‘I am the destiny’

Eqbal Ahmad

  • The Terrorist Prince: Life and Death of Murtaza Bhutto by Raja Anwar, translated by Khalid Hasan
    Verso, 254 pp, £16.00, January 1997, ISBN 1 85984 886 9
  • Memoirs of a Bystander: A Life in Diplomacy by Iqbal Akhund
    Oxford, 500 pp, £15.99, June 1998, ISBN 0 19 577736 0
  • Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Pakistan by Rafi Raza
    Oxford, 420 pp, £15.95, April 1998, ISBN 0 19 577697 6

In London last month Benazir Bhutto called on Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to respond without delay to India’s nuclear tests. ‘It’s an opportunity for Pakistan to detonate nuclear weapons,’ she said, claiming that her own government had known of India’s intentions and had ‘prepared a contingency plan’ for Pakistan to react ‘immediately’. Returning to Pakistan on 20 May, she called for a government of national unity. Two days later she was leading marches demanding instant nuclear tests or Sharif’s resignation. The glass bracelets worn by South Asian women symbolise effeminacy and cowardice in this macho culture. Benazir took hers off and, tossing them into the crowd, thundered: ‘Go tell Nawaz Sharif to put these on.’ Now that his government has tested no fewer than six nuclear devices, he is being hailed as a national hero while she continues to face a hostile world of prosecutors and judges.

Benazir has a family claim on Pakistan’s nuclear programme. In 1974, when India tested its first nuclear device, her father, then prime minister, responded ‘immediately’. He held secret talks with China, made a deal of sorts with Libya, struck an agreement with France to purchase a plutonium-reprocessing plant and hired Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, a metallurgist then employed in Holland and now regarded, with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as a parent of Pakistan’s ‘peaceful’ nuclear programme which competes with, but does not quite match, the still more ‘peaceful’ Indian one. There is a widespread belief among Bhutto supporters that their leader was overthrown and executed at the behest of the United States, as a punishment for having equipped his country with the nuclear option. Did not Shaheed (‘Martyr’) Bhutto promise the people that he would tell the truth about the American conspiracy against him? Had he not brandished the document that would have confirmed it? Had Kissinger not threatened to make a ‘horrible example’ of him for refusing to back down? Had he not then sacrificed himself for the sake of national security? For the Bhuttos, Pakistan’s nuclear capability has always been an instrument as much of political prestige as of national interest.

South Asian dynasts have not always been good to their countries and, in turn, their countrymen have not been kind to them. Jawaharlal Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, was murdered by her Sikh guards. Her son Rajiv was killed by a Tamil female-bomb. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, who headed the first decolonised government of Sri Lanka, was assassinated by a Buddhist zealot. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family were massacred by military putschists. His daughter, Bangladesh’s current prime minister, is the family’s sole survivor. Father Bhutto was executed by his protégé and usurper, General Mohammed Zia ul Haq. One son committed suicide; the other was killed in a shoot-out with the police. At the time, sister Benazir was Pakistan’s prime minister.

The Bhutto story is by far the most dramatic – as well as ironic. Z.A. Bhutto, the dynasty’s founder, was a feudal chief from Sindh, where serfs are still incarcerated in their lords’ private prisons. Yet millions of disinherited peasants and workers saw him as a defender of their rights. He was an authoritarian figure whose formative years in politics were spent in the service of a military dictator. Yet he rose to power as a champion of democracy. He moved the multitude with an extraordinary repertoire of patriotic gestures and populist rhetoric. Yet he contributed significantly to Pakistan’s defeat and dismemberment. He moulded the Army and bureaucracy to serve as instruments of his personal power, but fell victim to his creations. His failure to fulfil his promises turned large numbers against him. But from his incarceration, trial and execution by a hated military dictator rose the legend of a hero and martyr. When Benazir inherited his mantle, an unlikely dynasty was born.

Three events define Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s style of politics: the Pakistan-India war of 1965, the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 and his fall at the end of the Seventies. Raja Anwar’s The Terrorist Prince tells the macabre story of Bhutto’s son Murtaza’s efforts to avenge his father and bring about an armed revolution in Pakistan. Iqbal Akhund, a diplomat, served under Bhutto at defining moments in Bhutto’s and Pakistan’s life. Rafi Raza was a close friend and aide to Bhutto during his years in power.

