Saturday, November 3, 2012

Asghar Khan’s Obsession to Destroy Bhutto

November 3, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi

 Air Marshal Asghar Khan kicked off his political career in 1970 with an intense obsession to destroy Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. To achieve this end he urged the then army chief Ziaul Haq to overthrow Bhutto’s government. Later he called upon Zia to “hang Bhutto by Kohala Bridge.”

Asghar Khan has earned for himself the dubious distinction as being one of the bitterest adversaries of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The charge would not be in vain that he is partly responsible for the demise of ZABhutto both from the corridors of power and also from this world.

By temperament Mr. Khan is incorrigibly whimsical and cannot stay on one track for a longer period of time. It is incomprehensible as to why he developed so much of deep-seated hatred for Mr. Bhutto who took the reins of a sinking Pakistan, with a defeated army, a demoralized nation and navigated the country to safe shores.

Notwithstanding Mr. Bhutto’s later postures, he proved himself to be a sagacious leader with immense talent and acumen to save the left over Pakistan that was on the precipice of further falling further into the deep ditches of humiliation and disintegration.

Asghar Khan’s role all along his political career has been that of a stubborn spoiler. He has a trenchant tendency to get indignant and unpredictably part company with the most loyal and trusted companions. By his wavering political conduct he has proven that he is far from a stable person in decision making or to stand firm on his commitment, alliances and manifesto. He lacks sobriety, a modicum of tolerance and maturity and therefore has been hopping in the political arena without landing the ball into the goal post.

The prominent columnist and Television anchor Hamid Mir has written a very compelling article in daily Jang that portrays Asghar Khan as the one who invited the then COAS General Ziaul Haq to get rid of Bhutto by imposing martial law which the latter did.  Asghar was not even content with dismissal of Mr. Bhutto’s democratic government but wanted him to be sent to gallows.

He had been maintaining a noxious nexus with military regime not only to scuttle democracy in Pakistan but avenge his personal anti-Bhutto vendetta by getting him sentenced to death. Asghar Khan’s notorious call urging Ziaul haq to “hang him at the Kohala Bridge to save Pakistan” testifies to the poisonous mindset of a person and to the limits of vindictiveness he could go. In the hindsight one can explore the acute caprice of Mr. Khan demonstrated in making and breaking alliances for mysterious reasons or because of the psychological compulsion not to stay on one course.

Asghar Khan’s political journey started with the formation of his political party Tehrik-e-Istiqlal Pakistan (TIP) in 1970.On the platform of this party he launched his anti-Bhutto campaign that continued till 1979 when Bhutto was hanged. Interestingly, following the imprisonment of Mr. Bhutto by Ayub Khan, it was Asghar Khan who continued the anti-Ayub movement launched from the platform of both PTI and the PPP  as a successor to Mr. Bhutto. 

During the incarceration of Mr. Bhutto, Asghar shot into prominence like a meteorite. He was adored and looked upon as a hero and a revolutionary by the PPP cadres. He led the mammoth processions and kept the momentum of movement in high gear When Mr. Bhutto was released, the astronomical ovation and sudden prominence given to him was no more there.

He suffered from an inborn personality setback and started nursing the grudge that he was a better a leader than Bhutto. From that moment he started opposing and debunking Bhutto openly. His aversion and feeling of deprivation started turning into a syndrome of extreme hate for Mr. Bhutto. It was under that acute feeling of fall from an extolled position that during the 1977 elections, Asghar Khan allied his party with the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) against the People's Party.

For his spiteful and slanderous attacks against Mr. Bhutto and the PPP leaders, he was sent to jail for a few months in 1977. It was during that brief imprisonment that he wrote to the defense forces urging them to withdraw their support for the "Illegal regime of Bhutto", and "differentiate between a "lawful and an unlawful" command to save Pakistan. That was a clear-cut call for creation of a military regime in Pakistan which the military Junta later did establish under General Ziaul Haq’s command. This demand was tantamount to decimating democracy and its replacement with the authoritarian army rule.

In the aftermath of 1977 general elections, the PNA launched a countrywide movement accusing PPP and Bhutto for rigging elections and calling for new elections. The PPP government was completely paralyzed. Along with other allies of the PNA, including the religious parties and army in the back, Asghar Khan jumped into the fray in whipping a storm against Bhutto regime. His merger of PTI with PNA was precisely for that objective.

