Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: ‘Brilliant, arrogant, autocratic and opportunist’

Published: April 4, 2014

Bhutto's trial and ultimately his hanging, was an irony of the bloodiest manner; a brutal, tragic end chalked out by an insecure dictator who had been handpicked by Bhutto as the chief of army himself. PHOTO: FILE

‘Brilliant, arrogant, autocratic, opportunist’ – these are only a few of the words that have been used to describe the ‘father of popular politics’ in Pakistan. A staunch nationalist and the hero of the suppressed for his local supporters, a naive leftist for his foreign detractors, the man who restored Pakistan’s pride before his foreign supporters and an alcohol consuming corrupt statesman for his local critics.

Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore it. Today on April 4, 2014 it has been 35 years since he was hanged following a politically motivated sham trial in 1979.

Nevertheless, some facts need to be put right; Bhutto was not a common man. He didn’t come from a common family and nor did he have common upbringing. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and hailed from a prominent political family with his father being the last diwan (prime minister) of the state of Junagadh, India. He was not anti-establishment and his political career began under the wing of General Ayub Khan who was then president of Pakistan and a top-ranked military man.

It was this association with Ayub that led to Bhutto’s rise as a champion of democracy. Using the popular sentiment in Pakistan against the Tashkent Declaration and Ayub Khan, Bhutto formed the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967 which to this day, is the largest political entity in the country.

Moreover, Bhutto’s role in the independence of East Pakistan in 1971 continues to be an ardently debated topic. There are those who put the blame on him for everything that transpired that year. They argue that had he been more flexible and let Mujibur Rahman form the government, East Pakistan would have still been a part of the country. What is ignored is the simple fact that East Pakistan was in tatters even before Bhutto came along.

The seeds of hatred had been sowed much before Bhutto’s rise to power and it was literally a time bomb waiting to go off – Bhutto or no Bhutto. However, this theory has gained weight over the years primarily because of the propaganda fed to the country during Ziaul Haq’s regime. Among other things, what has been dragged into the background is the fact that Bhutto and Mujib had developed an understanding to form a coalition government with Mujib as the prime minister and Bhutto as the president and it was Pakistan’s then President Yahya Khan who postponed the inaugural session of the National Assembly and ordered a military crackdown in East Pakistan after his own talks with Mujib failed, completely unaware of the fact that Bhutto and Mujib had agreed upon a coalition.

Despite the trauma of 1971, Bhutto managed to lift the country up from rock bottom once he took control. Drafting the constitution of 1971, getting 93,000 prisoners of war released from India, introducing sweeping  land reforms, kick-starting the country’s nuclear programme and strengthening ties with China remain some of his most prominent achievements.

However, keeping these milestones aside, Bhutto’s impact was larger than facts and figures alone. Never before in Pakistan’s history did a man gather such massive rallies; never before did a man generate such passionate support and never before was the rural class mobilised in such a sweeping manner.

And yet, despite his massive potential and promise, Bhutto was undone by some grave errors on his part.

Although a secular and liberal himself, Bhutto faced stagnant economic growth and an uprising by the influential religious parties who blamed the country’s slow economic growth on Bhutto’s ‘un-Islamic’ lifestyle and his ‘un-Islamic’ policies. Coming under their pressure, Bhutto caved in to their whims after the anti-Ahmadi riots in 1974 and declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims, adding further fuel to the already strong anti-Ahmadi sentiment in the country. A year before this, in 1973, he ordered a military crackdown in Balochistan to curb an uprising and dismissed the provincial government.

These two errors made the cracks in Bhutto’s armour very visible. These two blunders, followed by the allegations of electoral rigging in 1977 and the murder of Ahmed Raza Kasuri’s father, set the foundations for Ziaul Haq’s coup in 1977.

What transpired next was the most high profile case in Pakistan’s history – a politically motivated affair orchestrated personally by Zia, which ended with Bhutto’s hanging in 1979 after a shambolic trial. This was an irony of the bloodiest manner; a brutal, tragic end chalked out by an insecure dictator who had been handpicked by Bhutto as the chief of army himself.

In spite of this tragic sham and the fact that 35 long years have gone by, Bhutto’s cult following has not waned one bit. There is no leader – not even his charismatic daughter – who can hold a candle to the sheer impact the man carries to this day.

In spite of all his follies, when all is said and done, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the greatest leader Pakistan ever saw.

Back in the day they shouted,

“Amreeka ne kutta paala, wardi wala wardi wala!”

(America bred a dog… in uniform, in uniform!)

