I need to begin with a confession. While writing about Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto I experience a sense of contemporaneity without the void (if any) of emotional and physical distance. The 4th of April has always stayed with me and with the passage of the years the images have become even more graphic. I have never experienced a lessening of my passion or even the slightest hint of emotional distance. After 38 years Bhutto remains the Lodestar and my reference point. After the 4th of April everything civil and desirable and worth living for was destroyed and all “The old buoys which had marked the channel of my life” were swept away. For me it was an act of uncoupling. My feelings in the aftermath of his murder on the 4th of April 1979 can be summed up as ‘Ahor’, a term used by Arthur Koestler when experiencing sudden and devastating horror in the midst of some level of happiness and security. For Koestler incidentally, it was tonsillectomy without the anesthetic. For me it was the murder of Bhutto, “in the early hours of the morning” as the PTV newscaster put it. As time has gone on I feel a frenzy caught from him and an incredible intoxication with his person, much like Jules Michelet’s admiration of Vico which was so touchingly expressed in his declaration, “I have no master other than Vico”.

I met ZA Bhutto for the first time on a hazy Dhaka afternoon in mid-November 1966 at the cricket stadium where Pakistan were playing Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). In the post lunch session on the 3rd day a veritable feast of batting was laid out by two of the most exciting batsmen of those years- Intikhab Alam and Asif Iqbal- when in walked Z.A.Bhutto accompanied by Maulvi Fareed Ahmad, (who in his published memoirs, “Sun Behind the Clouds” labelled me a CIA agent in the employ of Malik Ghulam Jillani). But that is another story. As word of his presence spread around the small stadium the clapping and the roar of the crowd gave way, first to a buzz which within no time got converted into a frenzy of public applause. He walked up to us and shook hands with the team starting with Saeed Ahmad who he knew from Karachi. Such was my excitement that there and then, I began to imagine myself by his side as he stood (I thought on the threshold of a takeoff).

While thinking and writing about Bhutto I must confess that I am unable to resist the ‘reasons of the heart of which reason knows nothing’. People often ask me if I knew him well and to those who I think know me well enough my reply has been a remark attributed to Freud, ‘there is knowing and there is knowing and they are not the same’. Yes, I would like to think that I knew him but it is debatable if he knew me as well or well enough and in any case my personal friendship with Bhutto is not in any way as relevant as maybe it was for Boswell when he was writing about Dr. Johnson. In the beginning while still at university (and this is before 1970) whenever I met him (and he was fairly accessible at the time) a strange frisson would run through me and I would experience both wonderment and awe because I felt that he held out, ‘the promise of being the chosen one; the reincarnation of all the greatness that could be seen in the world around us’. Here I must add that I am writing about the romantic age of charismatic politicians which began with JFK and ran through Martin Luther King Jr, Bobby Kennedy, Lumumba, Soekarna, Castro, Che Guevara, Nkrumah and Nasser and just for good measure throw in Red Rudi Deutshke and Tariq Ali and you will get the picture. In the company of these giants Bhutto carved out a name and a place for himself. Dr. Henry Kissinger’s interview with Orianna Fallachi gives one an indication of what the world thought of him. While talking to Dr. Kissinger she was asked by the US Secretary of state about the leaders she had interviewed and of those who had impressed her. They discussed the matter and then Fallachi writes, “He agreed with me primarily about Bhutto; very sharp very brilliant”. And bear in mind that this tribute came from the very same Dr. Kissinger who warned Bhutto that, “We will make a horrible example of you” when telling him to give up the nuclear program. I am recounting such incidents because Bhutto never got to write his memoirs as for him there was no Elba on the Pacific and those he left behind were men and women of neither consequence nor substance. Maybe someone from his family will give it a shot one day and tell the world who he was, whence he came and where he was headed. And by so doing expose the shallowness of a two bit hack writer who has referred to ZA Bhutto as Zulfi. I need to set the record straight on this. I know it for a fact and Mumtaz Bhutto will bear me out on this that ZA Bhutto was a private person and not of the back-slapping variety. Nobody called him Zulfi once he had entered politics and Omer Qureshi with whom he went to school in Bombay and then to California at university told me not once but ten times that apart from Pilloo Modi and former President Ayub Khan who called him Zulfi at times, there was hardly anybody who addressed him by his assumed nickname. And here we have this two bit hack writer calling Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Zulfi. Zulfi indeed!

Bhutto’s detractors (and there are many, if not legion) also claim that he belonged to the same class which he so stridently criticised in public. This criticism is misplaced and indeed ill-informed because as subsequent events such as his attempts at land reforms and even nationalization of some industries prove that his commitment to the working classes and the underprivileged and the down trodden was profound and honest and his case was not unique- Marx never worked in a factory nor did Lenin or Stalin. Fidel Castro was a practicing lawyer, Che Guevera was a doctor and Salvadore Alende, that prince among men was a doctor, an intellectual and a politician. Bhutto during his life changed not only the vocabulary of the poor, the deprived and the oppressed (roti, kapra aur makaan) but also the manner in which they thought not only of themselves but also the iron-collar of a system which we had inherited. (sadda Bhutto aye ga, lag pata zai ga).

Now when I meet with my ‘revolutionary’ mentors there is a nostalgia which envelopes me. It’s like a cocoon but with more than a twinge of pain because I know that the time before 1977 can never be restored. This is principally because most of them (and they are all honorable men and women) use the same vocabulary but do not speak the same language. Civil society, Non-Governmental Organisations and the Washington Consensus have ‘healed the divisions’.

Zia’s arrival was like the battle of the Marne. There was no exit. People like me realized on 4-4-1979 that the trap set 639 days ago was finally shut. Bhutto’s murder was our Machiavellian moment as after him the country’s poor plunged into the Weberian night of icy darkness. Bhutto for people like me represented a celebration of aspirations and national social liberation; he was not merely ahead of his time; he was above it.