Unlike Nehru, Bandaranaike, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who spent their lives in nationalist politics and are regarded as founding fathers of their countries, Bhutto entered politics through the back door, as a civilian supporter of military rule. Two men led Pakistan’s first coup in 1958: General Iskander Mirza, the titular President, and General Mohammed Ayub Khan, the army chief. Bhutto, then an obscure lawyer, was a protégé of General Mirza, who commended him to Ayub Khan and, at the age of 30, Bhutto became Minister of Commerce in the dictatorship. Youthful dynamism and a talent for flattery ensured his rapid rise to prominence. In his Life of Bhutto published in 1993, Stanley Wolpert quotes from a letter Bhutto wrote to assure Mirza of his ‘imperishable and devoted loyalty’: ‘When the history of our Country is written by objective Historians, your name will be placed before that of even Mr Jinnah. Sir, I say this because I mean it, and not because you are the President of my Country.’ Then this demurral: ‘I do not think I could be found guilty of the charge of flattery.’

Ayub Khan ousted his fellow conspirator, Mirza, a mere three weeks after the coup. Bhutto stayed in his cabinet for eight years. The Sandhurst-trained, spit-and-polish General liked the young barrister. Bhutto was well educated, with degrees from California and Oxford, elegantly dressed, articulate and politically useful – in Sindh he rallied support for military rule. He was an invaluable adviser and trouble-shooter – and an amusing drinking companion. He was one of the two men who drafted the authoritarian constitution of the military regime in which he served as the Minister for Basic Democracy, though he would later denounce the system as ‘basic fascism’. It was Bhutto who advised Ayub to become a field marshal, ‘since it was essential for him to stay head and shoulders above the others’. The General thought this a ‘brilliant’ suggestion. According to Altaf Gauhar, Ayub’s Information Secretary, ghost-writer and biographer, ‘Bhutto saw Ayub first as Pakistan’s Abraham Lincoln and then adopted him as Salahuddin Ayub, the Muslim crusader.’ In January 1963, Bhutto became Minister of Foreign Affairs. From then on, he could envisage himself as Ayub’s successor.

He also won admirers. His speeches on the evils of imperialism, on behalf of Palestinian and South African liberation, appealed to young Pakistanis in the Sixties. Above all, with his consistent attacks on India, he came to be seen as a bold patriot struggling to liberate the Indian-occupied state of Kashmir. At the same time, he was trying to wean Pakistan from its dependence on the US and to put it at the centre of Third World diplomacy, in the vanguard of the Muslim world. There was evidence to support his progressive image. Photographs and news reports showed that he was a friend of Sukarno and Nasser, an architect of Pakistan’s close ties with China, a statesman favoured by Mao and Chou en-Lai. A boundary agreement with China, negotiated by his predecessor, was signed in 1962, soon after the Indo-China border war. Its details, largely advantageous to Pakistan, were made public in 1963 by Bhutto and the treaty was widely perceived as his personal achievement. In April 1965, Ayub was the first Pakistani head of state to make agreements on trade and aid with Soviet leaders in Moscow. Who else but Bhutto could have arranged that? Washington disapproved, which only added to his popularity in Pakistan.

‘The 1965 war became Zulfi’s booster rocket,’ Wolpert wrote. There is a broad consensus that Bhutto was the civilian engineer of this war. Yet nothing in his background gave indications of a latent anti-Indian outlook. His pampering mother, born Lakhi Bai, was a Hindu dancer who converted to Islam on marriage. His adolescence was spent in Bombay, a cosmopolitan city where his friends were Zoroastrians and Hindus. He was neither a victim of, nor a witness to, the horrors of Partition. Yet, in the government of Ayub Khan, himself a cautious soldier of moderate disposition, Bhutto emerged as a hawk who spoke of India in the Cold War vocabulary of Dulles and Nixon. ‘Kashmir,’ he declared, ‘is to Pakistan what Berlin is to the West.’

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