Bhutto's Last Days
By Asif Javed, MD
Williamsport , PA
Much has been written about ZA Bhutto's time in office and imprisonment. His life in power was like an open book but the period of his captivity continues to be shrouded in mystery and has led to great speculation and many conjectural stories. This writer has only recently come across a book written by an eye-witness to most of ZAB's time in jail as well as his execution. I am referring to "Bhutto's last 323 days" by Colonel Rafiuddin who was in-charge of security in the Central Jail Rawalpindi and saw the events first hand. To those who are looking for an authentic and unbiased account of this most tragic, sensitive and controversial period of our history, this book is a must read.
Col Rafi tells us of ZAB's personal habits that some of us already know of: he had rare charisma and elegance; he ate and slept very little, had a phenomenal memory, uncanny intelligence, cared deeply about his looks, and was an avid reader. He had amazing self-control and once went on hunger strike for nine consecutive days.
One gains an insight into his political thinking from the book: Bhutto felt strongly about the poor and thought that had he more time at his disposal, he might have accomplished a lot more for them and the country. He considered the political awakening of the poor as his greatest achievement. Ayub Khan, according to Bhutto, had many good qualities but was not a man of crises while Asghar Khan was too rigid and was unlikely to be a success in politics. Yahya Khan is described as intelligent and graceful except when he was drunk, which was once too often.
ZAB had an inherent dislike for mullahs and considered them the root cause of many ills facing Pakistan. Among his children, ZAB had high expectations from BB and predicted that she would leave her mark on history. He considered Gen Akhtar Malik the most outstanding military commander of his time; his ill-timed dismissal by Field Marshal Ayub in the 1965 War let Kashmir slip away. Bhutto considered Zia's plan to Islamize Pakistan an absolute. About the Ahmadis being declared non-Muslims, he felt it was a decision of the National Assembly and not his own. However, on another occasion, he made a remark to Col Rafi that perhaps all his sins could be forgiven for that decision. Bhutto greatly admired Turkish and German nations and once predicted Germany's reunification. Col Rafi recalls a remark by Bhutto one day: "Were I born a Turk, that nation would have valued me more than my own that has forsaken me while I rot in jail".
Perhaps the most fateful decision made by Bhutto in power was his choice of Zia as COAS. Col Rafi remembers that Bhutto had blamed the outgoing army chief Tikka Khan for influencing his decision. But facts speak otherwise. There is overwhelming evidence that the cunning and meek Zia had very tactfully convinced the PM of his total loyalty and servile nature. In their memoirs, Raja Anwar, Gen Gul Hassan and KM Arif have given details of how Zia created a benign image of himself and fooled ZAB. It appears even a political giant like ZAB found it hard to acknowledge this colossal mistake.
The author has written at length about the Bhutto family’s visits to jail. Begum Bhutto and Benazir visited often and resented the jail protocol and procedures. The family was in emotional turmoil, and understandably, under great stress. On one occasion, Begum Bhutto exchanged harsh words with the jail staff and threatened them with reprisal. Col Rafi reports one such outburst by Begum Nusrat Bhutto when she said, "Are we not great?" and "God has given us brains" while pointing to her temple. Tragically, the ladies were not aware of the gravity of the danger to Bhutto’s life and could have shared his belief that his imprisonment and trial was no more than a political stunt. It was much later – on being informed of the date of execution - that Nusrat Bhutto panicked and desperately tried to see the CMLA. Her letter offering to take the former PM abroad was delivered to the CMLA but ignored. By then, ZAB's fate had been sealed.
While imprisoned, ZAB seemed to have great faith in the loyalty of members of his party. Col Rafi reports quite a few conversations with him when ZAB expressed his total confidence in the party members; he was expecting great street protests for his release. Only much later, it dawned upon him that though devoted there were not many who were prepared to face the wrath of Martial Law administrators. Col Rafi notes the obvious despair in ZAB, "My party prefers a dead Bhutto", he once lamented. One day he screamed in obvious anguish, "Where are the bastards who were willing to lay down their lives for me?" There is also a reference to a very ill-advised statement from some PLO members that they could get Bhutto out of jail whenever they wanted. No such attempt was made; the tall claims only led to more stringent security arrangements!
The author denies having seen any physical abuse of Mr. Bhutto although he regrets that the former PM was humiliated in the last few days: ZAB's bed was forcibly removed and the former PM spent the last few nights of his life sleeping on a mat on the floor.
If these memoirs are to be believed, it is quite obvious that ZAB did not believe in the gravity of the danger that he was faced with. He was convinced that the murder case against him was fake and that the whole drama was being staged to unnerve him. The author blames Bhutto's legal team, his family and other visitors for consistently misleading him. The realty dawned on him much too late when the clock marking his eventual doom had begun to tick.
Col Rafi painstakingly records the last hours of Bhutto's life, the details of which are moving, painful and some quite bizarre, almost embarrassing for the nation. After hanging, the former PM's genitals were photographed, presumably to satisfy the military authorities that he was indeed circumcised. His expensive wrist watch went missing and was later recovered from Tara Masih, his hangman's pocket. One claimant for that wrist watch, Col Rafi writes with obvious disgust, was Yaar Ahmad Daryana, the jail SP.
Incidentally, Col Rafi also met with the three co-accused in the murder case of Mr. Kasuri. One of them, Sufi Ghulam Mustafa, confided to the author that he had supplied the weapons used in the attack on Mr. Kasuri’s life and that the orders for the murderous attempt had come from the "higher authorities". The intended target was Ahmad Raza, the son of the victim. Mustafa had been assured of release by the authorities if he stood firm on his statement that implicated ZAB. After ZAB's hanging Mustafa's usefulness was over and he met the same fate along with the three other co-accused. This was yet another of Zia's promises that was not kept.
Bhutto once said he wanted to be remembered as a poet and a revolutionary. Resting in peace in the timeless land of Sindh, wrote his biographer late Khalid Hasan, he may take comfort that many in this land remember him as such while majority of those who were responsible for his humiliation in jail have become part of the garbage can of history.
The author can be reached at email@example.com