In the early hours of 4th April 1978, Pakistan’s first civilian Martial Law Administrator, president, and prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged by the military and later buried in his native village of Gadi Khudabux in Sindh. A significant number of people in Sindh remember him as a great leader while many Baloch, Sindhis, and Pakhtuns consider him as a loyal but misguided servant of the army establishment of Pakistan who committed unforgivable sins to their people.
Zulfiqar Ali, the youngest son of Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto was born on January 5, 1928. His father was one of the most loyalists to the colonial administration in India. His services were available to his masters from morning till night. For his services to the British Empire, he was well rewarded. Apart from awarding him the title of Sir (Khan Bahadur) and Knighthood, the colonial administration was generous enough to seek his services in various positions. In 1919, he was included in the Imperial Council of India. From 1921-1936, he became a member of the Bombay Legislative Council and served as a minister in the Bombay Presidency from 1924-36.
When plans of dividing India on religious grounds were being finalized in New Delhi and London, loyalists of the British Empires were tasked with different political agendas. Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto was made the president of the Sindh Muhammadan Association in 1925. The organization was closely collaborating with the All India Muslim League another political outfit of the colonial administration in India. During that period, the main task of the pro-colonial politicians in Sindh was to campaign for the separation of Bombay from Sindh. This was imperative in order to pass a resolution in support of a future Pakistan from a separated Sindh assembly minus Bombay. After the separation of Bombay from Sindh, Sir Shahnawaz was tasked to create confusion in Sindhi politics. In 1934, he founded Sindh People’s Party. In 1936, he became the president of another party Sindh United Party and was appointed as the Chief Advisor to the Governor of Sindh. Through Sir Shahnawaz, the colonial administrator became successful in luring respectable Sindhi nationalist leaders for accepting Pakistan. On the false promises made to Sindhi leadership through Sir Shahnawaz, the colonial administrator was successful in passing a resolution in favor of Pakistan from a controversially elected Sindh Assembly in 1943.
When in 1958, the army decided to take direct control of the country, the heirs of those who were loyal to the colonial power were included as the civilian face of the military regime. Sir Shahnawaz’s youngest son, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was inducted into the military government. Until 1966, he served on various ministerial positions in the martial law and semi-martial Law regime of General Ayub Khan. He became the secretary-general of the army’s political wing, the Muslim League Party.
Ayub Khan’s rule became unpopular and during the last years of the 1960s, masses of Pakistan took to the street against the military rule and people from smaller nationalities demanded greater autonomy. To curtail the nationalist sentiments and the outrage of the general populace, the army planned to replace General Ayub Khan who refused to quit. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was asked by the army to quit the cabinet where he was serving as the foreign minister. He was asked to form his own Pakistan People’s Party. The army managed to convince all his supporters in the country to join the People’s Party. A controlled media portrayed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as a great leader of the masses. Overnight, a member of martial law cabinet and secretary-general of fundamentalist Muslim league party became a socialist and democrat. With the rise of Bhutto, the army achieved its three main objectives: first, it neutralized the rise of Sindhi nationalism which was at its peak during the 1960s by portraying Bhutto as an alternative to the genuine Sindhi nationalist leaders. Secondly, the army was also successful through Bhutto to dilute the support of the National Awami Party (NAP) in Sindh and Punjab which was gaining tremendous support from liberal and left-wing political activists. Thirdly, in the political mayhem created by nationalist agitation in East Pakistan, Sindh, Frontier Province, and Balochistan, the army forced General Ayub Khan to handover the power to the chief of army staff general Yahya Khan. The military establishment was so pleased with the achievements of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that after the debacle of East Pakistan, he was made the first civilian Martial Administrator (perhaps the only example in the political history of the world) of a truncated Pakistan.
As one of the best “selected” civilian rulers of Pakistan, for some years, Bhutto ruled Pakistan with the full support of the army and the backing of Pakistan’s guardians in the west. During his tenure, a major military operation was carried out against the Baloch nationalist forces in Balochistan. The first popularly elected government in Balochistan headed by Sardar Mengal was dismissed. Thousands of the Baloch were killed in the military crackdown on nationalist forces, and thousands were forced to flee and seek refuge in Afghanistan. The first kill and dump incidence occurred when the army picked the son of Sardar Mengal, (the first chief minister of Balochistan) and dumped his body in an unknown place. Several hundred political activists in Balochistan, Sindh, and Frontier province were arrested, tortured, and kept in prisons for years. The representative party of the Baloch and Pakhtun masses, the National Awami Party was banned and nearly all its top leadership were tried in the famous Hyderabad Tribunal on conspiracy and treason charges. He was also successful in diverting a significant number of Sindhi youths away from nationalist politics by initiating a slanderous campaign against the towering figures of the Sindhi national struggle. The impact of Bhutto’s actions on nationalist politics was so disastrous that it went through an endless and catastrophic cycle of divisions and mistrust among the cadre. Even after more than four decades after Bhutto, the body politics in Sindh, Balochistan, and Pakhtunkhuwa is still murky and struggling to survive the death blows of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. For many critics of Bhutto, he committed the unforgivable sin of initiating an Islamization process in his last months of governance. He also began to train and finance renegade students of Kabul University who later became the leaders of Mujahidin and Taliban in Afghanistan.
Despite unreserved service to his “selectors”, his end was tragic. It appears that in his stupidity and misguided political vision, Bhutto ended up being lynched as he overstepped his mandate. On two main issues, he annoyed the masters and creators of Pakistan, the US, and the UK. Firstly, with the Shah of Iran and rulers of Arab sheikhdoms, he tried to form a new Islamic Union. Although, Islamic states were affiliated with the west, in the height of cold-war, the west could not risk such a move of a new political bloc with unlimited oil resources. It was already feeling disgusted by the role of non-aligned movement of that time. Secondly, the political and financial mentors of Pakistan were also annoyed when Bhutto began to make plans for an Islamic nuclear bomb. Ultimately, Bhutto as a persona non grata became dispensable. The Pakistani army was asked by the west to get rid of him. Overnight, all the opposition parties were joined, and Pakistan National Alliance was formed. A protracted protest movement by Pakistan National Alliance against the Bhutto government ended when the army took control of the country on July 4, 1977. Later, he was tried on a fictitious murder charge, convicted, humiliated in prison, and hanged on April 4, 1978. He was unceremoniously buried by the army in Gadi Khudabux on the same day.