The Ghost of Bhutto

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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sepoy

what is the vertiginous chapati saying to me?

11 thoughts on “The Ghost of Bhutto”

  1. Am I the only one who’s noticed that ole Beanzir is all over the place these days? Aren’t there any quality Punjabi opposition figures to rally around?

  2. praktike: Like I said in the post, the nation cannot find any alternative because whereever you look a bhutto or zia stand-in looms. I am sure that at the end of The General’s 8-9 year tenure we will be faced with the Musharraf ghost.
    There is more to plumb here but sometime later.

  3. It’s interesting that the second/third tier of the PPP leadership seems to contain some very smart, well-cultured and level-headed individuals… but I wouldn’t want Benazir or Zardari to be anywhere near Islamabad. If it weren’t for those two I might consider voting for PPP in the future.

    The same thing seems to apply to MQM, with Altaf Bhai looking like a crooked mafia don to me… but with the middle order tiers of the leadership seeming quite intelligent and trustworthy.

    It seems that these parties, which have a middle order made up of intellectuals, require a charismatic leader to carry the party…. but why does there exist this relationship between charisma and corruption among Pakistani leaders?

    (MMA and PML are made up of jokers right the way through.)

  4. As praktike notes, Banzir is indeed all over the place these days. I recently saw her deliver a lecture at a small liberal arts college in central Texas that seemed to be entirely devoted to lauding the Bush doctrine and the ‘war on terror’, the glorious victory of ‘true democracy’ in the place of dictatorship in Afghanistan and Iraq, and ultimately presenting Pakistan as the next logical site for a bit of nation-building.

    A political scientist friend of mine remarked that Bush himself could have given the exact same speech, and indeed one can imagine Bush taking a similar line as part of a project to coerce Musharraf to hold elections at some point in future. One cannot be especially optimistic about the prospects of global democracy installed by US/World Bank/IMF-wielded carrots and sticks.

    While unapologetic Cold War era US support of dictatorships (or mujahidin groups) is abhorrent on one level, at least it is not quite the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing we are seeing paraded before us now in the name of democracy. There is not far to go before ‘democracy’ appears to most of the world as a baldly-obvious code word for letting shark capitalism run rampant in the poorer nations of the world. Will a return of Benazir to Pak politics mean anything different from this, especially if it comes along with a Bush-Musharraf brokered democratization of the country? Can one expect the compulsions of the electorate to dictate any kind of significant return to populist rhetoric and action?

  5. It is a pride of Sindh, Sindhi leaders like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Shaheed and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed, have only given but never taken anything, we recall those who sacrificed in getting a state like Pakistan, this family sacrificed to withstand the stature of Pakistan.

    A grieved brother of
    Miss Bhutto Shaheed

  6. The Ghost of Bhutto……..
    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.

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