ON this spring day, when flowers bloom and sparrows sing, all of nature joins in celebrating creation. For the multitudes of this stricken nation, though, April 4 is a sad reminder of the day when the shadows lengthened and darkness set in . forever.
As Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's nephew, I have lived through those dark, dreaded nights watching for the signs, waiting . waiting for tragedy's midnight hour to strike.
I met my uncle twice in the week leading up to his judicial murder. I had arrived from London and, after an excruciating wait, was allowed to meet him at the Rawalpindi jail first on March 27, 1979, and then again on March 31, a mere four days before his execution.
On my first visit, I was accompanied by a certain Yar Mohammad, a jail superintendent, who subsequently was to disappear without trace. Yar Mohammad harped only on one theme - that I should convince my uncle to petition for mercy which, he assured, would be granted. We arrived at the courtyard which housed his cell. I thought I would be allowed in so I could embrace him. I protested but was told firmly that I could only talk to him from across the bars.
I went into shock when I first lay eyes on my uncle. The sight of a lion caged in a suffocating, squalid death cell rankles till this day in my mind's darkest recesses. His cell was no larger than six feet by 10. There was no mattress or bedding and a lavatory seat was placed near the cell door to humiliate him. To deprive his captors of their sordid pleasure, he had completely stopped eating. His frame was reduced to a skeleton. I could not believe that the man who had been the country's president and prime minister could have been kept in this subhuman condition.
I recall a man physically bruised and emaciated but his head unbowed. Tortured and taunted by his jailers, his spirit was unscathed. He smiled and put me at ease. He wanted to talk about his country, his people, his achievements. He was unconcerned about the looming shadow of the hangman's noose or such trivial issues as life and death.
Deals come easy to the normal breed of our political chameleons. He too could have made a deal and lived to fight another day. Here was a man who could see death's shadow but as he said, "no matter what the outcome, we must come through this trial with our honour intact." He did not flinch.
During the course of our last meeting on March 31, he was whispering some instructions into my ear (the cell was heavily bugged and two policemen stood right behind me to eavesdrop), when the superintendent informed us that my half hour was over. Instinctively, my uncle asked his jailer for another minute to complete a conversation which was crucial to him. With his arms folded, and a smug look on his face, Yar Mohammad replied in Urdu, "alright, you can have your one minute." And then suddenly, my uncle got up and, kicking down his chair, said to me: "I do not like this man's patronising attitude and don't need his one minute." And thus the meeting ended.
I flew back to London and was awakened by the ringing of the phone at around 3am. It was Murtaza Bhutto at the other end. "They have done it" was all he said. It was all he needed to say. We gathered together at Murtaza's flat. There was darkness at dawn. We sat in silence, and stared at each other through that haunted gaze. The sharpness of the pain was like steel through the soul. Just as instantly, the soul was numb. One vicious, violent act in Rawalpindi had left us bereft, like dead leaves in the wind. Facing Makkah we bowed down in prayer. They had killed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and with him, they had killed a little bit in all of us.
Not far from the Pindi death cell, in captivity and the desolation of Sihala, two women were waiting for death. In the watches of the night they waited through those endless, harrowing hours as the clock ticked away the minutes, and finally that unforgiving second when the heavens were rent asunder as the trap door came down. April 4 had witnessed no dawn.
And so today April 4 is upon us again - a reminder of the grimness and gloom of that terrible day.
It is a sad day for a grand lady rendered a widow by the single rapier-like stroke of the dictator's pen. Since that fateful day, death has remained her constant companion as it took away one young son and then another. And so she lives a life reduced to all but zero. It is a day that took away from four youths a man who to them was more than a father. It took away an uncle, a brother, a friend and an icon from so many others.
It has taken me 28 years to put all this in writing. But why now? First, time is a healer and it has taken this long to dull the pain that comes from forcing recollection. But more importantly, a record needs to be set straight.
For 28 long years I have seen pygmies roll their poisoned pens with impunity to deride and disparage my uncle. I have seen very small men who have a sporadic relationship with truth utter garbage and engineer history.
