By the time the Lahore High Court pronounced its verdict in the murder case against Z.A. Bhutto and four others it had become evident that General Ziaul Haq had decided to continue his rule. On March 16, 1978 he came out with yet another move when he told the newsmen at Peshawar that he was not making any promises which he could not fulfil. He said that priorities had now been rearranged as Islamisation, accountability and then elections.
On March 18 at 08.20am Chief Justice Mushtaq Hussain of Lahore High Court, flanked by other judges of the bench — Justice Zakiuddin Paul, Justice Gulbaz Khan and Justice M.H. Qureshi — read out the verdict in the Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri case. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Mian Mohammad Abbas, Rana Iftikhar Ahmad, Arshad Iqbal and Ghulam Mustafa were awarded death sentences, while approvers Masood Mahmood and Ghulam Hussain were pardoned. The verdict was spread over 410 pages written by Judge Aftab Hussain and the rest of the bench members agreed to it. It said that the major accused was the conspirator who turned the FSF into an instrument to avenge his political opponents. Bhutto was also fined Rs25,000, which was to be paid to Ahmad Raza Kasuri, the victim’s son.
The operational part of the verdict said: “… All the offences which the accused are charged with are thus proved to the hilt. It is also proved that the conspiracy to murder Ahmad Raza Kasuri did not end with the death of Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan but continued even thereafter. He [Mr Bhutto] has been hurling threats as well as insults on us and at times had been unruly. In addition, he has proved himself to be a compulsory liar … the principal accused [Mr Bhutto] is the arch culprit having a motive in the matter. He has used the members of Federal Security Force for personal vendetta and for satisfaction of an urge in him to avenge himself upon a person whom he considered his enemy. For his own personal ends he has turned those persons into criminals and hired assassins and thus corrupted them.”
As the verdict is pronounced in the case against Bhutto, the military government engages the PNA in political dialogue
The FIR of the case was registered on Nov 11, 1974 after Nawab Kasuri was shot dead by unknown assailants while returning home after a wedding ceremony. The FIR included the name of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as the main accused. The case took a serious turn when FSF officer Masood Mahmood turned approver and sought security. On his revelations other accused were arrested and prosecuted. The verdict said that Bhutto’s behaviour was unacceptable and sometimes he even insulted the judges.
The court allowed seven days to the convicts to appeal before the Supreme Court. The next day Bhutto was transferred to the convicts’ chamber in jail and given B class as a privilege.
The verdict, for many in Pakistan, especially the PPP supporters was unexpected. The dejected PPP workers began protests in Rawalpindi and Lahore, where the protesters set ablaze a few vehicles. Protests were also held in Sukkur, Larkana and Hyderabad. The participants were tried under martial law regulations and punished with jail terms and lashes. But the protests did not gain much strength; only young workers joined the protests. Unfortunately, the absence of the PPP leaders was very conspicuous and created speculations among the workers as well as the general public. Some in political quarters thought that had the PPP leaders taken a firm stand the verdict could have been different.
Bhutto still had hopes in the Supreme Court. But it was difficult to predict what may happen. A few days after the High Court verdict, Sandy Gall of British television network ITV asked Gen Zia if Bhutto would be hanged. Gen Zia parried the answer by saying that the matter was still in the court, however, nobody was above the law and justice must be dispensed.
A few days after the High Court verdict, Sandy Gall of British television network ITV asked Gen Zia if Bhutto would be hanged. Gen Zia parried the answer by saying that the matter was still in the court, however, nobody was above the law and justice must be dispensed.
The court proceedings had begun on Oct 11, 1977 and the prosecution had presented 42 witnesses. The former FSF director-general Masood Mahmood had surrendered as an approver. Though the other accused — Mian Abbas, Ghulam Mustafa, Arshad Iqbal and Rana Iftikhar — presented defence witnesses, Bhutto did not present any witness. He had boycotted the proceedings from Jan 9, 1978 and refused to engage any counsel. Perhaps Bhutto was anticipating a sympathy sentiment of a high degree from the general public.
After the verdict heads of various countries including Libya, United States, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia as well as Dr Kurt Waldheim, secretary general of United Nations made appeals to Gen Zia to pardon Bhutto.
The PPP leaders constituted a panel of lawyers including Yahya Bakhtiar, Dost Mohammad Awan, and Rana Maqbool Ahmad Qadri, which decided to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.
Around the same time, the Election Cell officers were holding talks with political leaders of Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) at Rawalpindi. Perhaps, they did not want to lose time. A marathon session was held, which was attended by Mufti Mahmood, Chaudhry Zahoor Illahi, Khwaja Mohammad Safdar, Mian Tufail Mohammad, Chaudhry Rahmat Illahi, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Mohammad Ashraf Khan, Sardar Abdul Qayyum, Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilore and Prof Ghafoor Ahmad from PNA; General Faiz Ali Chishti, General Jamal Syed Mian and General Rao Farman Ali represented the military government.
Though apparently the meeting’s agenda was to discuss the overall situation in the country, the latent objective was to float the idea of a national government. The politicians were told that the Military Council was returning to democracy and as the first step it wanted the PNA to join the government. Gen Chishti appeared more instrumental in placing the proposal. During the exchange of views, the PNA leaders said that the problems were taking a dangerous turn as the administration was not implementing decisions seriously. Gen Chishti agreed that there were reports of non-implementation of decisions.
The government wanted the politicians to come forward and help it before an election date could be fixed and elections really held. While discussing the status of such a government, Chishti assured the PNA leaders that the political leaders, who joined the next set-up, would be fully independent. He said that only the PNA could deliver the goods. For the PNA leaders it was a difficult offer to respond to right away; they were, therefore, given five days to reply. In fact, the meeting was convened to seek some information about the reaction if Bhutto and other accused were awarded death sentence.
Two days earlier, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari, Begum Nasim Wali Khan, Begum Abida Hussain, retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan, Mahmood Ali Kasuri, Mushir Pesh Imam and Mahmood Khan Achakzai had held similar meetings with Gen Chishti.
Next week: Chishti rejects PNA’s conditional offer firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 7th, 2014