After his retirement as deputy secretary ministry of foreign affairs in 1971 and serving as law revision commissioner in Uganda Syed Ali Raza chose to spend the rest of his life in Maryland USA and wrote his autobiography in two volumes under the title Mere Zamane (My Times).
Unfortunately he died last year. Four years ago when I was forced by circumstances to shift to Baltimore I had the privilege of meeting the gentleman who by then had grown sufficiently old and it was difficult to communicate with him. However, his daughter Dr Attiya Khan who is an eminent physician and a literary figure, gave me Mere Zamane to read.
The first volume of the book described Syed Ali Raza’s earlier life in UP, India, and his entry into the service at a lower rung but by the time the country was partitioned he had already become a superintendent due to his sheer hard work. On opting for Pakistan he was posted in the refugees ministry in Karachi. The ministry was later on renamed as the ministry of refugees and rehabilitation and soon after Ayub Khan’s martial law under Gen Azam Khan it was given the task of finalizing the rehabilitation work and winding up the ministry in a given span of time. As described by Syed Ali Raza soon after the partition the main task before the ministry was to frame the rules of business for rehabilitation work in the form of an ordinance which was not an easy task. Syed Ali Raza points out that it was more due to the diligence of the lower staff than the top bureaucrats that this work was completed in record time.
It was during the same period that Syed Ali Raza first met Z.A. Bhutto. He writes: “The most complex case related to the funds deposited in the courts was that of a famous political personality of the country who later on served as minister in various ministries and prime minister and president of the country. He was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto whom I’ll mention as only Bhutto Sahib in (the) rest of my book. A few years after the signing of treaty on evacuee property Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto the father of Z.A.Bhutto came to my office with Bhutto sahib and asked me to take special care of this young man. From that time onwards Bhutto sahib was consulting me about his problems related to the evacuee property and I am proud to say that he would always treat me with honor and respect. Bhutto sahib’s problem was that when he was still a young lad his father Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto had given a house in the name of young Bhutto to the Bombay High Court as a court deposit. After some time with the permission of the court Sir Shahnawaz sold that house and deposited the amount of Rs 148000 in the same court as a deposit. In 1948 laws related to the evacuee property were enforced in India and Pakistan. So a request was made to the court for the release of the said amount. The request was turned down with the reasoning that because the amount was generated from an immovable property therefore it should be treated as immovable property. Since at that time there was no agreement between the two countries pertaining to the immovable property therefore this deposit could not be released. This was the position regarding this deposit in the name of Bhutto sahib when Sir Shahnawaz introduced him to me. The question was how to get this money released from Bombay High Court.”
Syed Ali Raza continues: “At first we raised this issue in a meeting with Indian counterparts but they came with the same excuse that since this is related to immovable property so it does not fall in their jurisdiction…In the meantime in April 1954 the central assembly passed a resolution that a law pertaining to the immovable property left in India by refugees be framed and enacted. Now there were two options before Bhutto sahib. First, as per Indian government’s stand this money resulting from the sale of the immovable property be treated as immovable property and Bhutto sahib should file a case in a Pakistani court constituted for the purpose. Second, as per our stand after its conversion to cash this amount be treated as movable property and it should be paid to the claimant through Government of Pakistan. To reach success we kept ourselves engaged in both the options. We advised him under Pakistani law he should file a claim for immovable property before chief claims commissioner and try to get postponement of the verdict for the time being. So Bhutto sahib did the same. On the other hand in a meeting of the committee for movable properties we proposed that the matured securities of those who have migrated to India and which are in our possession should be released and given to India and Bhutto sahib’s deposit be taken out of Bombay High Court’s custody and given to Pakistani Custodian of Court Deposits. Upon this we were told in a meeting in New Delhi that Bhutto sahib had filed a request in Indian Supreme Court to declare him a non-evacuee. So as long as that court did not give its decision this matter could not be taken up and should be kept pending. This revelation was really surprising for us so the matter was deferred. On returning from Delhi I personally talked to Bhutto sahib and on his affirmation we discussed in detail the pros and cons of such a case and a possible verdict both in his favor or against him. So I advised him to withdraw the case from Indian Supreme Court. He followed the advice and sent a certificate to the effect to us. But somehow the news of Bhutto sahib’s request for declaring him a non-evacuee reached the political circles of the country and it was propagated that Bhutto was an Indian national.”
In his account Syed Ali Raza has written about a gathering of his friends where a well-known religious leader was busy in a tirade against Mr Bhutto accusing him of being an Indian citizen. Syed Ali Raza interrupted the cleric and pointed out the true situation. He stated that Bhutto had given an application in the Indian Supreme Court to declare him non-evacuee but later on realizing its negative implications withdrew it. He was never an Indian citizen nor he would be so. Syed Ali Raza in his book wound up the Bhutto property issue in these words,” Let us now tell you how this matter ended. I had earlier written that there were some matured securities of a refugee who had taken refuge in India. So in the next meeting of the custodian of deposits of both India and Pakistan I handed over the securities of Indian evacuee after getting them released from a Pakistani court and asked my Indian counterpart to get the deposit of Bhutto sahib released from Bombay High Court and hand that over to us. So in the next meeting we received a check of Rs 168000 from them pertaining to Bhutto sahib’s deposit. Although the price of Bhutto’s property at the time of its sale was Rs 148000 but Bombay High Court also ordered to pay Rs 20000 as interest on that amount. After some time Bhutto again sent another application concerning this amount to me raising some newly conceived points but on my explaining that his demand was against rules withdrew it and never felt annoyed.”
Syed Ali Raza writes that Bhutto never forgot that favor and when he became foreign minister offered him to join his ministry as deputy secretary and at a later stage as a director.
Regarding Bhutto’s exit from Ayub’s cabinet he writes, “In the mid June all of us in the ministry had known that Bhutto sahib was leaving. Because Ayub Khan was annoyed with him therefore most of the ministry people were scared of any retribution on meeting him. The feeling I had for him and his kind attitude towards me I have mentioned earlier in the book. So I considered it my moral duty to pay him a farewell visit and although my well wishers in the ministry warned me against the consequences and particularly told me not to go in my personal car to see him because secret service people were noting down the numbers of the nameplates of such cars but I went in my personal car. Bhutto sahib immediately called me in. He looked tired and a bit upset. He told me, ’Yes, Ali Raza I am leaving’. I shook his hand bidding him good by and with difficulty controlled the tears swelled up in my eyes.”