Remembering Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
By Major (retd) Muhammad Arif Thaheem

Thirty years ago on April 4, 1979, the brightest star of Pakistan died a cruel death at the hands of the state, but decades later, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s presence is still unquestionably lingers around us.

Despite being hanged for murdering Ahmed Raza Kasuri, a political opponent, Bhutto is widely hailed as the most loved leader of Pakistan after Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Had it not been for his outstanding vision, Pakistan would be without any political standing in the world. Today, few can remember who passed the order for Bhutto’s death, but no one has forgotten the monumental changes Bhutto brought to the country while he was alive.

The order condemning Bhutto to death was a controversial one at the time, with judges and lawyers from all over the world condemning the courts of Pakistan. Finally, after all these years, the court officials who sentenced him to death have started to admit they were wrong. The question people should have been asking at the time was, why would Bhutto want Ahmed Raza Qusuri killed in the first place? If Bhutto had wanted anyone dead, surely he would have targeted better known leaders such as Mufti Mehmood, Wali Khan, Asghar Khan, Maulana Maududi or Ghaus Baksh, rather than Qusuri, a relatively unknown entity.

But 30 years on, there is little to be gained by mulling over what could have been. Bhutto’s achievements deserve far more importance than his tragic, untimely death. It was Bhutto who gave the poorer class their rights, and Bhutto who gave the nation courage to fight against cruelty and injustice. Any welfare work being done in the country today can trace its roots back to the Bhutto administration.

As Foreign Minister under Ayub Khan, Bhutto’s refusal to accept Pakistan’s defeat in the 1965 war against India marked the end of his association with the government. If Bhutto had second thoughts about his resignation, they were all wiped away when he saw how ecstatic the people of the country were at the stand he had taken against dictatorship. It became clear to him that he should remain in the world of politics.

The years following the 1965 war were a depressing time for Pakistan, but before long, Bhutto began boosting the morale of the entire nation with his passionate speeches. Here was a man the people could relate to, a fact that became clear when he won the 1970 elections.

It must be said that he did not come in to power at the best of times. When Bhutto took over, the country had just been split into two and was deeply insecure. While any other leader may have quailed under the pressure, Bhutto used the situation to his advantage. His presence in the government marked the time when the poor finally felt secure and so-called spiritual leaders and feudal lords lost their standing. In 1974, he formed and chaired the first Islamic Conference, which all the Islamic countries of the world were invited to attend. Such a move did not appeal to imperialist forces, whose biggest fear was that those countries that were economically and politically dependent on them would no longer be under their control. Nevertheless, Bhutto’s vision united third world countries and opened up opportunities for them in the world of trade.

Back in his own country, Bhutto finalised the constitution, which is followed to date despite the efforts of various subsequent dictators to change it. His many other achievements include signing the Steel Mill agreement with the USSR and about bringing educational reforms. With his vision, the Allama Iqbal Open University and the Quaid-e-Azam Univeristy in Islamabad came into being, and all at once, higher education became a possibility for many who could not have afforded it otherwise.

The fate of the Pakistanis who sacrificed themselves during the 1965 war clearly played on Bhutto’s mind, for soon after coming into power, Bhutto signed the Simla Agreement with India, reclaiming all the areas that had been captured and bringing home 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war.

At the same time, he strove to put Pakistan on the map by acquiring atomic weapons. The seeds of such ambitions had been formed back when he was Foreign Minister after Pakistan had been defeated in the 1965 war and later in an official meeting with the country’s atomic scientists, he voiced his dream to make Pakistan a ‘nuclear power’.

“Even if we have to starve, we will have atomic power,” he famously boasted in 1965 as foreign minister.

Bhutto did not forget his vow. To that end, he established the Pakistan Energy Commission and inaugurated the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant in 1972. Charged with electric enthusiasm, he recalled atomic scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan back into the country from Holland, who in turn personally informed the Prime Minister that he would remain in Pakistan and not leave until he had set up a uranium plant.

But Bhutto’s lofty ambitions proved to be his undoing. His plans to purchase nuclear technology from France were thwarted by US President Jimmy Carter, and in August 1977, as soon as he learnt of Pakistan’s escalating plans for nuclear power, US Foreign Minister Henry Kissinger threatened Bhutto to halt his all work on atomic weapons. As Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi wrote in his column, “Bhutto is being punished not for his crimes but for his deeds.”

Bhutto’s life started unraveling rapidly soon afterwards when he was arrested for the murder of Ahmed Raza Kasuri. Even though it is unclear whether those charges were ever proven, he paid the price for it and was hanged almost a decade after he began to heal Pakistan after everything the country had suffered.

No one can deny that Bhutto made mistakes, but no one should forget the lengths he went to for his country. Bhutto’s achievements far outweigh his blunders, and had he lived, he may well have ensured Pakistan a prosperous future it sorely lacks today.

The writer is a reciepient of Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Military)
Posted by: john frum 2009-04-05