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Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: Execution of a Dictator

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was, what might be described as a populist politician. Although, the American term would be hard to justify for any Pakistani politician. His life was one of success and tragedy.

Bhutto was born in the Sindh province of British India in 1928 to an aristocratic Rajput family that had converted to the Shi'ia version of Islam. His family was influential in the politics of the time. Ali Bhutto received his high school education in Bombay (Mumbai) but traveled the United States for his university education at the University of California at Berkeley. This university was effectively the Harvard of the Pacific Rim and Bhutto completed his bachelor's degree there in 1950. Bhutto was thus away from India during the troubled time of the partition and the formation of Pakistan.

Bhutto went on to graduate education at the University of Oxford where he studied law. After the completion of his degree he practiced law and lectured a short time before returning home in 1953 to the new nation of Pakistan. He settled in Karachi and practiced law there. He developed some political ties and was appointed to Pakistan's delegation to the United Nations.

His wife, Nurat, was also of a Shi'ia Islamic faith and but with an Iranian Kurdish heritage.

Politics in Pakistan took a new turn in 1958 when the military leader Mohammad Ayub Khan carried out a coup d'etat. Bhutto was well enough connected that he was appointed to head the Ministry of Commerce. Appointments to other cabinet post followed. Finally he was made foreign minister in 1963. He then began to develop his own policy program. He tried to promote ties with China as a counter balance to the militant relation which had developed with independent India.

In 1965 a war with India broke out over the issue of Kashmir and Jammu. Pakistan was overwhelmed militarily by India and had to sue for peace. Bhutto objected to the peace treaty with India that ended the war and in protest he resigned from his position as foreign minister.

After leaving the administration of Ayub Khan, Bhutto began organizing his own political party. It founded at the end of 1967 and was called the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Out of office and head of his own political party Bhutto began to denounce the Ayub Khan regime as a dictator and, as a result, the regime put him into prison for the years 1968 and 1969.

The Ayub Khan regime was terminated by his resignation and control was assumed by another general, Mohammad Yahya Khan, and national elections were permitted in 1970. At that time Pakistan consisted of two wings. The West Wing consisted of the Indus River Valley and so forth plus Balochistan, the province on the coast south of Afghanistan. The East Wing was what once had been East Bengal. The East Wing had a greater population and more important export industries. The capital and political control was in the hands of the West Pakistanis. The East Wing was providing more taxes but was getting the smaller share of federal government funds.

Bhutto's PPP received overwhelming electoral support in the West Wing but the Awani League, a political party of the East Wing had the greater number of representatives. Since the vote was divided between the Awani League and Bhutto's PPP the legislative government might have had to involve both the Awani League and Bhutto's PPP, but Bhutto refused to enter into a coalition with the Awani League. This created a political crisis which spun out of control. When the Pakistan army under the control of West Wing commanders tried to put down the rebellion the army of India came to the aid of the rebels and defeated the West Wing's attempt suppress the rebellion. The East Wing of Pakistan became the new nation of Bangladesh.

The military regime of Yahya Khan failed miserably and political control was turned over to Ali Bhutto at the end of 1971. Bhutto was able to rule largely by decree.

Bhutto began immediately to consolidate his power and move toward a socialist economy. He nationalized key industries and began to tax the land property of the richer families. Bhutto in 1973 used his political power to install a new constitution which further enhanced his power. He created a Federal Security Force which functioned as a palace guard outside of the control of the military.

After ruling as a dictator for about five years, Bhutto decided to hold a new election in 1977. His party apparently won the election but there was enough suspicion of voting fraud that riots broke out. Bhutto prohibited assemblies for political purpose hoping to throttle the protest movement.

The military under the leadership of General Zia ul-Haq took control of the government and imprisoned Bhutto. Bhutto was uncooperative with the military regime and Zia ul-Haq, tired of Bhutto's intransigence, Zia had Bhutto charged with arranging the assassination of a political opponent in 1974. Bhutto was found guilty in a trial in 1978 and sentenced to death. Bhutto's appeal of the verdict to the high court was unsuccessful and he was hung in 1979.

Here is Pervez Musharraf's assessment of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto:

"With East Pakistan gone, to become Bangladesh, Bhutto's largest number of seats in what was left of Pakistan gave him a dubious legitimacy. He became president of Pakistan, but he also used the absence of a basic law as a pretext to become chief martial law administrator. There was nothing to stop Bhutto from reverting to the constitution of 1956, with amendments to the clauses that pertained to East Pakistan, but he chose raw power instead.

At first I admired Bhutto. He was young, educated, articulate, and dynamic. He had eight years' experience in government under President Ayub Khan. But as time passed, my opinion of Bhutto started to change. My brother Javed, who was principal secretary to the chief minister of the North-West Frontier Province, told me that Bhutto was no good and would ruin the country. My brother was right. I saw how the country, and particularly the economy, was ravaged by mindless nationalization. Its institutions were destroyed under his brand of so-called Islamic socialism. Bhutto took control of virtually all the nation's industries-steel, chemicals, cement, shipping, banking, insurance, engineering, gas and power distribution, and even small industries like flour milling, cotton ginning, and rice husking, as well as private schools and colleges -- the start of the destruction of our educational system. Mercifully, he did not touch textiles, our largest industry. Bhutto ruled not like a democrat but like a despotic dictator. He threw many of his opponents, including editors, journalists, and even cartoonists, into prison. He was really a fascist -- using the most progressive rhetoric to promote regressive ends, the first of which was to stay in power forever. It was a tragedy, because a man of his undoubted capability could have done a lot of good for his country. By the time his regime ended, I had come to the conclusion that Bhutto was the worst thing that had yet happened to Pakistan. I still maintain that he did more damage to the country than anyone else, damage from which we have still not fully recovered. Among other things, he was the first to try to appease the religious right. He banned liquor and gambling and declared Friday a holiday instead of Sunday. This was hypocrisy at its peak, because everyone knew that he did not believe in any one of these actions."

Pervez Musharraf, In the Line of Fire, pp. 57-58.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.