2:00 AM, 4th April 1979, Central Jail Rawalpindi. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto first elected Prime Minister, former President and former foreign minister of Pakistan was informed by his jailers “Its time”. He was removed from the death cell and taken to the gallows or “Phansi Ghar” for execution. The word had leaked out among the inmates of the jail and the melancholy quiet of the night was now punctuated with recitations from the holy Quran. Head held high, in proud defiance, Bhutto walked the short distance to his place of execution, his tryst with destiny, and the final act in his turbulent chaotic and historical career.
Tara Masih the official executioner and hangman tightened the noose around Bhuttos’s neck and now in the eerie silence of that macabre scene those present heard Bhuttos final words “Finish it, Finish it”. At a signal from the jail superintendent Tara Masih pulled the lever. Bhutto was hanged from the neck until dead. The dead body was then flown to Sindh from the air force base at Chaklala. The PAF C-130 aircraft landed in Larkana where it had rained through out the night as if the very heavens were weeping. ZAB’s first wife Ameer Begum and his cousin Shirin were hurriedly rounded up from the neighboring village of Naudero to take part in the last rites to be secretly performed in the ancestral graveyard of the Bhutto family, in Garhi Khuda Baksh where a fresh grave had been dug next to the grave of Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto and Begun Nusrat Bhutto were not granted the courtesy of information in time to enable them to attend the funeral. Shahnawaz and Murtaza Bhutto were both in Europe and Sanam was at Harvard totally oblivious to the tragic and grim scene being enacted in such a sinister manner to extinguish the life of their beloved “Papa” and “Qaid-i-Awam” to millions of Pakistanis.
Nazar Mohammed a lifelong servant of the Bhutto family was allowed to assist in the burial of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who later stated. “ His face shone like a pearl. He looked like the way he was at sixteen. His skin was not of several colors nor did his eyes or tongue bulge out like the pictures I had seen of men that Zia had hanged publicly. I turned Bhutto Sahib`s face to the West towards Mecca. His neck was not broken. There were strange red and black dots on his throat, however, like an official stamp.” The vile dictator Zia feared a possible backlash or violent public reaction and to avoid that he had it done with and over before dawn. Contrary to the Pakistani official code for hangings ZAB’s judicial murder was secretly performed in the dead of night. For the first time since he had taken over the country Zia could breathe easy and announced gleefully to his henchmen or “Rufqa” as he was fond of calling them, “The bastard is dead!”
11th November 1974 shortly after midnight, Ahmed Raza Qasuri, member of the National assembly and a bitter critic of ZAB and the Peoples Party was on his way home, with his family after attending a marriage ceremony in Shadman colony in Lahore. The stillness of the night was broken by the sound of gunfire; in a split second Nawab Mohammed Ahmed Khan sitting in the front seat received fatal injuries and was pronounced dead on arrival at the United Christian Hospital. Shortly after Ahmed Raza Kasuri lodged a first information report or FIR. The assailants were unknown but Ahmed Raza managed to name Zulfuqar Ali Bhutto as the brain behind the murderous attack on his father. The logic behind the accusation was that Ahmed Raza had become a thorn in the side of ZAB and his people’s party as he was a member of the opposition, information secretary of the Tehreek-i-Istiqlal and a renowned critic of Bhutto and his policies. He added that in June 1974 Bhutto had threatened him on the floor of the National Assembly, “You keep quiet! I have had enough of you! Absolute poison! I will not tolerate your nuisance any more.”
