Friday, October 4, 2013

The Rapid Rise and Fall of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

By Saeed Qureshi
The paramount question that has been intriguing the discerning students of history is that why an iconic, revolutionary and charismatic leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met with a tragic end. He took the political citadel of Pakistan by storm and assailed the minds and hearts of people within a short span of time. He soared into the political horizon of Pakistan like a meteorite yet plummeted with the same speed and intensity. The charm and magic of Bhutto’s personality and his rhetorical style and revolutionary mandate bewitched the people of Pakistan who looked up to him as a redeemer and the  architect of a new Pakistan that he vowed to built from ashes  and by picking the pieces of the a colossally mauled left-over Pakistan.

  It would not be in vain to adjudge him a leader who touched the zenith of people’s love and approbation after the founder of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Had he not committed egregious blunders due to his personal weaknesses he could have been equated with Kamal Ataturk of Turkey and Jamal Abdul Nasir of Egypt and similar iconic leaders? Yet despite a dazzling and unprecedented popularity, within five years he was desperately fighting for his political as well as personal survival.

He was endowed with the frame of a firebrand revolutionary who performed exceedingly fast and furious to uproot a debased system of governance and initiated instead one premised on parliamentary democracy.  He was the proponent of the Muslim unity and he deserves the credit for convening of OIC 1974 conference in Pakistan. The society was liberalized and straight jacket of cumbersome rules and bureaucratic tangles were broken. People were greatly relieved and motivated. He has the glorious distinction of being the father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons program.

A flurry of reforms including land reforms forbade a new era of hope and progress.  The journey towards a new destiny began with a nation rejuvenated after country’s truncation. Although the release of Pakistan’s prisoners of war and retaking captured territory by India were considered as Bhutto’s spectacular achievements through Simla Accord, yet I am of the opinion that India could not keep such a huge captured army for long, nor could she hold on to the captured territory indefinitely.

Bhutto’s overwhelming weakness was that he was loyal to no one not even to his lofty ideals. He possessed a voracious obsession for power. What I want to point out that Bhutto would go to any extent for retaining power. He ruled like a dictator in the grab of a civilian head of government. During his dwindling fortunes after 1977 elections, he sacrificed his cosmopolitan and secular principles by lobbying with ultra conservative forces and courting discredited feudal classes in order to stick to power. His letter written in April 1958 to the then president of Pakistan general Iskander Mirza extolling him as more exalted that the founder of Pakistan was a sordid display of rank flattery. His exploitation of Tashkent Pact (10 January 1966) was a smart tactical move that swept away a powerful military dictator with a bruised and demonized image.

 Bhutto was genetically averse to anyone’s popularity. His companions, who stood with him through thick and thin and faced extreme persecution and oppression during Ayub Khan’s time, were disgraced and sacked one after another on such flimsy grounds as someone getting popular in public view or opposing some of his policies. Alas his weaknesses overshadowed his watershed achievements and that resulted in his tragic end.

 Presently, in order to highlight Bhutto suspicious nature and his morbid proclivity to tame and frighten his ministers and party leaders, I have to refer to some of the observations made by Baloch leader Sher Baz Mazari in his book, “The Journey to Disillusionment”

“If any of his subordinates showed even a modicum of independence, he would be swiftly punished...“Even Bhutto’s close associates and cabinet ministers now lived in dread and fear of the unpredictability of their master’s temper”…”Bhutto would not brook any criticism…”Bhutto’s obsession with maintaining a aura of invincibility was so strong that he would spare no one, not even those who had done him valuable and devoted service over the years”.

About Bhutto’s devious machinations that were part of his politicking style, Mr Mazari wrote, “I had known Bhutto for some 23 years. To him lying, double-dealing and deceit were normal means of attaining and keeping power”

His FSF was a Gestapo type dreaded outfit that was created to terrorize and tyrannize both his colleagues and political rivals. In his fabulous bookThe Journey to Disillusionment”, the Baloch leader Sher Baz Mazari writes that, “Bhutto chose to use a policy of systemic terror to brutalize his opponents.” Mr Mazari provides an account of many erstwhile colleagues of PPP who suffered enormously at the hands of Bhutto’s FSF that brooked no mercy for anyone if ordered by Bhutto to be fixed and brutalized.

But let us thrash out the events then took place prior to the Bhutto’s ascension to power first as the president and then as prime minister of Pakistan. The foremost question is that who was primarily responsible for the historic blunder of igniting a civil war in formerly East Pakistan? A political leader of the genius of Bhutto could never support use of military in East Pakistan knowing well it would entrap Pakistan army.

Yet by a clever ruse not only did he refuse to sit with a majority party but convinced debauched Yahya khan to take the fatal army action in East Pakistan. Pakistan army was not only defeated but earned a lasting ignominy of surrender. There was a tacit or studied collusion between the then president Yahya Khan and Mr. Bhutto for an army operation in East Pakistan for the reason no one can justify.

If the democratic process was to be honored then why was it necessary for Mr. Bhutto to warn the elected parliament members going to East Pakistan would have his legs broken? That was a blatant denial of a majority party’s right to form government. Were the army top brass and Mr. Bhutto not cognizant that sending of army to subdue a whole province on immoral, unconscionable and illegal grounds was suicidal? Were they not aware of a yawning reality that in-between was a perennially hostile country and the resumption of supplies both of army personnel and ration and medicines by air nor by sea could not be carried on.

