Born To Be Hanged (Book Review) by Syeda Hameed

Book Name: Born To Be Hanged

Author: Syeda Hameed

Publisher: Rupa

Rating: 4.5/5

Book Blurb: 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.

Review: The book, Born To Be Hanged is a political biography of one of Pakistan’s most popular and enigmatic leaders. Given the circumstances of his meteoric rise and persecution in his own country makes him a leader worthy of research.

The author has relied upon archives and notes from meetings with people to compile this book. It is well researched and presents a holistic view of Bhutto and his political career. As is often the case with political writings, the book does not take sides and does not offer judgement- it leaves that to the reader and presents the life of Bhutto as he was. In this, the author has succeeded because there is no bias towards the subject of the book as is invariably the case with even great writers.

There are some personal accounts of the man also and shows his life apart from his political career but his political career has taken center stage for obvious reasons. His popularity among the general population was the envy of many a seasoned politician:

“Future belonged to ZAB. He was the hope of the masses; when he had returned from Pindi to Lahore, the massive crowds, which received him, were not mobilized by the party, they had come entirely on their own. He never let the masses down. That is why even Himalaya wept when they hanged this man.”

Bhutto comes across as a shrewd politician and a powerful orator who knew how to establish a personal connection with the masses. However, as has happened countless times before, the hunger for power and coupled with arrogance ultimately led to his downfall. Perhaps a more shrewd politician would have realized that the tide was turning against him.

The book relies far too much on scattered research, perhaps because the author has collected notes for the book over a period of time and the compilation hasn’t been up to the mark. The book could have been structured better but it’s an interesting book and worth a read.

At the time of his trial, he demanded that he be treated fairly. He demanded justice and not leniency not realizing that the Pakistan he had helped built did not honor principles of justice. While all politicians play to the gallery, nevertheless, at the end of the book, you cannot help sympathizing with a man who despite his personal flaws had profound love and loyalty for his nation and its people.

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