The trial of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and five other defendants commenced on 11th October 1977 in the Lahore high court before the following five judges (i) Maulvi Mushtaq Hussein, Chief Justice, (ii) Jaki ud Din Pal, Judge, (iii) MSM Qureshi, judge, (iv) Aftab Hussein, judge, and (v) Gulbaz Khan. The public prosecutor was Ejaz Hussen Battalvi and Bhutto was defended for part of the proceedings by D. M. Awan, Ehsan Qadir Shah, and Enayatullah. By this time the military regime of the evil despot General Zia Ul Haque was in complete control of the country. All pillars of state including the judiciary and the executive had been made subservient to the whims and wishes of the military dictator. The legislature did not exist, trade unions, students’ organizations and free lawyers forums had been trampled under jackboots and the press had been gagged or forced to dance to the tune of the rulers. Zia’s mind was already made up; he was determined to kill Bhutto. This is evident from the interview he gave on 6th September 1977 in which he confirmed that he had personally ordered the arrest of ZAB and added “ Mr. Bhutto was a Maccheiavelli in 1977. An evil genius running the country on more or less Gestapo lines, misusing funds, blackmailing people, detaining them and even perhaps ordering people to be killed.” The learned judges of the Lahore High Court pronounced their historic but unfortunate judgment on 18th March 1978. Bhutto was found guilty and sentenced to death. This unanimous decision stated that the prosecution had proved their case “to the hilt” and that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a “compulsive liar” To add fuel to fire Zia had stated in an interview to the Urdu Digest on 15th September 1977 that Bhutto is a cheat and a murderer and he would not be able to escape the severest punishment on the basis of the evidence already available.
The prosecution’s star witness was Masood Mahmood a shady character of rather dubious antecedents and the former Director General of the infamous Federal Security Force or FSF, on whose testimony the entire edifice of the case was built and finally proved to be the bedrock of the Government’s case. The learned judges of the Lahore High Court were totally unconcerned and oblivious to the fact that Masood Mehmood made a confessional statement in order to save his own neck and thus should be classified as (i) an unsatisfactory witness, (ii) an accomplice and a participant in the crime, (iii) he admitted his guilt three years after the crime was committed, (iv) he made his confessional statement a long time after he was arrested, detained and kept in solitary confinement, (v) there were many other criminal charges against him, and (vi) he was a pardoned witness and an accomplice with a motive to implicate Bhutto.
Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court Maulvi Mushtaq Hussein was a known Bhutto hater and made no secret of his dislike and enmity with the former Prime Minister. Just before the beginning of the trial, the constitution of the court had been challenged by Bhutto on the grounds of appointment of Maulvi Mushtaq Hussein as the Chief Election Commissioner by the Zia regime. Bhutto’s appeal and rejoinder to the press alleged partisanship against justice Maulvi Mushtaq Hussein and labeled it a travesty of justice in combining the office of the Chief Election Commissioner and Chief Justice of the High Court. Mr. Bhutto also pointed out the visible bias and vindictive nature of Maulvi Mushtaq by bringing to light the fact that Maulvi Mushtaq on the retirement of Justice Iqbal had been superseded during Bhutto’s rule although he was the senior most judge of the Lahore high court and since that day he had nurtured a grudge against the former Prime Minister. All the allegations were repeated in the application for transfer of the case on behalf of Bhutto before the high court and the supreme court of Pakistan. The high court dismissed the appeal summarily on 9th October 1977.
Through out the course of the trial in the Lahore High Court the Chief Justice Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain failed to disguise his contempt for Bhutto and continued to spit venom and brimstone in the form of rude, insulting and uncalled for remarks against Bhutto and all that he stood for. Many times he was ordered to keep standing and once was placed behind the dock and given a chair with the cryptic remark by the Chief Justice “We know you are used to a very comfortable life” The defense lawyer also submitted that a dock had been put up in the court for the “principal accused” as Bhutto was called to cage and humiliate him with the result that he was prevented from giving instructions to his lawyers. On one occasion Maulvi Mushtaq even mentioned the hypothetical case of judges being superseded for appointment of a Chief Justice,. This was indeed a stupid observation by the Chief Justice because he himself was the judge superseded during Bhtto’s term as prime Minister. Maulvi Mushtaq also gave an interview to the BBC correspondent Mark Tulley. He spoke about common law traditions and that he was disappointed that Amnesty International did not send observers. He stated that the Bhuuto case was being heard by 5 judges although the law required only two. This was not only unusual but also against all judicial ethics for a judge to comment publicly on a case being tried in his own court. The Chief Justice completely forgot that the person most in need of an assurance that justice would be done was the accused himself. The Chief Justice was not only rude and insulting to Bhutto but also to the Bhutto Lawyer who was a very senior member of the bar, very often criticizing and ridiculing his quality of cross examinations.
