Getting to know Bhutto

  • Of tributes and tribulations

I wish I could meet Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. I could hardly get a chance, since I belong to the generation which was born after Bhutto died. But history records every moment of life and with it, I can trace back some of the times spent by the political legend. And so begins my journey of getting to know Bhutto.

I begin by looking at various images of him. They all display him as a fiercely proud man, eyes burning with passion enough to scorch his onlooker, dressed impeccably, even in his shalwar kameez with folded sleeves which suits him perfectly in the awami role. His handsome face bears the heritage of his ancestors, which he carries with ease in the mould of contemporary times. His determined look is poised to perfection and can move any hindrance. It is not difficult to perceive the aura of radiance and awe he manifested, like a Greek god towering over lesser beings. But then Zulfiqar was only a mortal and before his unworthy death and along with his achievements, he did seem to falter, since to err is human.

His swift and dramatic rise to power consists of his ministerial portfolios, a key role in developing foreign relations and many years later, ironically in the division of the country, thundering speeches to burgeoning masses at home and sometimes abroad, championing and achieving a platform for Muslim regional brotherhood but inflicting a fatal blow on brethren of his own country and the massive nationalisation of the country to conform to his socialist incline.

His achievements in foreign affairs are indeed praiseworthy. He is said to be the chief architect of the ‘everlasting’ friendship between China and Pakistan – a relationship that continues to flourish to this day. In an article for The Herald, Harris Khalique dividing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s political career into four phases notes that ‘he also made Pakistan a prominent member of the Non-Aligned Movement, built close diplomatic relationships with the Arab nationalist-cum-socialist Ba’ath parties and extended support to movements for national liberation and progressive change in Latin America, Asia and Africa. These were remarkable achievements for a recently created developing country in the highly polarised world of the Cold War era.’ The image of key Muslim leaders of the time: Shah Faisal, Muammar Qaddafi, Yasser Arafat and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto seated side by side on a carpeted floor in Lahore during an Organisation of Islamic Conference hosted by Pakistan is Bhutto’s feat, one which we can hardly expect today.

Bhutto is considered the main architect of 1973 constitution, Pakistan’s first ever consensus constitution. It proclaimed an ‘Islamic Republic’ in Pakistan with a parliamentary form of government

But then we also see Bhutto supporting Ayub Khan’s Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir and the ensuing 1965 war, only to part ways later with Ayub and accuse him ‘of losing a war on the negotiation table after it had been won in the battlefield.’ We all know of his refusal to accept Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman as the leader of Pakistan after Mujib’s party secured majority seats in the 1970 elections, a move which added great fuel to an already burning fire of hatred and mistrust between the then East and West Pakistan. Days after the humiliating surrender to Indian army, we are struck with his daring when ripping apart his notes, Bhutto blasts at the Security Council for ‘legalising aggression’ and walks out with a tear streaked face in a dramatic exit, after denouncing the bewildered United Nations, preferring to go back to his ‘destroyed Pakistan.’

We hear people who witnessed him swaying the masses, donning an open collared shirt and the Jinnah cap, furiously waving his arms, raising hopes and promising to fulfill dreams. On the contrary, we also see his resolve to continue with Pakistan’s nuclear programme ‘even if we have to eat grass’ – a far cry from his slogan of roti, kapra aur makan, (food, clothing and shelter) to this day is a successful formula to gain votes.

It was not just his slogan, but building institutions of learning and culture, reaching out to the slums and villages with a school network, creating basic health facilities, distributing land among the landless farmers and initiating housing and infrastructure schemes that rendered his support in the masses incomparable to any politician in the history of Pakistan. ‘But his policy of nationalising nascent and growing industry, banks and lending institutions as well as private and charitable trust schools and colleges had far reaching consequences on the growth and output of these sectors. His half-baked socialist model applied in haste began to crack immediately, particularly because landlords subverted his land reforms and the usual bureaucratic inefficiencies crept into the administration of nationalised businesses.’

Bhutto is considered the main architect of 1973 constitution, Pakistan’s first ever consensus constitution. It proclaimed an ‘Islamic Republic’ in Pakistan with a parliamentary form of government. Bhutto supervised the promulgation of 1973 constitution that ‘triggered an unstoppable constitutional revolution through his politics wedded to the emancipation of the downtrodden masses, by first giving people a voice in the Parliament, and introducing radical changes in the economic sphere for their benefit.’

But while the First Amendment led to Pakistan’s recognition of and diplomatic ties with Bangladesh, the Second Amendment in the constitution, defining the term non-Muslim, declared the Ahmadi community as non-Muslims. With this decision, Bhutto usurped the constitutional right of religious freedom, right to vote and even right to live in a safe environment of a Pakistani Ahmadi. It is this decision, that regrettably resulted in dishonour and disregard by the country towards its first Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salaam – an Ahmadi, whom the world honours.

Thus Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto contradicted his own contributions. The conflicts in his decisions have led to many controversies. There are some who are still bewitched by his debonair person, refined taste and an almost superhuman intelligence. Yet his life is eclipsed by many dark episodes and those who suffered the brunt, do not forgive him

We are moved by Bhutto’s passions, but grieved by his actions. We hail many of his decisions and yet condemn some of his moves. A born leader with a rare charisma, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto could have given more to the country than he already did. But what he took away is hard to reclaim. I wish I could have met him rather than live through and survive his legacy.


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