This article was originally published on September 17, 2105.

Last Monday (06 September, 2015), I received an e-mail from a Pakistani who claimed to be living in a European city.

He wrote that he had read my Sunday column in Dawn of 06 September, 2015, part of which was about how many members of the clandestine urban guerrilla group, the Al-Zulfiqar Organisation (AZO), who had reached Libya and Syria (from Kabul), were never heard from again.

Also read: The lost boys

He insisted that ‘a lot of the boys who ended up in Libya and Syria, did not vanish.’ According to him, some were still living in the mentioned countries, while many also managed to get political asylum in various European countries.

He claimed that he was once part of the AZO. To prove this, he shared dozens of photos that he had taken of himself and ‘the boys’ in Tripoli (Libya) and Kabul in the early 1980s. He claimed he is now settled in a European city.

His narrative was that AZO and its activities were demonised not only by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship (1977-88), but largely by men such as journalist and author, Raja Anwar.

Now this is the ironic bit. Anwar remains to be the only author who has written a detailed account of the life and times of the AZO (in The Terrorist Prince). The irony is that he was once actually a member of the AZO (in Kabul) and yet, many of his former comrades and even some respected journalists have continued to dispute the authenticity of the information that he provides in his book.

Anwar’s book, first published in 1997.
Anwar’s book, first published in 1997.

In the beginning

Anwar was a leftist student radical during the students and workers movement against the Ayub Khan regime in the late 1960s. He then went on to join ZA Bhutto’s populist Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) when it came to power in December, 1971. He was made an Advisor on Youth Affairs by Bhutto.

After the Bhutto regime fell in a military coup (by General Ziaul Haq) in July 1977 and Bhutto was arrested, Bhutto’s wife, Nusrat Bhutto, gave Anwar the responsibility of setting up spontaneous party cells that could be activated to hold situationist protests against the Zia regime. During a number of such protests, some young PPP supporters even set themselves on fire (in Lahore and Rawalpindi).

Anwar is from the Punjab city of Rawalpindi. In his book, he reminds the readers that most of the young men who went up in flames to protest against Bhutto’s arrest (and then trial) belonged to working-class Punjabi families. Bhutto was a Sindhi, and it seems Anwar made sure to point out that Bhutto’s most diehard supporters at the time resided in the Punjab.

He continues to mention this throughout his book and it is only in the latter half of the book that it becomes clear why he does this. He denounces AZO chief, Murtaza Bhutto (ZA Bhutto’s son), as being a ‘Sindhi feudal’ who didn’t care much about his Punjabi supporters.

After Bhutto was hanged through a controversial trial in April 1979, Anwar writes that the police was hot on his (Anwar’s) heels and he escaped to Munich, Germany, and from there he flew to Kabul, where he joined Murtaza and his brother, Shahnawaz, who had formed a small urban guerrilla outfit called the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Kabul was chosen by the brothers because in 1978, Afghanistan had witnessed a coup d'état set into motion by the covert supporters and members of the country’s two main communist parties inside the Afghan military and air force.

Murtaza and Shahnawaz were in London when their father was hanged, whereas their mother and sister (Benazir) were in jail in Pakistan.

The brothers had organised rallies in London to put pressure on the Zia government, but after failing to get the dictator to halt Bhutto’s execution, Murtaza went into a rage and decided to topple Zia through guerilla warfare.

Shahnawaz and Murtaza lead an anti-Zia rally in London, December 1978.
Shahnawaz and Murtaza lead an anti-Zia rally in London, December 1978.

Anwar writes that Murtaza first approached radical Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi (for financial and logistical support). Gaddafi had been on very good terms with ZA Bhutto.

Intelligence expert Brigadier I.A. Tirmiz in his book, The Profile of Intelligence, claims that when Bhutto was on death row, Gaddafi had sent his Prime Minister to Pakistan on a special plane and asked Zia to put Bhutto on that plane and allow it to fly him (Bhutto) to Libya.

Zia refused and ordered the plane to fly back to Libya. Tirmiz then informs that in response to Zia’s rebuff, Gaddafi sent a ‘secret message’ to Bhutto’s wife stating that he was willing to send in special Libyan commandos to break Bhutto out from jail. Gaddafi planned to use Palestinian fighters associated with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) for the breakout mission.

Bhutto with Gaddafi in Lahore, 1974.
Bhutto with Gaddafi in Lahore, 1974.

In an article for The News (October 24, 2011), journalist and TV anchor, Hamid Mir wrote that this message was conveyed to Bhutto by his wife, but Bhutto rejected the ‘offer’ by stating that he didn’t want to escape and seek refuge in another country. This, Mir states, was told to him by a Palestinian diplomat who had apparently communicated the message to Nusrat Bhutto.

Tirmiz goes on to suggest that after Bhutto’s execution, Gaddafi set up a training camp near Tripoli to train early AZO recruits in guerrilla warfare. The training was imparted to the young Pakistanis by PLO men.