The hatred of some, based on petty personal grounds, has been so deep and visceral, the licence accorded to them to vent their rancour so wide, that truth needs to come out of the closet.
Masquerading as journalists and lacking the moral wherewithal to render judgement, these people churn out reels of hate text, attributing to Bhutto every sin or suffering that visits the land. Being courtiers to military rulers and icons of cronyism, they suffer from a serious credibility gap but continue to savage and slander Bhutto in print, even after a lapse of nearly three decades.
To satisfy personal bias, they use newspaper spaces to practise their brand of intellectual pornography in their hate-Bhutto campaign, while the general readership is forced to swallow their prejudice. They continue to fill the cup of poison. The confederacy of charlatans has had its day and needs to be challenged. The cup of their inequities is full.
When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took the reins of a truncated Pakistan in December 1971, a new state was taking shape, not through gaining liberty as was the case with Bangladesh. It had come into being because it had been decapitated and dismembered. Unlike 1947, there was no hope, no anticipation, no dreams, only distress and dejection.
In 1947, Pakistan had to be built from the physical building blocks. In 1971, it had to be rebuilt psychologically.
If Jinnah got a moth-eaten Pakistan, Bhutto got a truncated and traumatised Pakistan. He had to carry his charge forward through its first steps in a mocking world. He bore the pain and the passion of a new Pakistan. It was like the first chapter of Genesis.
Myriad problems and challenges confronted Pakistan, both at home and abroad. Over 5,000 square miles of territory lay under enemy occupation and 90,000 prisoners of war, 20,000 of them civilians, were languishing in Indian jails. Not a day passed without the anguished cry of thousands of sisters, mothers and relatives reverberating across the country. The humiliating vision of Pakistani soldiers surrendering to General Aurora at the Dhaka Race Course haunted our people. An empty treasury, a tottering economy, an all-pervading sense of gloom - it seemed we were set to collapse in a slow dance of death.
Globally, Pakistan had become a pariah. Indira Ghandi threatened and taunted us from across the border while Mujibur Rehman ranted and raved about war trials and demanded a share from our empty coffers.
Recognition of Bangladesh was a thorny issue as Pakistan was caught between growing international pressure to recognise and domestic public opinion which was virulently opposed to the idea.
Added to this was India's insistence on making the release of the POWs and Pakistan's captured territory contingent on recognising Bangladesh and satisfying all her unreasonable demands. It was a diplomatic tightrope which called for unprecedented political dexterity.Internally, ZAB's enemies and opponents embarked on a foreign-inspired and relentless campaign to undermine and bring down the people's government. The police strike in Punjab, the labour strikes and the reign of jalao and gherao, the language riots, all were but a sample of the challenges that ZAB's fledgling state had to contend with.
And if things were not bad enough on their own, nature too was unforgiving. The floods of 1973, and then again in 1975 and 1976, wreaked havoc. Add to this the 1973 Arab-Israel war which saw oil prices skyrocket and one can only begin to get an idea of the insurmountable challenges that confronted Pakistan.
There was a mountain to climb and soon the mountain would become an Everest. But ZAB moved with amazing alacrity in all directions. "We have to pick up the pieces, very small pieces," he declared in his opening address to the nation.
Brick by brick, the edifice of a shattered Pakistan was rebuilt from the debris of defeat and dismemberment. An ailing economy was nursed back to health. In line with the PPP manifesto, agricultural reforms were introduced and land distributed amongst the landless peasants. Labour unions were allowed and the minimum wage for labour was fixed.
Owing to a near economic collapse faced by the country, currency devaluation became necessary. It was a very difficult decision but it was taken and the currency devalued.
ZAB has been much maligned for his economic policies and nationalization programme. Pakistan was ruled by the famous 22 families who held complete monopolistic sway over the economy. Together they owned the industries and the banks, disbursed loans to each other and controlled the means of production and supply. The poor were becoming poorer. They were without a voice, without hope, without a future.
