Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto evokes different reactions from different people. For me, he was the man who, despite being in a weak position after the loss of East Pakistan in 1971, managed to force a hard-nosed Indira Gandhi to free over 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war almost unconditionally, turning a military loss into a political victory for himself and of course Pakistan. The backstory of course is that Indira earlier managed to convince Bhutto to release Bangladeshi founder Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who was on death row in a Pakistani military jail for treason, in return for the prisoners.
Under that suave exterior, he was also a man who harboured an obsessive hatred towards India and Hindus, describing them as “the deadliest enemies of our Koran and our Prophet”. Bhutto came in as the fourth President of Pakistan following the 1971 debacle and the resignation of military ruler Yahya Khan. He continued as Prime Minister from 1973 till 1977, when he was deposed and subsequently hanged by his army chief, General Zi-ul Haq in April 1979.
But there’s obviously a lot more to Bhutto, or ZAB as Syeda Hameed keeps referring to him in Born to Be Hanged: Political Biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In her introduction, Hameed admits to her obsession, saying “for twenty years, I have lived with a man I never met.”
It took her that long to put together the book after talking to people from various walks of life both in India and Pakistan who had actually met or worked with ZAB. But most of her material comes from the person she dedicates the book to—co-founder of the Pakistan People’s Party and ZAB’s closest aide and mentor, Mubashir Hasan, who describes himself as ZAB’s “oldest and closest living associate”.
The title of Hameed’s book comes from Pakistan Chronicle—published posthumously in 1993—by Sir Morrice James, Lord St Brides, who was British High Commissioner in Pakistan at the time of the 1965 war. After asserting that “Bhutto certainly had the right qualities for reaching the heights—drive, charm, imagination, a quick and penetrating mind, zest for life, eloquence, energy, a strong constitution, a sense of humour and a thick skin,” Morrice declares: “But there was—how shall I put it?—the rank odour of hellfire about him.... He was a Lucifer, a fallen angel.... I sensed in him a ruthlessness and a capacity for ill-doing which went far beyond what is natural.... In 1965, I so reported in one my last dispatches from Pakistan as British high commissioner. I wrote by way of clinching that point that Bhutto was born to be hanged. I did not intend this comment as a precise prophecy of what was going to happen to him, but 14 years later that was what it turned out to be.”
No doubt, Hameed’s book is a labour of love. But love, as we all know, happens to be blind. Which is perhaps why, despite her attempts to be fair to the man, her book glosses over the fact that it was Bhutto who vehemently rejected Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s electoral victory in 1970, and endorsed the genocide in East Pakistan which eventually led to the birth of Bangladesh a year later.
And while admitting Bhutto was the “chief proponent” of “Operation Gibraltar” which sparked the 1965 war with India, she argues that he “raised the stature of his country and made the world sit up in grudging admiration,” and cites his venomous anti-India tirade at the UN as proof of his “amazing sagacity.”
We thus have a book which gives us rare nuggets of information and insights into a man who shaped the history of Pakistan, while sugar-coating the fact that he was a murderer who was not born, but deserved to be hanged.