Anwar, in his account, claims that PLO had also agreed to supply arms to AZO (that was still called Peoples Liberation Army). But the ship in which the arms were being smuggled (from Beirut to Tripoli) was intercepted by Israeli authorities and the weapons confiscated.

An AZO man at the training camp in Tripoli.
An AZO man at the training camp in Tripoli.

AZO men at the Tripoli training camp.
AZO men at the Tripoli training camp.

Another source of possible support and funding that Murtaza explored was the ruling family of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The family too had been on good terms with the Bhutto family. After Bhutto’s execution, it offered political asylum to Bhutto’s wife and children. Anwar writes that the UAE monarchy was willing to help Murtaza in this regard, but after Murtaza published his organisation’s first communique, UAE balked.

The communique described PLA (now renamed AZO) as a ‘Marxist-Leninist movement’ at war with the ‘illegitimate regime of Ziaul Haq’. A leading prince and minister from the UAE’s ruling family told Murtaza that the UAE did not want anything to do with a communist organisation. Also, the UAE was not on very good terms with Gaddafi who till then had been the main backer of the AZO.

In Kabul, Murtaza was left to bank (for logistical support) entirely on the Kabul regime and on Gaddafi. The Kabul government accepted to back AZO as long as it was useful to dent the Zia regime that (with the help of the Americans and the Saudis) had begun to facilitate the formation of various anti-Soviet mujahideen groups on the Pak-Afghan border. Soviet troops had entered Afghanistan in December 1979 and by early 1980 anti-Soviet Afghan insurgents had begun to gather on the Pakistan side of the border.

Students at the Kabul University hail the 1978 ‘communist revolution’ in Afghanistan. The ‘revolution’ triggered infighting between two factions of the country’s largest communist party and was only ‘stabilised’ by Soviet forces that entered Kabul in 1979.
Students at the Kabul University hail the 1978 ‘communist revolution’ in Afghanistan. The ‘revolution’ triggered infighting between two factions of the country’s largest communist party and was only ‘stabilised’ by Soviet forces that entered Kabul in 1979.

Soviet troops enter Kabul, 1979.
Soviet troops enter Kabul, 1979.

By the time Anwar reached Kabul (in early 1980), the AZO had already lost almost its entire first batch of fighters. These were young men who had been youthful supporters of the PPP and had been trained in Tripoli, Libya and in Kabul. When they were sent back to Pakistan to carry out bank robberies (to raise funds for the outfit), some had been killed (by the police), while others got arrested.

They also pulled off an assassination of a civilian member of the Zia regime and a botched attack on one of the judges who had sent Bhutto to the gallows.

The second coming

In 1981, a second batch of young men reached Kabul through Pakistan’s anarchic tribal areas. They were helped on the way by Pukhtun members of a small militant Maoist outfit, the Mazdoor Kissan Party (MKK). Between 1968 and 1974, the MKK had fought a guerrilla war against the police in the Charsadda District of Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP).

Again, most of the new entrants were members of the PPP’s student wing (PSF), and some also belonged to another left-wing student outfit, the NSF. Most of them arrived from the cities and towns of the Punjab and KP and from Sindh’s capital city, Karachi. They were all under 25 years of age.

A group of young men celebrate after managing to reach Kabul (through Pakistan’s tribal areas) in 1981.
A group of young men celebrate after managing to reach Kabul (through Pakistan’s tribal areas) in 1981.

One such new recruit was former President of PSF in Karachi, Salamullah Tipu. Tipu came from a lower-middle-class Urdu-speaking family in Karachi. He went to a local school and then joined the army as a teen in the late 1960s. He was, however, dismissed for ‘bad behaviour’. He joined college in the early 1970s and was recruited by the student outfit of the right-wing Jamat-i-Islami (the IJT).

He befriended some members of the left-wing NSF who convinced him to quit the IJT. In 1974, he walked out of the IJT to join NSF. A hothead and always spoiling for a fight, he became a muscleman for the NSF. However, in 1976, when NSF refused to give him a ticket to contest that year’s student union election at his college, Tipu switched sides again and joined the PSF.

He quickly rose through the ranks of the organisation and in 1978 he was made the President of the PSF in Karachi. According to Anwar, Tipu did not play any significant role in the anti-Zia protests that the PPP and PSF organised when Bhutto was in jail.

There is only scant information on him during this period.

However, in late 1980, after witnessing the IJT use sophisticated weapons during the increasing episodes of campus violence, Tipu began to form an armed wing within the PSF. The IJT at the time was supporting the Zia regime.

Then in early 1981 when an anti-Zia rally at the Karachi University turned violent, the protesting students set fire to a vehicle belonging to an army officer. The IJT was against the protest and tried to stop the agitation. It is alleged that the student outfit’s chapter at Karachi University then helped the police nab some of the agitating students. One of the arrested was Akram Kaimkhani.

