Perhaps Bhutto should be remembered as Pakistan’s dilemma, 35 years since he is gone and the world is still undecided and confused as what to make of him ? Leader of the people (Quaid-e-Awam as some call him), Reformist, Symbol of Courage, Murderer, Arrogant, Traitor or as some claim “the reason for East Pakistan’s separation”. I don’t believe that this million dollar question can ever be settled down as what was Bhutto and who was working behind the scenes to get rid of Bhutto but there are few things which are popularly believed about him, some are right but may not be everything.
Bhutto’s Role in 71 war:
It really depends on who you talk to, Bhutto is often seen as the responsible for 71 war and the separation of East Pakistan and one of the famous statements you keep hearing in defense of this argument is that he once said “I’ll break the legs of those PPP members who dared to attend the inaugural session of the National Assembly if Shaikh Mujeeb is to be given the Government. However, there is actually more to it.
Dr. Mubashir Hassan was perhaps the most closest and trusted person in Bhutto’s team, some even argue that he was the master mind behind Bhutto’s rise to fame. A lesser known fact is that Dr Hassan traveled to Dhakka to meet Shaikh Mujib and his close circle to act as a deal broker. Dr Hassan managed to convince Mujib to meet Bhutto but. After Dr. Hassan achieved this task, Bhutto and Mujib agreed to run a coalition government for the sake of keeping Pakistan united. The deal was that Mujib would have become prime minister (given the fact that his Awami League had the majority in election results) and Bhutto would have succeeded Gen Yahya as president.
Yahya and other Generals were initially unaware of these secret talks, later they tried to reach a deal directly with Shaikh Mujib, the details of deal are unknown till this day. However for some reasons Pakistan Army’s talks with Sheikh Mujib failed and Yahya then postponed the opening session of the National Assembly and ordered an army action against Mujib. Some source claim that these talks were kept so secretive that even the most senior Generals from Pakistan Army didn’t know what was being proposed.
The defeat in 71 war was not only a loss of a territory but it also had significant psychological effects as well. The whole nation including Army had reached to its lowest level of moral and everyone in Pakistan was shattered. We should also not forget the International consequences of the war, Cold War during those days was on its peak. Many people now assume that Bhutto perhaps began thinking about acquiring Nuclear Bomb after 71 war, however this is not true.
Bhutto’s interest in nuclear technology was said to be began during his college years in the United States when Bhutto attended the course of political science, discussing political impact of U.S.’s first nuclear test, Trinity, on Global politics. While at Berkeley, Bhutto witnessed the public panic when the Soviet Union first exploded the bomb, codename First Lightning in 1949, prompting the U.S. government to famously launch the research on Hydrogen bombs. However, in 1958 when long before as Minister for Fuel, Power, and National Resources, Bhutto played a key role in setting up of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) administrative research bodies and institutes.
Bhutto believed that if Pakistan was to defend itself from the Indian Aggression it was important to find an answer for India’s preparation of acquiring Nuclear Technology. During his campaign for acquiring Bomb he wrote to several heads of state and one of his famous writing was:
Pakistan was exposed to a kind of “nuclear threat and blackmail” unparalleled elsewhere. If the world’s community failed to provide political insurance to Pakistan and other countries against the nuclear blackmail, these countries would be constraint to launch atomic bomb programs of their own! … Assurances provided by the United Nations were not “Enough!”…
Bhutto’s ambitions were clearly disliked by the United States and other Western Powers. Henry Kissinger once famously said “We will make an example of you if you didn’t stop your Nuclear Ambitions”. Many people use this particular statement to show that US and Western Powers had a great interest in getting rid of Bhutto as they saw him as a threat.
But, we conveniently forget the fact that it was General Zia-ul-Haq who continued to work on developing nuclear weapons after Bhutto’s death and the same Western Powers not only turned a blind eye but in many instances they helped Pakistan Army. It may be argued that by that time geopolitical realities had changed and West need Zia’s regime. Second point we often overlook is the fact that Pakistan was not the only country who was warned against developing Nuclear Technology, South Africa, Argentina and Australia were all in the same boat.
Bhutto was a strong supporter of Socialist Ideology, he began drifting towards the Leftist Ideology during early years of his student life. There is not much evidence to suggest that whether he was also an equal supporter of Authoritarian-Socialism as most of his actions suggests that he favored the empowerment of people instead of establishment. In my opinion he should be best described as a Social-Democrat more than anything else.
But the problem was that Bhutto was fighting on several fronts at the same time. He was busy rebuilding a heartbroken nation, strengthening ties with China and Arab countries, over looking Nuclear development, and above all he was busy firefighting a cold war with Pakistan Army. Another lesser known fact is that Army had already started considering Bhutto a traitor and the sole reason for the defeat in 71 war. A small group in Pakistan Army was secretly working on a Coup to take-over his Government and On 30 March, some 59 military officers were arrested by army troops for allegedly plotting a coup against Bhutto.
All these pressures forced Bhutto to look for new Allies and also to make new friends. It was during this time he began negotiating with not only Extreme Leftists (Libertarian Leftists) but also the Religious Parties too. Bhutto successfully made a deal with staunch opponent Wali Khan while he reached out to people like Mufti Mahmood. He later on had to bow down to the pressures of Religious Parties and Saudi Arabia to introduce an amendment to 1973 constitution that declared Ahmedis as Non-Muslims.
Some argue that bowing down to Religious Parties was his biggest mistake but very few actually understand the kind of pressure he had during that time and specially from Saudi Arabia who was desperate to make sure no Ahmedi is able to use Pakistani Passport for traveling to the holy places of Islam. Bhutto had limited options but to make deals. Another problem was that he was being labelled by many as a Surkha (a term used for Communist) and some even claimed that Bhutto was not even a Muslim which forced him to even change his lifestyle and to be seen in Shalwar Kameez and attend Namaz (Islamic Prayers) Gatherings more than ever.
Its hard to suggest who wanted to get rid of Bhutto, there are many players who must have had strong interest to get rid of him same as there were many who wanted him to survive such as Arab Friends (Libyan Prime Minister was in Islamabad for several days with a private plane to request for his exile but the request was turned down by General Zia). But one thing is quite clear that whatever Bhutto is seen as he isn’t seen as a Murderer at least. People today accuse him of several other things that even includes being responsible for the 71 war and the declaration of Ahmediya as non-Muslims but very few (if any) would believe that he had any role in the famous Kasuri Murder for which he was hanged to death.
I did not kill that man. My God is aware of it. I am big enough to admit if I had done it, that admission would have been less of an ordeal and humiliation than this barbarous trial which no self respecting man can endure. I am a Muslim. A Muslim’s fate is in the hands of God Almighty. I can face Him with a clear conscience and tell Him that I rebuilt His Islamic State of Pakistan from ashes into a respectable Nation. I am entirely at peace with my conscience in this black hole of Kot Lakhpat. I am not afraid of death. You have seen what fires I have passed through.
—Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, My Dearest Daughter: A letter from Death Cell.