On 22nd September 1977 General Zia replaced Justice Yaqub Ali Khan by his own nominee Justice Anwar Ul Haque as Chief Justice of the supreme court of Pakistan. On 23rd of September the new Chief Justice took his oath of office along with other supreme court judges, Omitting the paragraph in the oath laid down in 1973 constitution whereby the supreme court judges swear to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution” by this contrived deliberate manner the judges ceased to function as constitutional judges and were absolved from keeping faith with the oath they had sworn earlier.
After being sentenced to death by the Lahore High Court Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto appealed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 25th March 1978. ZAB appealed to the Chief Justice to withdraw from the case as he had publicly criticized Bhutto and his Government and had even referred to Zia Ul Haque as a “National Saviour” and had also acted as Head of state during Zia’s absence from the country. This appeal was rejected by Anwar Ul Haque as being “unfounded and based on a misunderstanding” The CJ announced that he was going to nominate a full bench of 9 judges and his view would be only one view of the nine judges. Hearings of the appeal continued from 20th of may 1978 to 23rd December 1978. Judgment was delivered on 6th of February 1979. It was a split decision of 4:3 that finally sealed the fate of the charismatic former Prime Minister of Pakistan. During the course of the trial in the Supreme Court fate played a trick on ZAB not once but twice. The number of Judges hearing the appeal was reduced to seven from nine. Justice Qaiser Khan retired on 30.7.78 and Justice Wahid ud Din stepped down after suffering a stroke on 20th November 1978. The handpicked Zia nominee Chief Justice Anwar Ul Haque, a member of his Arain Biradri wrote the judgement, dismissing the Bhutto appeal and upholding the conviction and death sentence awarded by the Lahore High Court. Justice Mohd. Akram,.Justice Karam Elahi Chohan and Justice Nasim Ali Shah agreed with the decision of the Chief Justice and the three other judges who allowed the appeal of Bhutto and the other accused, Mian Abbas, were Justice Dorab Patel, Justice Haleem Sidiqui, and Justice Safdar Shah. Ironically another paradox of this historical case is that all the 4 judges who upheld the death sentence belonged to the Punjab province. The Chief Justice was a part of the “Jullundari Junta that ruled Pakistan and a member of the all-powerful Arain Biradri of Zia Ul Haque. Three judges who disagreed with the Chief Justice all belonged to the smaller provinces of Pakistan.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had strictly forbidden his supporters and family not to submit any mercy petitions to Zia Ul Haque. As a last ditch effort to save Bhutto’s life, Mr. Hafeez Peerzada, a former Minister in Bhutto`s cabinet, and two of Bhutto’s sisters submitted a mercy petition to General Zia Ul Haque on 31st March 1979. “It’s his neck or mine” General Zia had told Roedad Khan “I have not convicted him and if they hold him guilty, my God I am not letting him off!” The then Secretary General of the Ministry of Interior Roedad Khan was responsible for digesting the mercy appeals and pleas that kept pouring in from all over the world to spare Bhutto’s life. All such appeals were summarized for Zia ul Haque to read and give his decision. Due to the sheer number of appeals from world leaders and international organizations, it still took a lot of time and meanwhile the President’s office kept calling and asking Roedad Khan to speed up the process and asking him, “Why are you taking so long?” Simply for the reason that he could not be hanged unless and until all these appeals and mercy petitions had been “digested” and rejected with out a second thought.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto still rules the hearts and minds of millions of Pakistanis. Politics in Pakistan still revolves around the myth of Bhutto; people are either pro Bhutto or anti Bhutto. The specter of Bhutto will continue to cast a long shadow on the political scene of Pakistan and Bhutto will continue to influence political events from his grave in the interior of Sindh.