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Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

In 1966 when Z.A. Bhutto was pushed out from his post as Foreign Minister by the regime of Field Martial Ayub Khan, he found himself wandering aimlessly in the political wilderness. Historian Stanley Wolpert (in his book, Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan), and Philip E. Jones (in Pakistan People’s Party: Rise to Power), have covered in detail this period of Bhutto’s life, suggesting that he had even decided to quit politics and leave the country.

The feeling of estrangement in him was such that at one point he walked out of his house in Karachi’s Clifton area (70 Clifton), and strolled into the palatial Mohatta Palace that is about a 100 metres away from 70 Clifton. At the time the Mohatta was the residence of Fatimah Jinnah, the aging sister of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (d.1948).

Ms Jinnah had contested the 1965 presidential election against Ayub Khan. But she had retired into seclusion after she was narrowly defeated by the fetching Field Marshall. Bhutto was part of the Ayub government during the election and had enthusiastically helped him in his electoral campaign against Ms Jinnah. Nevertheless, when Bhutto arrived at her doorstep, broken and feeling abandoned, Ms Jinnah agreed to meet him and (according to Wolpert), her parting words to him were: ‘I told you never to trust Ayub …’

Bhutto had opposed Ayub’s ceasefire agreement with the Indian Prime Minster after the 1965 Pakistan-India war reached a stalemate. The war was largely initiated by Bhutto’s analysis that suggested that the ‘Indian military was vulnerable after it was defeated by the Chinese army in 1962.’


Surprisingly, not much has been written about the man who transformed Bhutto from being a lost politician into the force behind one of the largest political parties in Pakistan


Though the Pakistan military had made some impressive gains at the start of the 1965 war, both Pakistan and India soon began to run out of military and economic resources and settled for a ceasefire.

Ayub accused Bhutto of misleading him, and Bhutto came out to claim that ‘Ayub had lost the war on the negotiating table’. Bhutto enjoyed a sudden surge of popularity among students who were angry at the ceasefire agreement. But after his ouster from the Ayub regime, he was just a young former Foreign Minister who had gained the admiration of some sections of the youth. But this support was likely to wither away if not cultivated from an established political platform.

So Bhutto first tried to make his way into Council Muslim League, the Muslim League (ML) faction that was opposed to the faction being led by Ayub (the Convention Muslim League). But Bhutto’s meeting with the Council League leadership did not go anywhere, mainly because the party was being headed by old Muslim League warhorses.

Philip E. Jones informs that after recognising the era’s rise of leftist sentiments among the youth across the world, Bhutto sensed the same phenomenon unfolding in Pakistan as well. Encouraged by the support he had received from the student community after the 1965 war, Bhutto now began to contemplate joining the time’s largest left-wing party in Pakistan, the National Awami Party (NAP). But here too he failed to bag an important spot because NAP already had a number of established leaders in its fold.

The resultant despondency drove Bhutto to leave Pakistan for the UK. There he began receiving letters from J. A. Rahim. Rahim was a retired civil servant who had been a secret member of the clandestine Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). Rahim advised Bhutto to form his own party. Bhutto met Rahim and the latter convinced Bhutto by explaining him how Pakistan was ripe for the emergence of a populist progressive party.

Like Bhutto, Rahim too possessed a sharp intellect and was extremely well-read. But he was also a trained Marxist ideologue and theoretician. A Bengali, he had studied Philosophy and Political Science at university and then gone on to receive an additional degree in Law. As a university student, Rahim had taken part in the movement that gave birth to Pakistan in 1947. In Pakistan he joined the new country’s fledgling civil service. However, he also secretly became a member of the Communist Party of Pakistan. But he chose to be politically inactive, until he saw how Bhutto was hailed as a hero by the youth in 1965.

At the time Bhutto had a rather superficial knowledge of Marxism, but he was impressed by how Rahim had used Marxist analytical tools to justify the emergence of a populist socialist party in Pakistan. Consequently, in 1967 Rahim became one of the founding members of such a party: The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Bhutto became the party’s chairman.

Rahim was also the main author of the party’s first manifesto. Other contributors included Dr Mubasher Hassan (socialist economist), Hanif Ramay (the intellectual who introduced Bhutto to the concept of ‘Islamic Socialism’) and Bhutto himself.

Rahim, Hassan and another socialist leader, S. Mohammad Rashid, were the main architects of organising the PPP across cities, towns and villages of (mainly) West Pakistan. They used various Maoist and Leninist organisational methods in this regard, setting up numerous party offices; forming youth, peasant and labour groups; and striking alliances with radical left-wing student and trade unions.

Rahim also authored much of the party literature that was translated into Urdu and regional languages and then distributed for indoctrination purposes and to counter the propaganda of right-wing parties that had begun to describe the PPP as an irreligious outfit.

The party swept the 1970 election in West Pakistan’s two largest provinces. It became the country’s new ruling party in December 1971 after East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh. Bhutto became President and then Prime Minister.

Rahim was made a federal minister. Along with other top PPP ideologues, he began the party’s project to turn Pakistan into a socialist economy and polity. However, by 1973 when a dramatic increase in oil prices by oil-rich Arab states triggered a global economic crisis, Bhutto began to drastically scale back his government’s socialist initiatives.

Bhutto was more a populist pragmatist than a socialist. From 1974 onwards, he moved slightly to the right and sidelined the party’s left ideologues. Some of them were even ousted. Rahim was asked to become Pakistan’s Ambassador to France.

But in 1975, Rahim was back and sitting in the drawing room of 70 Clifton with some other ministers. Bhutto often invited his ministers and party leaders for dinner but would not meet them till very late in the night.

Philip Jones explains how Rahim, now in his 70s, got agitated and complained, ‘I am not waiting for the Maharaja of Larkana anymore!’ He then stood up and left. The very next day an armed party of Bhutto’s special security force raided Rahim’s house, dragged him out, punched and kicked him, and then threw him in jail.

Bhutto accused Rahim of insulting his (Bhutto’s) ethnicity. However, Bhutto soon released him, apologised and asked him to return to France. Rahim passed away in 1977, the year Bhutto’s regime fell in a reactionary coup orchestrated by General Ziaul Haq. Rahim’s son welcomed the fall.

It is surprising that not much has been written about the man who transformed Bhutto from being a lost politician into becoming a powerful political force, and then helped him form one of the largest political parties in Pakistan. During his last days in Zia’s death cell (in 1979), one of the things Bhutto is said to have regretted most was his fall-out with his former mentor. But he was no more. And after April 4, 1979, neither was Bhutto.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 30th, 2015

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