Born To Be Hanged (Book Excerpt) by Syeda Hameed

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto held the reins of the country from 1971 to 1977. He was overthrown in 1977 by his Chief of Army Staff, General Zia-ul-Haq and executed in 1979. Zia-ul-Haq ruled over Pakistan for eleven years with an iron fist, curbing all dissent until he got blown up in an air crash in 1988. In almost three decades since, Pakistan’s leadership has changed hands fifteen times. An extremely controversial and confrontational politics is associated with the era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. It is therefore not surprising that, considering his towering stature, not enough has been researched and written about the tumultuous years of his accession to power culminating in what today is best described as regicide. Syeda Hameed delves deep into the politics of Pakistan, meeting Bhutto’s contemporaries, mining information from archives and letters to bring to the fore a rich yet disturbing life and times of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Syeda Hameed is a writer, a human rights activist and educationist. She is a former member of the Planning Commission for Women and also of Planning Commission of India. She lives in New Delhi. Below you can read an excerpt from her book, Born To Be Hanged (Political Biography Of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto). Courtesy: Rupa Publications. Read the review of Born To Be Hanged here

Book Excerpt: Born To Be Hanged by Syeda Hameed

Never during the appeal or thereafter did ZAB ask for mercy. In fact, he had strictly instructed his lawyers and the members of his family that no such application should be made. Hafeez Pirzada (finance minister after Mubashir Hasan in ZAB’s government) and two sisters of ZAB, were the ones who presented the mercy petition to President Zia on 31 March 1979.

In the meantime, from the time sentence of death was passed by the court on the 18 March 1978, appeals for clemency were pouring in from all over the world. Even before his appeal was heard by the SC; appeals had been sent to General Zia by the governments of many Muslim countries including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, U.A.E., Oman and Qatar. Col. Gadaffi told Zia that he was prepared to go personally to Pakistan to rescue ‘his friend and brother in Islam’. Turkish Premier offered asylum. There were appeals from Rumania, Greece and Australia. British government and USA were silent. The Chinese Ambassador was reported, on 6 April 1978, to have had two meetings with General Zia and one with former President Chaudhury at which he had pleaded for Mr Bhutto’s life. Clemency appeals also came from many international personalities including Pope John Paul II, the UN Secretary-General, Kurt Waldheim, and President Carter. Pakistan diaspora, led by ZAB’s two sons, staged a protest in London and so did the Pakistan students in Moscow. General Ziaul Haq had one answer—‘Let the law take its course; all must be treated equally before the law’.

After the rejection of the appeal in the SC, there were many more clemency appeals and demonstrations. Keesing’s Contemporary Archives record that ‘following the rejection of appeal, former President Fazle Elahi Chaudhury visited Rawalpindi on 11 February to plead with President Zia for his life, he was refused an interview.’

In his written statement, ZAB had described the conditions of his death cell.

‘There were six cells—the death cell, a bathroom and four other cells. The other four cells were fly proof and the death cell was completely exposed… It was summer. It was hot. My whole face was full of flies and mosquitos… Then the bathroom was completely open and I was expected to go there with people marching up and down all the time… I refused to eat not that it was hunger strike as such, it was just that in those circumstances I simply could not eat… In June 1978, I fell ill and General Shaukat, an army General, not a PPP man, was sent to see me. He had tears in his eyes when he saw me. The room was full of dust. The springs of the bed were jutting out. My back was examined. It was in a terrible state. There were scars on it.’

It was mid-March 1979 when Mubashir Hasan finally got the appointment with Ziaul Haq that he had been seeking. He got a call that the president would receive him in the Core Commander Lahore’s office. The meeting began at 1 p.m. While they were talking, the president got up. ‘Maaf karna zara namaz padh lein.’ He got up and walked to the prayer mat where he and two attending generals offered prayers. Mubashir sat quietly, watching. When namaz was over, the conversation resumed. ‘I gave him many compelling arguments why it was in his interest that he should spare ZAB’s life—“Bhutto Sahib alive will be much more useful for you than Bhutto dead. You would have a bargaining counter with the opposition parties. We will take him out of Pakistan and ensure he does not return.”’ They had been thinking of asylum in Turkey or Greece. Turkey had made fervent clemency appeals to General Zia. The Prime Minister of Greece Kermanalist was ZAB’s dear friend and was keen to receive him in Athens.

‘The president bent over towards me. I was seated on the chair next to the sofa. For one hour he had been talking to me and occasionally to the two attending generals. Juice had been served after namaz. He tapped his glass with his fingers, took it to his lips and gulped it down before addressing me. “Mein Bhutto Sahib ko kaisey maar sakta hoon? Woh to merey mohsin hain.” (How can I kill Bhutto Sahib? He is my benefactor.)

‘As I walked out into the sunlight from the Core Commander’s office, I knew the man had lied.’

Then it was the night before the end.

The place reeked of old dampness. A single bulb showed the rope that hung still in the dead night. The hangman stood at the side of the platform with his eyes on the two men walking carefully on either side of the prisoner, carefully, not touching him. The prisoner’s cap covered only his forehead throwing in relief the nose and chin. He wore canvas shoes which made no sound. The two men turned back and left him alone on the platform with Tara Masih, the hangman. Both men stood face-to-face. A few shadows shuffled awkwardly near the walls. Silence. There was no sound except the rustle of the rope being twisted by the calloused hands of the hangman. He held the noose near the prisoner’s neck who made no effort to veer away. More rustling. One second, two, three… time ticked on. Suddenly, a voice at once familiar and unfamiliar tore through the dark silence ‘O scum, hurry’. The next moment the earth moved with a shudder and shattered under the ground. The wooden plank opened its trap and the newly twisted rope wrenched out the last breath of the man who once walked tall in the politics of Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged on 4 April 1979.

At the hanging, those present included the magistrate, hangman, jail superintendent and two intelligence persons.

His body was flown to Larkana in Sindh, and there it was buried. The sentence was carried out two hours before the time provided by the prison regulations. The customary 48 hours between the rejection of the mercy petition and the execution was not allowed. His wife and daughter were not allowed to attend the funeral. The public announcement about the execution was made nine hours later on 4 April 1979.187 The people of Pakistan learnt about the hanging through a broadcast on Radio Australia, followed by Mark Tully on BBC.


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