Book: Born to Be Hanged: Political Biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Writer: Syeda Saiyidain Hameed
Publication: Rupa Publications India
Price: Rs 500
This is an immense labour of love. For twenty years, says Syeda Hameed, she has “lived with a man she never met”: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Over these two decades, she has read all on Bhutto that she has been able to in both English and Urdu; made several research visits to Pakistan; spent time in the sprawling personal library of her protagonist; delved deep into the archives at Lahore; and met as many of Bhutto’s contemporaries as she could. Indeed, the book is dedicated to Mubashir Hasan, Bhutto’s principal mentor and ideologue, co-founder of the Pakistan People’s Party, who describes himself at 92, as ZAB’s “oldest and closest living associate”.
Yet the portrait that emerges of the man and the politician is unappealing. Syeda Hameed sees him, like Oedipus in the Greek tragedy, as destined by the gods to die a horrible death. But Bhutto’s life and death appear more to bear out another Greek saying that, “character is destiny”. He was not “born to die” because the Fates had so decreed or because he had flouted laws divine, but because, for all his charisma and brilliance, his was a deeply flawed personality, callous, cruel, vengeful, and committed ultimately only to his personal advancement — whatever the cost to the nation, his people or even his closest companions.
The phrase that gives Hameed’s book its title comes from Pakistan Chronicles by Sir Morrice James, the British High Commissioner in Pakistan at the time of the 1965 war, provoked and pursued even after Tashkent by ZAB himself. “There was,” wrote the High Commissioner (as quoted by Hameed), “a rank odour of hellfire about him… at heart he lacked a sense of dignity and value of other people… I sensed in him ruthlessness and a capacity for ill-doing” and so, in a diplomatic dispatch from Islamabad, “I wrote by way of clinching that Bhutto was born to be hanged”. Thus it was not in his stars but in himself that Bhutto sowed, by his own actions, the seeds of his final self-destruction.
He hated Hindus and India. In a letter to Jinnah when he was barely 15, he wrote, “Musalmans should realize that Hindus can never and will never unite with us, they are the deadliest enemies of our Koran and our Prophet.” For him, nationalist, secular Muslims like Sheikh Abdullah and Khan Sahib (the Frontier Gandhi’s son), who were against the vivisection of the country and therefore of the subcontinent’s Muslim community, were “stupid” betrayers “of the cause of the Muslims”.
When I served in Karachi at the time of Bhutto’s trial and hanging, it was widely speculated in circles that had known him that his visceral hatred of Hindus was, perhaps, because his mother Lakhi Bai, was a renowned Hindu tawaif; and Bhutto could never get over that stain on his escutcheon. Hameed recounts the archetypical tale of Bhutto’s fellow-feudal, Jam Sadiq Ali, passing by the great ZAB in the Sind Club without greeting him. This so infuriated Bhutto that he sharply reprimanded Jam sahib, asking him to remember where his father had sat when attending Zulfie’s father’s kutcheri. Tart came the reply — “on the floor” — because “that was the best seat to watch Lakhi Bai dance”!
Bhutto’s hatred of India comes through his ranting and railing at the UN. Describing India as “a great monster…
determined to annihilate Pakistan”, he claimed that India had launched against his country “a war of chauvinism and aggrandizement”, in response to which his country would “wage a war for a thousand years”. Instead of recognising that this was a farrago of lies because, as Hameed admits, it was Bhutto himself who was the “chief proponent” of the “fiasco” named “Operation Gibraltar” that was the proximate trigger for the 1965 war, the author believes he “raised the stature of his country and made the world sit up in grudging admiration”.
What actually happened was that after a private conversation with a Chinese leader at Karachi airport (identified in many accounts as Zhou Enlai), ZAB persuaded the cabinet, against the more sober assessment of Field Marshall and President Ayub Khan, that China had agreed to launch a pincer attack across the Himalayas (a classic “Cannae double envelopment”) as soon as Pakistan moved. In fact, the Chinese never gave any such assurance or, at any rate, did not act on it, in consequence of which Bhutto’s plans for “naked aggression” against India went awry.
To describe his self-serving defence of Pakistan’s actions as “one of the most iconic speeches by any foreign minister at the UN Security Council”, as Hameed does, certainly strains credibility, especially when, without citing a line of the Indian response, she adds that “the debate tossed up the issue to heights beyond the sky”. In fact, it marked the beginning of the end of Kashmir as a live issue at the UN. Bhutto never understood that the UN is not a domestic public rally — which is why his rhetoric might have won him plaudits in Pakistan but failed to carry the international community.
Then, without dwelling on Bhutto’s totally undemocratic defiance of Mujib’s overwhelming mandate in the 1970 elections that would have made the Sheikh PM of Pakistan, Hameed fails to underline Bhutto’s vicious endorsement of Pakistani military aggression against his own people that made the Partition of Pakistan inevitable. Instead, she describes Bhutto’s hate-filled speeches at the UN before national disaster overcame his country as evidence of his “amazing sagacity”.
His “sagacity” lay in threatening to “break the legs” of any PPP member who attended the inaugural meeting of the Pakistan parliament in Dhaka. Only one PPP member defied that whiplash: Ahmed Raza Kasuri. Bhutto avenged himself by getting his personal Praetorian guard, the Federal Security Force, to open fire on a vehicle in which Ahmed Raza Kasuri was traveling. The hail of FSF bullets failed to assassinate Ahmed Raza but killed his father — which is why Bhutto dangled at the end of a rope.
His inhuman treatment of not only his political enemies but even his own colleagues if they dared dissent, is well-documented in chapter 8 of Hameed’s account, including Bhutto’s favourite instrument of torture — police buggery. Yes, he captured the imagination of his people, but they eventually saw through him, which is why there were no “rivers of blood” when he was judicially assassinated.
Fortunately his “Hate India/Hate Hindu” legacy has died with him. All the political parties of Pakistan (save the insignificant Jama’at-e-Islami but including his PPP) favour a path of conciliation not confrontation with India. So do large swathes of the armed forces. It is we who are holding out. Alas. Dialogue — “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” — would give the final quietus to Bhutto and his pet hates.