Happy Birthday ZAB

Roti, Kapra aur Makan

Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) was perhaps the most popular South Asian leader of his time. Today is his birthday and had he chosen to cheat death by making a deal with General Zia he would have been 83 years of age. Born to a Hindu mother and a Muslim father ZAB married an Iranian Shia.

His vision of a free Pakistan was free from the kind of discrimination, madness and murder which we can witness in the country’s present politics.

He was a very educated man who was able to charm major leaders on the international political stage.

In her book Interview with history the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci described ZAB as a “man with a thousand faces”. A controversial (owing to her Islamophobia) and renowned journalist, Fallaci admitted being overwhelmed by ZAB’s character and conceded that she was awestruck by his personality.

ZAB comprehensively rebuked the UN Security Council after the Fall of Dhaka in 1971. His speech at the UN remains a testament to his unique style of politics. Mr Bhutto never liked the notion of surrender or defeat and ultimately his populist politics cost him his life. Yet, despite this disproportionate loss to himself and his family, he did not bow to Zia’s diktats. ZAB chose to keep his hounor and preferred execution to betraying his ideological stand. Only a few men have done that.

The most striking aspect of ZAB’s legacy is that he chose to embrace death in following his principles whereas 99 people out of a 100 facing the death penalty would make a deal in order to have their execution stayed. Despite all the criticism which is directed towards ZAB’s politics and premiership, he was someone who believed in his country’s ability to prosper which he proposed to achieve by giving rights to the downtrodden. This was a new idea in a country where only the rich enjoyed freedom and hence the Pakistani elite remained at variance with his politics.

Providing these “fundamental” rights to the poor was connected to the fairness of his vision which he foresaw for the country that he lead variously as the foreign minister, president and finally as prime minister.

Mr Fathehyab Ali Khan made it the touchstone of his politics during the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy to fight for the restoration of ZAB’s original constitution of 1973 – which ensured that Pakistan would have a supreme Parliament and a free prime minister.

It was the barrister in Mr Bhutto – he was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1953 subsequent to having read law in Oxford’s prestigious Christ Church College – which provided him with the ability to use his oratorical skills in order to advance his politics and his socialist vision of Pakistan. His legacy is that the people should have their say in Pakistan’s politics.

It is, however, very sad indeed that Zia’s military regime eviscerated these ideals from Pakistan’s political environment.

ZAB’s trial was a true disgrace for Pakistan and for the common law. He did not even bother to appeal the verdict of the Lahore High Court when it sentenced him to death in 1978. He knew the corrupt people who had orchestrated his judicial murder would not be swayed to spare his life. It was the late Fatehyab Ali Khan who, of his own initiative appealed ZAB’s conviction in Supreme Court.

But in those dark days the apex court was controlled by the military and the pleadings for the case are not on record! I’ll try to find some petitions drafted by Fatehyab Ali Khan and put them up on this site.

ZAB’s death was the one of the saddest events in Pakistan’s short history. How the Americans and their European acolytes could stage ZAB’s murder by acting in cahoots with Zia is something which is monumentally discordant with their rhetoric about democracy and human rights. It was a truly disgusting act to murder Mr Bhutto and such action was taken in the interests of the west so that the west would be able to freely access Pakistan during the Afghan war. (All this is still ongoing of course.) But Mr Bhutto must be having the last laugh with OBL on the loose.

Yesterday, one of Mr Bhutto’s staunchest followers Mr Salmaan Taseer (sadly now the former Governor of Punjab), was murdered by one of his own security guards for the statements which Mr Taseer quite rightly made in connection with the Asia Bibi case. Mr Taseer had voiced his disgust at Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. As governor, Mr Taseer very rightly argued that the deprecation of Pakistan’s disgraceful and hideous blasphemy laws (which were introduced by Zia with America’s staunch support) is the primary area for law reform in Pakistan.

Now two-and-a-half decades later after the introduction of the blasphemy laws, Islamists are using murder and intimidation to disable Pakistanis from reforming the law.

However, in ZAB Pakistanis have a robust model to follow if they want to challenge the menace of extremism which they are confronted with. One can only hope that Pakistanis are able to follow ZAB’s lofty ideals for statesmanship and democracy in achieving his very idealistic goals for their country.

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