In order to find a solution for the stupendous political imbroglio that had gripped the country, Mr. Bhutto initiated a dialogue with the PNA leadership. An Agreement was reached on June 8, 1977 to hold fresh Elections on October 8, 1977. Asghar Khan opposed the agreement and came up with a long litany of other demands that were most unreasonable and could not be accepted by even an insane person. Thus the last chance to save democracy was lost due to Asghar Khan’s intransigence.

 Asghar Khan was poised to see the downfall of Bhutto in order to satiate his personal grudge against him and with that the demise of a democratic order for over a decade. True to his slippery and flippant temperament, he later dissociated himself from PNA as his sinister objective of overthrowing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's government by General Ziaul Haq in July 4, 1977, had materialized.

The “judicial murder" of Mr., Bhutto was extremely joyful and a big fillip to the bloated ego of Asghar Khan as he was the one who had called upon the Gen Zia to hang him. Yet in a bid to take the center stage in the political vacuum created by the incarceration and later by the death of ZA Bhutto, he unscrupulously decided to take on General Zia-ul-Haq who had announced to hold the general elections in 1979.

However General Zia-ul-Haq indefinitely postponed the elections, and put Asghar Khan under house arrest from October 1979 to October 1984.  That development catapulted Tehrik-e-Istiqlal to become the most favorite party and large number of high profile distinguished political figures joined the Tehrik e- Istiqlal.

Once against true to his mercurial habit, he left the MRD in 1986 as a result of which many of the Tehrik's members resigned in protest and later joined the Pakistan Muslim League (N) founded by Nawaz Sharif in 1988.That is how the MRD was internally fragmented by Asghar Khan due to his impatience and propensity to betray the causes and missions no matter how vital for the country.

The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was a formidable alliance formed in February 1981 by politically and ideologically divergent parties with a one point agenda of ending General Zia-ul-Haq's martial law and the military rule. It was led by Benazir Bhutto the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for whose ouster from power and his ultimate hanging, Air marshal was significantly responsible. Yet Asghar disregarding any qualms of conscience of working with the daughter of his victim, decided to join this left wing alliance in 1983.

The MRD movement mostly launched in Sindh was brutally crushed by Gen Zia. Thousands of its supporters and protestors were killed by the army and countless were put in jails and subjected to torture and lashing. Asghar Khan practically had no role to play since he was confined to his house in Abbottabad.

During Musharraf era, Asghar Khan handed over the reins of PTI to his son Omar Asghar Khan who merged it with an NGO and at the same time formed another political party under the name of National Democratic Party.

After joining so many parties and alliances and then leaving them abruptly during his almost 40 years dabbling in politics, his latest switch over was to support Imran Khan in December last year. That was again a kind of merger with Imran’s PTI as thereafter he resigned as the president of his own party Tehrik Istiqlal.

While glancing over Asghar Khan’s queer and zigzagging political style, it is not difficult to discern that he started his political career solely as an adversary of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In his pent-up hatred for Bhutto he even preferred establishment of martial and the death of an outstanding political leader. In politics there is a political brinkmanship or tussle based on programs and manifestos but not aimed at the physical removal of the political rivals.

But Air Marshal Asghar Khan was always driven more to destroy Bhutto and the PPP and less to serve the nation or for the uplift and glory of the country. He became as the main hurdle in the implementation of the accord between the PNA and the Bhutto on holding of fresh elections. Had he consented on that and not thrown a spanner at the behest of the army, Pakistan would have been saved from a draconian martial law whose deep scars are still writ large on the face of Pakistan.

At the crossroad of history he cannot claim any political accomplishment for democracy or advancement of the county because his politicking was based on rancor and vendettas. He lacked vision and lost his time in simply keeping PTI as a petty adjunct of other political outfits for narrow objectives. He has ever remained as a vacillating, unstable and unpredictable political minion who had the audacity to join or walk out of an alliance depending upon the level of his ire and disenchantment with a party or person.

He has been an aimless trotter in Pakistan’s political wilderness all along these four decades. He is a Don Quixote of Pakistan who had been tilting his lance at every windmill but would get bruised himself in return. The fundamental flaw in his character was his unbridled intolerance and intense haughtiness that always kept him as an unreliable and unsuccessful pariah in politics.

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