The Ghost of Bhutto

in homistan

The leaders of Pakistan tend to have some aversion to natural terminations of tenure and, even, to natural terminations of life. On April 4th, 1979, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the overthrown Prime Minister of Pakistan, was hanged by the State of Pakistan led by the military dictator Zia ul Haq. Bhutto’s vindictive ghost, though, haunts Pakistan in ways that Zia feared the living Bhutto would. Funny that.

He was incredibly charismatic [who can forget his address to the UN? {er, who remembers?}] but he was filled with contradictions. He was an intellectual who came from landed elite. He was schooled in the best of places and was bourgeoisie yet claimed to speak for the people with socialist convictions. He rose to prominence not from the mass politics but from the inner halls of bureaucratic power under the dictator General Ayub. When he became the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, in 1963, he wanted Pakistan on the forefront of Islamic countries and South Asia instead he stoked the fires in Kashmir. He hated the military but all of his best friends were military men. He was the most trusted man Ayub had but, in 1969, he created the political party [PPP – Pakistan’s People Party] which toppled Ayub. He watched Pakistan break into two in 1971 to wait for his moment. The horrors of the military men turned the nation to this dapper bureaucrat who promised land reform and roti, kapra aur makan [bread, cloth and house] for everyone. He became the first elected Prime Minister of the 32 year old nation. He made industrial and land reform but the only beneficiaries were landlords and industrialists. He proclaimed “Islamic Socialism” but the people never saw Islam or socialism. He gave speech after speech on the terrors of landholding exploiters of the people. He courted them as his base. He promised 18 acres of land to each peasant and they got, well, nothing. From 1972 to 1977, he shaped Pakistan in his fractured image. More than anything, it was his death which came to symbolize the realm of political power in Pakistan.

Zia-ul-Haq led the coup against Bhutto because the PPP had won the 1977 election. And because he wanted the address of Bhutto’s Saville Row tailor. Within 90 days, Zia promised, we shall have new elections that will be unmarred by the corruption which gave PPP the overwhelming majority. The detained Bhutto was charged with conspiracy to commit 30-some counts of murder. A series of White Papers were released documenting the atrocities of the Bhutto regime. The Lahore High Court sentenced Bhutto to death. The Supreme Court withheld the decision.

Bhutto was a popular PM. Perhaps, the most popular figure in the history of the nation. Zia hoped that a quick trial and execution will rid him of the guy forever. Right. Has that ever worked out for anyone? Just ask Pontius Pilate. All the ill-will that Bhutto had fostered in his 6 years of mis-managed, authoritarian rule, evaporated when the news of his death was announced on the State Radio. That announcement transformed him from a likable yet crooked politician into a martyr. PPP maintained immense rural support throughout Zia’s military rule. Benazir Bhutto, the daughter, emerged as the hope of millions and the spearhead for democracy. The day she returned to Pakistan for the first time in 1986, those millions turned out to welcome her. The cult of personality that had built up around her father, herself, her brothers, her uncles, grows larger and larger to this day [husband, wives of slain brothers, mothers & c.] stifling any hope and chance of a rebirth [there is an equal cult around Zia’s ghost].

How morbid is that nation of mine?

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