crisis, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto went on to publically criticise the final agreement of Tashkent. This criticism led to the parting of ways with the then dictator and the following year, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formed his Pakistan People’s Party, of which he remained the president till the day he breathed his last, exactly 39 years ago from today. The 1971 war The restive Bengal province had remained a problem for the General Ayub regime. Bengalis had voted in massive numbers for Fatima Jinnah during the 1964 presidential elections against General Ayub Khan and as soon as the strongman was forced out of power, the movement for freedom gained some serious momentum. The subsequent military operation and the war with India that ended in the humiliating ‘Fall of Dhaka’, eventually paved way for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to his accession to power. He is often blamed for his role in the East Pakistan debacle. There are strong arguments from both sides. Bhutto’s insistence on building Pakistan’s nuclear program is also considered one of the reasons of his ouster and later the ‘judicial murder’. But there would be few who would argue the fact that the catastrophe might not have occurred had he kept his relationship with the party, close aides and the people of Pakistan intact. This aspect of his legend is by far the most important lesson for every student of politics. Creating powerful enemies The death of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4, 1979, is one of the most tragic chapters of Pakistan’s troubled 70-year history. The man, who had lifted the nation out of the existential crisis that befell it after the dismemberment of the country in 1971, was hanged by the military regime of General Zia ul-Haque. What led to this can be argued. There could be scores of possible explanations of the events that led to this calamity. One could be the enmity of the industrial class. By the time, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had taken over power after the separation of Bangladesh, the economy of the country was in doldrums. The letters of credit were being rejected in the foreign banks while the air of uncertainty was forcing the businessmen to shift their capital from Pakistan. This capital flight was exacerbated by a hostile nationalisation policy adopted by the Bhutto government under the supervision of its finance minister Dr Mubashir Hasan. As the government nationalised 31 major enterprises in January 1972 and went on to extend the policy to the financial sector, including the insurance companies and the banks, in 1974, Shahid Javed Burki notes in his book ‘Pakistan under Bhutto’ that ‘no compensation was paid to the owners of these companies or banks’. How was the arrangement reached? The Bhutto government retained the owners of their respective enterprises but they could no longer sell those businesses or their shares, nor could they control the businesses since the government had appointed managing committees for the purpose. This might have helped the government at the time to curb the capital flight or stop the economy from deteriorating further but it certainly didn’t help them win friends among the richer classes of the country. They turned against Bhutto and as soon as the army, under Zia, launched the coup on July 5, 1977, they all gathered under the general’s banner against Bhutto. Turning opposition into feuds In political science, it is often argued that a government can only stay in power as long as its opposition is willing to let it stay in power. And the kind of intolerance Bhutto had for dissent, he soon turned his opposition into enemies. His archrival Abdul Wali Khan, of National Awami Party (later turned into Awami National Party after being banned by the Bhutto regime), was his foremost target. Even his land reforms, according to Omar Noman’s The Political Economy of Pakistan, were aimed primarily at Wali Khan’s strongholds of Charsadda, Mardan and Swabi. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (L) with political rivals Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo (C) and Abdul Wali Khan (R) Political stalwarts of the time like Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, Abdul Wali Khan, Sardar Attaullah Mengal and Habib Jalib were only few of the leaders who Bhutto jailed in the backdrop of the military operation launched in Balochistan. “The newspapers or periodicals that criticised his policies often faced paper shortage since the government had total monopoly over its import. Moreover, all the industry was owned by the government so whichever newspaper went against some policy would be deprived of the advertisement as well” Hostility towards press The press wasn’t happy with Bhutto either. In a short interview with me in 2016, senior journalist Mujib ur-Rehman Shami told how the Bhutto regime had used the nationalisation of the industry against the media by keeping a strict control over the import of paper, which previously came from East Pakistan. “The newspapers or periodicals that criticised his policies often faced paper shortage since the government had total monopoly over its import. Moreover, all the industry was owned by the government so whichever newspaper went against some policy would be deprived of the advertisement as well”, he said. The press gradually turned extremely anti-Bhutto. The right-wing press had always been at loggerheads with him. The left-wing was estranged after the removals of renowned leftist leaders like Mairaj Mohammad Khan, Dr Mubashir Hasan, Mian Mehmood Kasuri, JA Rahim and others from the party ranks. These men initially founded the backbone of Bhutto’s cabinet. They were, at the same time, some of the foremost ideologues of leftist politics in the country. Their removal and the strange egotistical manner in which Bhutto parted ways with all of them completely disillusioned the press and the left-wing. They finally came to see that Bhutto might have had some socialist leanings, but he was no different than any other populist power player on Pakistan’s political scene when it came to dissent. Making foes out of friends The key members of Bhutto’s core team after taking over the reins of the country in 1971 had all but Rafi Raza been sidelined by the time the tenure ended. Ghulam Mustafa Khar was first made the governor of Punjab in 1973; he was later made the chief minister of the province and then made the governor again for four months before being ousted unceremoniously from that office as well. JA Rahim sitting to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s