TO break the shackles of the ruling elite, to create a more equitable system for wealth distribution and to ensure better wages and conditions for workers, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto fulfilled his election manifesto and nationalised key industries and banks.
Further, a programme of massive infrastructural capitalisation, with the view to acquire self-sufficiency in essential items, was undertaken.The fruits of that programme were reaped by successive governments and to this day are providing a source of wealth (through privatisation) to the present regime. The Port Qasim Industrial Estate, the Pakistan Steel Mills, fertiliser plants, the Karakoram highway and Karachi's Sharea Faisal are but a few of ZAB's lasting legacies. That today our armed forces march with all their pomp and splendour and display their impressive arms on Pakistan Day, or hold exhibitions of locally manufactured equipment, is thanks to Bhutto's gift to the nation. It was he who built the Taxila Heavy Mechanical Complex and the Kamrah Aeronautical Complex.
ZAB opened the doors for Pakistani labour to work in the Arab Gulf states, thus alleviating unemployment and providing the base for foreign remittances. The honour and morale of the demoralised armed forces was restored and they were equipped with some of the most sophisticated weapons the world had to offer.
From the ashes of defeat was emerging a new Pakistan. In no time at all, the engines of government were rolling. "If you think FDR had an amazing first 100 days, watch us," he prophetically declared.
Perhaps, ZAB's greatest contribution to Pakistan was the 1973 Constitution. It was the only unanimously adopted Constitution in the history of this nation and for that reason, even today, in spite of its many mutilations by military dictators, remains the index and the reference point for Pakistan's legal and constitutional system.
In the field of foreign affairs lay the genius of ZAB. He was a titan who had stood shoulder to shoulder with the great giants of his time, men like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, Soekarno and Nasser, Tito and Nehru, de Gaulle and Adenauer. ZAB's politics and diplomacy were based on what he called "the total sweep of history".
In December 1971, we were walking a diplomatic tightrope that would have tested the skills and capabilities of a Metternich or a Talleyrand. ZAB had to reinforce the friendship bonds with a more reticent China in one neighbourhood and appease a hostile Soviet Union in another.
The defining moment of ZAB's diplomacy was of course the Shimla accord. He went to India as the head of a defeated country and with no cards to play. He returned home with Pakistan's captured territory back in his pocket. His detractors accused him of secret deals but only time was to prove that it was a treaty even a Kissinger would not have imagined possible. His enemies chose to harp on the immediate return of prisoners but ZAB had the vision and sense of history to know that, in time, pressure would build up for the return of the prisoners; territory once lost, however, is rarely recovered. This is abundantly borne out by the fact that the Arab territories captured by Israel in the 1973 war are still largely under occupation.
He broke free from the shackles of Pakistan's cramped obsession with India and took it beyond into a Middle Eastern and pan-Islamic identity. He did not wish the world to view Pakistan through the prism of the Indo-Pak rivalry.
He was a consummate statesman whose vision and grasp of events presented a challenge and threat to his enemies. First, during the course of the Islamic Summit conference at Lahore, he brought together disparate and detached leaders of the Islamic comity under one banner. Having established unity among the Muslim ummah, who for the first time spoke with one voice for the Palestinians and other Islamic causes, he moved to a wider forum in the quest for a Third World conference, a vision and thought he propounded in his essay titled New Directions.
This thesis had far-reaching implications for both the industrialized nations and the Third World. He held that the countries of the Third World must pool their resources and stand united to end exploitation by the industrialised nations. Only if they were united could they demand better terms for trade, obtain wider export markets for their goods and fairer debt rescheduling and a more suitable monetary system.
The industrialised world had hitherto succeeded in keeping the Third World countries divided by grouping them into oil-producing and non-oil-producing blocs, defining them as aligned and non-aligned or industrial and agricultural. ZAB could see that other international forums such as the Non-Aligned Conference had become obsolete and pressed for a new direction more in keeping with evolving international realities. ZAB's vision of bringing to an end the superficial ifferences between such countries and thereby releasing them from the yoke of political, social and economic exploitation threatened vested interests and earned him powerful enemies.
