Reopening the Bhutto case
08 April, 2011
By M.A. Niazi
The presidential reference on the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto hanging reflects not so much the current government’s commitment to the founder of the PPP, as the lengths to which it will go to avoid questions about how it has used the years of its third tenure in office to find the culprits of Benazir’s assassination. While reopening the Zulfikar Bhutto case, even apart from the question of how far its government has gone towards a resolution of the Benazir case, the question inevitably arises of why there was a three-year delay in the reopening of the case. The timing of the case makes it something of a later afterthought, designed as a legal stratagem, rather a method of obtaining justice. Even now, it is not clear what the reference is intended to achieve. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has been dead for more than 30 years, and has thus passed into history. His daughter, on the other hand, was murdered in the middle of the last election campaign, and the arrest of the culprits would mean the delayed punishment of the people who , outside the state, succeeded in assassinating a former two-time Prime Minister just after a campaign rally, and that too when the state machinery was giving her security.
It was perhaps more important in the making of the decision, that the present government would expend its legal energies in fighting again Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s case.
That his death by hanging was judicial murder is a truism for any self-respecting PPP jiala, and it is fairly clear at this distance that then CMLA General Ziaul Haq intended to hang Bhutto, in some other case if not this. It is significant that Zia had decided to win in the struggle that had commenced with Bhutto, in which the latter had threatened to make shoelaces out of his moustaches.
To revisit the case is to go back to another era, when bell-bottom trousers and platform shoes were going out of style. To go back to the trial is to go back to the Bhutto era itself, when those who were responsible for his hanging are now dead or very old. To go back to the case is for the President, now man of mature years, to go back to his youth, when, like all young men, he was footloose and fancy-free. His wife, now murdered, was alive, but young and a student at Oxford. To go back so many years is to take a trip, not so much down memory lane, as into a time-warp, or into a time-capsule.
And what are we supposed to have at the end of it? A declaration that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was not among the murderers? Since Bhutto alone was not convicted, what is to become of the other accused, the Federal Security Force men of various ranks, some of whom were also executed, and the approver left to go into exile. Pakistan should not be so quick to rake up the case, for the approver Masood Mahmood, the head of the FSF on whose evidence Bhutto was convicted, spent his exile from the end of the trial till his death in the USA. How he got there, and how he remained there, is not an aspect of the case that has been explored, nor is it something that the present PPP government, with its dedication to the American side in its war on terror, would like dragged up.
One result would have the murder placed on the list of unsolved cases. That would immediately create a jurisdictional dispute between the Ichra and Shadman police stations. The scene of the crime fell into the Ichra Police Station area, but now it falls under Shadman Police Station. Logic dictates that the case, now unsolved, would bounce back to the Shadman police, but the case file would move back to Ichra first, having gone from there to the court. However, logic does not always play a role in police work, and there would definitely be an attempt by the respective police forces to throw the responsibility on the other. This does not take into account the jurisdictional fight that will take place between the Operations and Investigations branches of the police station in which the case finally settles. Once it is decided who is responsible for the investigation, Ahmad Reza Kasuri, who according to the original case was the intended victim. If, as the son of the murdered man, Nawab Muhammad Ahmad Khan, he chooses to pursue the case, he can. As a lawyer of note, he probably has the needed methods at his fingertips. However, if he does not again pursue the case, the Punjab government can, and probably will. It will not do so only because it will be politically expedient, but because it will be necessary to do so.
Though President Zardari (and come to think of it, Law Minister Babar Awan and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, not just his closest advisers in the Cabinet, but also the ministers most closely involved in the case by virtue of their portfolios) may have been young at the time of the hanging, they are no longer young men, and thus would not share Bhutto’s feelings or attitudes. It is not remembered that the Bhutto era was not just one of upheaval, but it was also a revolt of the youth. It was part of the youth movement that started with the French students’ revolt of 1968. It was just such a movement which replaced Ayub Khan with General Yahya, and ultimately with Bhutto.
Bhutto was not just the representative of the have-nots while one of Sindh’s largest landowners, he was also a 40-plus representative of a generation of people under 30. His taking power was not just empowering to the poor, but also to young people. The Pakistani youth did not advance further than identifying themselves, though it seems that that identification was mainly used by marketing executives with an eye on the demographic.
One of the attractions of Bhutto was that he was also a socialist, something which is enshrined in the slogans of the party, but is not allowed any practical effect since Benazir Bhutto’s drawing closer to the US. However, one effect is the PPP’s belief that it should be a vanguard party, and should be a state institution to which the other state institutions must be subordinate. This is not just a socialist inheritance, but also owes much to Bhutto’s experience under Ayub, who was firmly in the statist tradition of the Raj. It is that tradition which does not value the independence of the judiciary, and which sees the executive as ideally buttressed by the judiciary, to the extent that the PPP now assumes that the judiciary can deliver the judgements it wants.
The President apparently also wants another issue which appeals to the party faithful. After the Benazir case, the only other case which really resonates with the PPP is the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. However, the party issue which he has chosen not only leaves cold those who do not count themselves among the PPP faithful, but also those who do not remember Bhutto, and that is a lot of voters, none of whom who appreciate the President’s filial feelings in trying to get the case verdict revised.
President Zardari is the last person who should try to get this done, because of the paperwork it will cause him as President, as the relatives of murder convicts try to get verdicts reversed through the mechanism of a presidential reference. This will become even more of a quandary when the murder convicts are alive and on death row. The President must not forget that after the mercy petition for Bhutto was turned down, all mercy petitions coming before Zia as President were also turned down. A murder not only has consequences for the victim, the murderer, and any abettor, but also the President. With that in mind, the government must look once more at this particular presidential reference. It would be better to devote this energy to the Benazir murder, which appeals to all PPP voters, more than the Bhutto case does.