The use of religion by politicians for their own purposes; civil-military imbalance; a flawed strategy about Afghanistan; uneasy relations with India; productive relations with China; aid from friendly Arab countries and an insurgency in Balochistan. It reads like the story of Pakistan in 2014. It is not. It could just as easily be 1973, or any of the years that Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto ruled the country. In a way, we are living in the country that Mr. Bhutto built for us. Born into a political family, Bhutto got his first brush with politics at the University of Southern California. After completing his studies at Oxford University- where he was the president of the Oxford Union- he returned to Pakistan and started practicing law. He was inducted as part of Pakistan’s delegation to the United Nations due to his close links to Iskander Mirza, President of Pakistan at the time.Mr. Bhutto wrote a famous letter to Mirza, calling him “more important in the history of Pakistan than Mr. Jinnah.” His next benefactor was General Ayub Khan, who ruled the country for a decade.

Following the ill-fated adventure titled ‘Operation Gibraltar’ that led to an all-out war in September 1965, the Tashkent Pact was signed between Pakistan and India. Mr. Bhutto was one of the architects of Operation Gibraltar but placed the blame for Tashkent squarely on General Ayub’s shoulders. Public protests and unrest started by students and labor unions across the country in 1967-8 was used by Mr. Bhutto and Mujeeb-ur-Rehman to gain political mileage. In 1970, general elections based on Adult Franchise were held for the first time in Pakistan. Mujeeb’s Awami League gained a majority of seats, despite being restricted to the more populous eastern wing of the country. Mr. Bhutto refused to share power with Mujeeb and a political impasse ensued, paving the way for forceful intervention by the military. In December 1971, Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan. Mr. Bhutto-after having torn some empty papers in the UN Security Council-came back to rescue the country by assuming the role of Martial Law Administrator. He ruled Pakistan till a coup d’état led by his hand-picked general, Zia ul Haq. Mr. Bhutto’s authoritarian streak (which was too apparent during his tenure as Prime Minister) had its roots in his political training under strong military rulers. He was not a big fan of his political opponents, always scheming to hurt them in one way or the other. He threw journalists in jails, created a paramilitary organization under his command and distributed money via agencies before elections. The missing persons’ issue started during his tenure. He sent politicians and political workers from opposition parties to a torture cell called ‘Dalai Camp’ (no relation to Dalai Lama whatsoever). Bhutto used his policies as tools to inflict misery on his opponents. Land Reforms were initiated by his government, with a selective focus on the provinces of Baluchistan and NWFP (two provinces where his party was not in power). Following country-wide protests by Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), Bhutto ordered the selective nationalization of small to mid-level industries. Owners of such industries had contributed heavily to PNA’s political movement, most of whom were based in Central and Northern parts of Punjab. Opportunism was Bhutto’s most powerful weapon. He had the personal charisma to pull off most stunts. He was responsible for six amendments to the constitution that he himself had championed. He publicly opposed the military but bolstered their strength at every possible occasion. He was not too enthusiastic about relations with the United States and still he begged them for aid. He defeated Islamist parties like the Jamaat e Islami, yet made a Faustian Bargain with the Jamaat to crush socialist elements and progressive students from his own party. Stanley Wolpert in his book, ‘Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan’ refers to this duality in Bhutto’s behavior in one word: ‘Siyasat.’ Even the recent brouhaha over General (Retd) Musharraf can be traced back to the last days of Bhutto’s regime. While the dictator is being tried in a special court under Article 6 of the 1973 constitution, his legal team insisted that he should be tried in military court. The plea was rejected by the Supreme Court but this issue was raised due to another one of Mr. Bhutto’s products; in 1977, he amended the Pakistan Army Act to enable Court Martial to try civilians on different offenses, including Attempted Treason. This extreme step was taken because Mr. Bhutto wanted to punish PNA which had started public agitation after sham elections. Fortunately, this Act was struck down by the Lahore High Court within a year.

The Hyderabad Tribunal was another feather in democrat Bhutto’s cap. This judicial tribunal was used to prosecute opposition politicians of the National Awami Party (NAP) on the charges of treason and acting against the ideology of Pakistan. A total of 52 people were arrested, including the top leadership of NAP, several members of the Muslim League and even prominent critics of Bhutto within his own Pakistan People’s Party.

British Historian Archie Brown, in his latest book “The Myth of the Strong Leader,” discusses political leaders who seek to dominate policy and all those around them. The illusion/delusion of unfettered power leads to faulty policies and the misfortune for those governed. It should be recommended reading for all of ZAB’s heirs.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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