Bhutto’s tenure could be portrayed as a kind of façade of democracy that cloaked his authoritarianism and that was the most dominant reason for his downfall. It is unbelievable that all his colleagues who stood by him through thick and thin and were ideological bulwark of his revolution were forced to leave through gross intimidation, witch-hunting, physical tortures, humiliation and through every brutal means carried out through the FSF and by Bhutto personally in disgracing them. So when the army intervened on July 5, 1977, the PPP was depleted from committed and loyal cadres to stand by him. He fought a lonely legal war in front of the prosecutors who were his enemies for other reasons.

Bhutto’s penchant for power was so chronic and deep-rooted that contrary to his lofty ideals of making Pakistan a democratic, modern, secular, liberal country with civil society, shamelessly abandoned his cherished value and principles and dashed these on the rock of expediency. During the earth shaking countryside agitation spear-headed by Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) he frantically tried to win the support of the religious right to stay in power. One Such party was Jamaat Islami that opposed the creation of Pakistan and wanted the new state an Islamic emirate. He compromised his cherished credentials of an enlightened leader by downgrading himself to the level of a religious preacher or cleric.

What a volte-face that he sold his lofty status of the architect of a new modern Pakistan and auctioned his revolutionary mandate for the sake of power. Now such perfunctory measures as declaring Friday as holiday, declaring Ahmadis as non Muslims, banning liquor and horse races would not make Pakistan an Islamic state. But in order to deflate the hurricane of commotion for his ouster he bargained his secular credentials, his conscience and political integrity. From that moment the Pakistan has been irredeemably sinking into the abyss of religious fanaticism, lethal sectarianism and unremitting bigotry. But even that historic betrayal couldn’t keep him in the power saddle.

The outcome was irretrievably disastrous for his future. The religious lot got their piece of pie and then hastened for his downfall. The anti Bhutto outburst was all sections of society, betrayed and disillusioned people, friend and foes, bureaucracy, army, rival politicians, traders, students took part. The whole scene seemed to be the replay of what Bhutto did against Ayub Khan.

Now there is very little logic in maligning or hating Ziaul Haq who seized power from Mr. Bhutto.Ziaul-Haq was not a politician. He was a rigid religious practicing Muslim.  He was an army chief and the country was drifting towards a total chaos and breakdown. Ziaul-haq enjoyed the full support of the Islamic parties, Imams of mosques, religious seminaries and madrasas, besides the army and a host of politicians and perhaps external abettors. There an ample space from the controversial elections of March 1977 that were ruthlessly rigged in accordance with the motives of Mr. Bhutto.
Mr. Bhutto prolonged the process of holding talks for a rapprochement. When he finally agreed on the contentious issues between him and opposition much water had flown down the political rivers. It clearly means that he lacked a kind of political acumen and ability to see the direction of the wind. Thus Ziaul-Haq took the reins of the government and ruled with an iron had till he met his tragic fate also.

Now I would apportion much of blame to Ziaul-Haq because he was not an ideal moralist although he was a practicing Muslim. He did not amass wealth, nor made mansions but decidedly lived simple and austere life. This is for his person character. But in politics and in power all is fair. All the more when the religious sections of all hue and cries were behind him and the power fell in his lap like ripened fruit.

Let us give credit to Ziaul Haq for a proxy war, although at the behest of America that forced Soviet Union to leave Afghanistan with an historic disgrace. As a result of Soviet Union defeat in Afghanistan, the Muslim caucuses that the czars of Russia had forcibly annexed became independent. In a brief conversation with journalists including this scribe, Ziaul haq obliquely made statement to the effect that a miracle was about to happen in Afghanistan. By that he meant the Soviet defeat and liberation of Afghanistan for the communist stranglehold.

 I am not an admirer of president Ziaul haq but I believe that he was more prudent, crafty and skilful than Mr. Bhutto.  He never claimed that he was a political wizard or that he favored democracy and fundamental rights. He crushed the freedom of expression, independence of media, and maimed the organs of civil society like judiciary and parliament. But he did these things because he near thought these were wrong or in simple words it was not his mandate.
The dictators around the world have been doing obnoxious things and oppressed their people to stay in power corridors. Ziaul was not a lone dictator who suppressed the social freedom and further Islamized the society by more stringent Islamic injunctions. But he was never hypocritical, apologetic about what he was doing. He was the votary and spokesperson of a rigid, orthodox Islamic regime that he served well even employing extreme tyranny. Bhutto was people’s chosen representative yet he used the same coercive methods and intrigues that bring them at par.

Ziaul Haq and of late General Musharraf assumed power by default and because of the peculiar conditions that surfaced by the wrong doings and inept policies of their predecessors. Bhutto’s grave mistakes of curbing Baluchistan insurgency by use of brute military force, his amendments in the constitution for accumulation of more powers, his maltreatment of the opposition leaders, the massive rigging of 1977 elections, behaving as a merciless and intolerant lord to his peers and devoted colleagues, betrayal of his revolutionary mandate and finally using excessive force before and after 1977 elections to curb the agitations whipped up by PNA and other groups were all catalysts for his downfall.

Similarly the previous conduct of Nawaz Sharif as lording over Pakistan as a fiefdom, muzzling dissent and adopting confrontational postures with state institutions, fomenting political vendettas and finally the clumsy way of removing the COAS were the dynamics that culminated in his own ouster and taking over the reins of the government by General Musharraf.



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