ZAB was a masterful judge of international events, capable of extrapolating global trends and tendencies to Pakistan's internal issues to maximum effect. As he said in an interview with the correspondent of Tehran Journal on September 10, 1976: "It is we who form part of the world and not the world that forms part of us. Taking a lesson from something that has been done elsewhere in the world does not mean we are compromising on our principles. Some in our country do not want Pakistan to move forward. They do not want Pakistan to form part of today's civilised world, which is marching ahead. They want to tie Pakistan down, to tie it down to the past, to retain past slogans, to retain the past hatreds and to retain the past bitterness."
He advocated flexibility in politics and was not tied to any fixed dogmas or prejudices. "The dogmas, the theories and the script stand outside the gates of history," he wrote in his political testament.
There are those who, forgetting that a military dictator was at the helm of affairs of the state, unkindly accuse ZAB of thwarting the rule of the majority and creating the conditions for the break-up of Pakistan. Yahya Khan had no intention of relinquishing power. He had been assured that the 1970 elections would result in fragmented power blocs and he could rule forever. Yahya's LFO, the basis on which elections were conducted, clearly precluded parties with separatist manifestos from running. Why then was the Awami League allowed to contest? The ntentions were nefarious from the very start. He knew that a Punjabi army and bureaucracy would never consent to hand over the reins of power to East Pakistan and planned to use ZAB as the fall guy.
Bhutto spelt out his position succinctly in an interview with R.K. Karanjia, editor-in-chief of Blitz, Bombay, on October 31, 1972: "I made it quite clear that if Mujibur Rehman had a federal constitution, we would be happy to sit in the opposition and work in a democratic arrangement. But he wanted a confederal arrangement and, in a confederation, both sides had to have representation in the government."
Contrary to the charge that he desired a boycott of the assembly, ZAB consistently called for either a minor delay in its convening so that the two protagonists could come to some workable agreement prior to entering parliament or for waiving the 120-day condition for framing the Constitution.
Till the end he pleaded with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman to compromise on only two of his six points which were seen as a recipe for the separation of the two wings. Bhutto held that it was outside the legal scope of parliament to strike against its own sovereignty and to vote for the separation of the state. What people fail to appreciate is that Mujib's political compass was pointed precisely in that direction. ZAB's position stands vindicated today as the much-demonised Hamoodur Rehman commission finally and accidentally found its way in print.
ZAB possessed a vital magnetism which he transmitted to the people. He could touch the raw nerve of their emotion. He could tap the emotional wellsprings of the nation. He knew the pulse of the people, their heartbeat. They would laugh with him and cry with him. There was a compelling chemistry, an electrical charge that has not dulled with time. It was, in his own words, his greatest romance. He gave to the poor a future and he gave them a voice. He gave them consciousness and dignity which no tank, no dictator can take away. That bond has been frozen into doctrine.
His greatest gift to this nation is its security from external threats. That in spite of India's sabre-rattling and bellicosity the people of Pakistan can today sleep peacefully is because he gave his life to give them a bomb.
ZAB's detractors have distorted history and tampered with the written word. They killed Plato's philosopher-king and filled the space with charlatans.
But he has written his own history in blood and the legend has been nourished by the tears and the sweat of those who work in the fields and the factories. Bhutto belonged to the sweat and sorrow of this soil. His soul has mingled with the soul of the multitudes who cry out in their sorrow and in their pain, "Jeay Bhutto, Jeay Bhutto".
ZAB gave the people of Pakistan the foundation on which to build an inspired dream palace of their national thoughts. Today, we have surrendered ourselves to the momentum of mediocrity.
In Plato's words, "what is honoured in a country will be cultivated there." But we are not a nation given to honouring our heroes. Today, let us rise above narrow considerations and interests and acknowledge a man who was a brilliant beacon on the highway of history.