And they were right.

salman Zafar

Salman Zafar

The writer works in the Education Sector and tweets as @salmanzafar1985 (twitter.com/salmanzafar1985)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Haris Javed

    Without an ounce of doubt he was a charismatic leader,
    but he lost my respect for what he did with East Pakistan and Ahmadis,
    those were not just blunders but multitude of sins!!Recommend

  • Haris Javed

    Without an ounce of doubt he was a charismatic leader,
    but he lost my respect for what he did with East Pakistan and Ahmadis,
    those were not just blunders but multitude of sins!!Recommend

  • Queen

    I totally disagree with the author. Call it the “propaganda” fed by Zia-ul Haq but the fact is that Bhutto is responsible for the East Pakistan debacle. Like all other political leaders, he wanted to remain in power and refused to acknoweldge the Awami League, the largest East Pakistani political party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who
    won a landslide victory in the national elections. The Awami League had the
    constitutional right to form a government, but Bhutto refused to allow Rahman to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Had Bhutto been a sensible leader, he would never have had let the country got divided in two parts. Bhutto must have had some good qualities but he was NEVER “the greatest leader Pakistan ever saw”.Recommend

  • Amir

    You need to read a history a lot. East Pak lost because of military and indian involvement. You need to correct yourself.Recommend

  • Asad Khan

    ….It was All India Radio who declared in front of huge Political gathering in Pakistan (Punjab) that whosoever go to Dhakka (for joint assembly session) we will break his legs!, right?Recommend

  • BlackJack

    The Indian army withdrew soon after the war and relations between Bangladesh and India plummeted after Mujib’s death. How come your erstwhile compatriots (majority of Pakistanis in those days) didn’t run back into your arms? With you guys, I guess there is always someone else to blame for your problems – one must admire the senseless simplicity if nothing else.Recommend

  • Asad Khan

    Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: ‘Brilliant, arrogant, autocratic and opportunist

    I agree with Auhtor Headline of the blog about what Bhutto is.

    He was Brilliant. Indeed = he knows his game.

    He was Arrogant.
    No doubt = being the only civilian minister in Ayub Khan’s cabinet made its mark.

    He was Autocratic.
    & why wouldn’t he be? = no explanation is required on this.

    He was opportunist.
    Couldn’t be any less = Bhutto smells opportunity from miles. That is why he made inroad to power through Iskander Mirza


    What he wasn’t. (as I understand him)

    He was Not a Democrat

    He was Not Humble a bit.

    He was Not Honest

    He was Not Reasonable.


  • Cronyism of PPP

    Enough is enough!! The country has already been plundered on the name of Bhutto…

    The 4 Governments of Bhuttos, spanning over 15 years, have broken the backbone of Pakistan economy and broke all records of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and mismanagement.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Until a true leader comes along…….we will have to read stuff like this. When we look around it seems that we have a very long wait ahead of us.Recommend

  • adil

    calling someone, being a military man or else, doesnt reflect the sign of a wisdom, and fighting for seat and denying the other bangali leader the same., and later on tearing documents in the united nations doesnt give him any place in my little book of leaders.Recommend

  • rashid

    you should learn the history , little knowledge is dangerous !! that was not bhutto who led the country divided in two parts but it was our some corrupt and lustful generals who done this…!! correct your self !!

  • https://twitter.com/Kamranhayder1 Kamran Hayder

    A leader of liberal party made a differentiation between citizens while drfating Constitution..just to make some clerics happy. But his charisma can never be ignored, i admire itRecommend

  • Asad Khan

    ……You nailed it Beautifully Buddy. Alas, our young ones must develop the taste of reading, research & reflect otherwise they still remain confuse by the “charismatic charade” of Bhutto until they figure it out late in their ages.


  • Rex Minor

    It was not Mr Bhutto, but the military man Yahya who opposed him becoming the Prime Minister and even wanted to have Mr Rehman hanged which Mr Bhutto vehmently opposed.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Though shall
    not kill, is Gods commandment and this was challenged and ignored by the
    military sherif of the 7th century who took the task of caning petty thieves in the Maidans of the capital to impress the ignorant populace of Pakistan about his knowledge of Islam and inspite of the appeals for clemency Mr Bhutto was sent to gallows. The man who at times forgot that
    his cohibition with the military wolves
    was risky, but for the interest of his country which he was passionately in
    love with and to a certain extent for his personal grandoer, nothing was out of
    bound for his speals in the art of diplomacy with friends and foes and with those who worked for him and those above him. He was one of the greatest politician and stood
    above all prior leaders of Pakistan before him including the founder of the
    country. May God give peace to his soul!!Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    i take it that you are refusing to include comments which tantamount to tributes for one of the greatest visionary man of his timesRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    ZAB is a perfect example of a secular minded fellow using Religion to get his way and manipulate people.
    That does not mean he was a closet Islamist, but just an opportunist. He carried on the legacy of Pakistan’s founder, who despite being a secular person, used Religion and hatred to achieve his political ambitions.

    Even though the Politicians themselves were Secular, their actions were not.

    ZAB goes on to ban Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslim, a Secular Jinnah launches Direct Action leading to the death of thousands.Recommend

  • tim

    i also disagree in this manner that Bhutto had the policy of bringing democracy to pakistan but that never happened as he brought in an autocratic form of government .he made 7 amendments to the new constitution and introduced FSF in order to increase his power. Bhutto also removed the seam of army ’cause he was afraid from them. introduced martial law in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore and balochistan.secondly dissolved assembly of balochistan , broke agreement with NWFP an balochistan governments.on some part he is held responsible for the separation of east pakistan and also could not achieve success in education and health sector. lastly i would say that although he made great efforts and his efforts paid off but ayub khan’s rule proved to better than his and the title of best leader pakistan ever witnessed would forever stay to quad-e-azam muhammad ali jinnah.Recommend