right Mairaj Mohammad Khan had left the cabinet long before everyone else. He was further alienated by the awarding of tickets to the feudal lords in the following elections. Dr Mubashir Hasan had left the cabinet in 1974 as agreed upon at the time of his oath. He worked tirelessly for the Lahore PPP till the 1977 elections and eventually left the party position after disagreements with Bhutto on various points. JA Rahim had stood fast with Bhutto in the early days of the government. In 1971, despite being a Bengali himself, he had even termed Sheikh Mujib ur-Rehman a fascist while addressing a public meeting in Dacca. However, his ouster from the party was the most unceremonious of all. In his book Mirage of Power, Dr Mubashir Hasan notes: “Early morning on 2 July 1974, Sikander Rahim, the son of JA Rahim, the senior most minister in Bhutto’s cabinet, and Secretary General of PPP, came to my house in his dressing gown and stated that last night his father had been beaten up by Bhutto’s men and taken to the police station … Rahim had some bruises on his face, but he was alert and determined. He said that Bhutto had arrested him and he asked me to go back to Lahore, engage Qasuri as his lawyer, and file a writ of habeas corpus for his release”. Meanwhile, the most ill-reputed officials of the government gradually surrounded Bhutto. The ‘unprincipled, pompous, arrogant and unpopular officer who was known for his sadistic inclinations’ Masood Mahmood was appointed as the director general of Federal Security Force (FSF) that Bhutto had formed allegedly for keeping a check on his opponents. It was this Masood Mahmood who later turned himself in as the state witness in the Mahmood Ali Kasur murder case, claiming that Bhutto had ordered the FSF to murder Kasuri. This witness ultimately culminated into Bhutto’s hanging, known in Pakistan’s history as a ‘judicial murder’. The twilight Bhutto was removed from power on July 5, 1977 by General Zia ul-Haque, who had been handpicked by Bhutto for the army chief position, after a long movement against him by the joint opposition on the account of election rigging. He was sent to jail in the Mahmood Ali Kasuri murder case, filed by Kasuri’s son, lawyer and politician Ahmad Raza Kasuri. The case continued for about two years and Bhutto was finally sentenced to death in a 4-3 split decision of Supreme Court. Many years later, one of the judges on the bench Justice Nasim Hasan Shah admitted in an interview with Iftikhar Ahmad that the case wasn’t decided on merit. A lesson for the current and coming rulers Bhutto was one of the most consequential personalities of Pakistan’s history. He was a leader with great acumen and profound knowledge of statecraft. The Islamic Summit of 1974 in Lahore bears testimony to his incomparable diplomatic skills and political vision. However, his failure to understand the palace intrigues against him that alienated all his closest aides and left him completely isolated in the face of a formidable alliance of local and foreign enemies led to his doom and the subsequent fall of Pakistan into a dark era of Islamisation as the space for leftist politics shrunk dramatically in the country after his demise. There could be several ways to explain Bhutto’s fall but this one telling passage that I would want to quote here from The Mirage of Power is a lesson for all the politicians to never trust anyone but the people, who are, in the words of Rafi Raza, their ‘only real source of power’. “Having assured Bhutto that what I was going to say did not contain any element of personal political ambition, I told him that I was immensely worried about him and the future of the country and the party. I said that his power was weakening with the passage of time. The people with him were no source of strength to him. When he would become weak enough, ‘they will nudge you overboard’. This was the strongest language I had used with the party chairman in the last seven years. Bhutto listened intently. I must have sounded most serious. In the same vein, he asked: Bhutto speaking at a public meeting ‘What do you want me to do?’ ‘I have come to suggest that you rebuild your power base among the people.’ He paused for a while and then said: ‘Doctor, what you want me to do, I do not have the power to do’. I was shattered as I had never expected such a reply from the most highly regarded and strong prime minister of Pakistan. Both of us remained silent for a long time. Breaking the silence, I asked him (main zara aap ka phone dekh loon) if I could check his telephone apparatus. I picked up the apprartus, took a bunch of keys out of my pocket, loosened a few screws, detached a piece from inside it and passed it on to Bhutto. ‘Do you know what this is?’ I asked him. ‘No, what is it?’ he asked. ‘It is to bug your phone’, I replied. ‘Yeh haramzaday mera bhi kartay hain (These bastards bug my phone as well)’, was his spontaneous reaction. Another long pause followed before he asked how I knew that the device was to bug a phone. I replied that I had detected it in my phone and had showed it to an expert who had torn it apart to find out what it was. Each device was individually numbered. After yet another pause, he sent for Mrs Bhutto. As Nusrat entered, he extended his hand, passing the device to her, ‘Mubashir says it was to bug my phone’, he said to her. Holding the device against the light bulb Nusrat declared: ‘This is in all our phones in the house’. Bhutto looked baffled and after another long pause asked his wife how she had come to know of it. She replied: ‘I did not know. It was Shahnawaz who found it in the phone in his room and suspected that it was you who had it installed to listen to his conversation with girlfriends. He checked all the phones and when he found that it was in all of them, he was satisfied’. We sat silently for what seemed a long time before I took leave. It was one of our saddest encounters. What Bhutto had said was hard to believe. Could a prime minister of his calibre be really so weak, so helpless, or was it just his way of saying no to me. It was not the first time that I had warned him. In the letter of 17 August, I had said that I feared ‘military intervention and disaster’ if he were to continue his policies. Bhutto telling me that he did not have the power to do what I suggested was quite unlike him. He was not a man to admit his powerlessness, and yet, by doing so he had struck a sympathetic chord in me. How could he be helped was the thought that dominated my mind as I covered the almost dark roads from Rawalpindi to Islamabad that gloomy evening.