I met Kaimkhani in London in 2011. I was visiting the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS University) as a guest speaker and bumped into Kaimkhani who was in the audience. He is settled there for the last three decades and hasn’t returned to Pakistan.

Kaimkhani told me that there was a protest against Zia at the Karachi University and it was triggered by the presence of an army officer on the campus: ‘He (the officer) was just there to either pick or drop a relative, but some students got agitated by his presence because Zia’s regime was really going after the progressive groups,’ Kaimkhani explained.

He added: ‘I was there just raising slogans, but after the officer’s vehicle was torched, I was nabbed by some members of the opposing student group, beaten up and handed over to the police!’

Kaimkhani’s classmate at the university, Abbas Nasir, agrees. Nasir who lives in London these days, went on to become a well-known journalist with the BBC and then the editor of Pakistan’s largest English language daily, Dawn.

Abbas told me (in 2012): ‘At the university I was not associated with any particular student outfit. But my sympathies were clearly with the progressive groups. Kaimkhani was a good friend. He wasn’t a radical, but like me sympathised with the progressive student outfits. I was there when the officer’s jeep went up in flames. I’m not sure who torched it. It was all very chaotic. The next day we heard that the protest had been attacked by some IJT guys, and that Kaimkhani had been nabbed by the cops. He was good friends with Tipu as well. Tipu respected him a lot. So when Tipu got to know what had happen, he rode into the university and (with his group), began hurling abuses at some students gathered outside an IJT camp. Then suddenly there was sound of gunfire. Bullets began to fly to and fro. The shootout was between Tipu’s group and a couple of IJT fellows. In the end, an IJT member was killed. We never saw Tipu again after that.’

Karachi University.
Karachi University.

French academic and author, Laurent Gayer, in his book, Karachi: Ordered Disorder quotes Kaimkhani as saying the weapons that Tipu and his group used against the IJT (that day) had actually been stolen by Tipu from IJT men! Kaimkhani went on to claim that Tipu had raided a van carrying a cache of pistols and AK-47s only days before the incident at the university. According to Kaimkhani, the van was being driven by members of the IJT when Tipu and some of his friends ‘raided it.’

With the cops looking for him, Tipu escaped to Peshawar and from Peshawar he walked across the Pak-Afghan border and entered Kabul.

Anwar’s account suggests that after two AZO men had botched an assassination attempt on Zia in Rawalpindi, he (Anwar) had a falling out with Murtaza. Murtaza got Anwar thrown in a jail by the Afghan intelligence agency, KHAD.

But why did Anwar have a falling out with Murtaza?

This question was also asked by eminent scholar and intellectual, late Eqbal Ahmad, in a detailed critique of Anwar’s book that he wrote for the London Book Review in 1998.

Ahmad also correctly points out that Anwar is at best vague about of the issue.

But Anwar does mention that after some botched operations by AZO men in Pakistan, he advised Murtaza to return to Pakistan and help out his mother and sister who had formed a multiparty alliance against the Zia regime. But why would Murtaza get him thrown in jail just for saying this?

The person who emailed me (henceforth the EmailMan), and who claimed he was at the AZO training camps in Libya and Kabul in the early 1980s, said that Anwar was suspected by Murtaza of ‘being Zia’s agent.’ He claimed it was on Anwar’s information (that he provided to his supposed ‘handlers’ in the Zia government), that some AZO men were arrested in Pakistan.

However, this is exactly what Anwar too alludes to in his book, but with a twist. He suggests that Murtaza was becoming ‘increasingly paranoid,’ and when Anwar insisted that AZO should launch a political struggle against the Zia regime, Murtaza accused him of being Zia’s agent and convinced the Afghan intelligence agency to throw him in jail.

But had KHAD really been convinced that Anwar was Zia’s agent, it would have certainly executed him. But it didn’t, even though Anwar lingered in his jail cell for another three years before he was allowed to leave Kabul. Unable to return to Pakistan after his release, Anwar flew into Germany where he got political asylum.

He returned to Pakistan only after Zia’s demise in 1988 and rejoined the PPP. He contested an election from Rawalpindi on a PPP ticket but lost. In 1995, he quit the party and joined the centre-right PML-N. He wrote his book in 1997, months after Murtaza was killed in a controversial police encounter in Karachi.

Murtaza with Raja Anwar in Kabul, 1980.
Murtaza with Raja Anwar in Kabul, 1980.

Raja Anwar today.
Raja Anwar today.

The EmailMan claimed that Anwar’s book can’t be accurate because he was in jail between late 1980 and 1984. ‘He was an outsider. He was not committed to the cause,’ he lamented.

Much of Anwar’s book is based on what he was told by Tipu who became Anwar’s cellmate in 1984. Tipu too had had a falling out with Murtaza and was being tried (by KHAD) for the murder of a man in Kabul. He was bitter towards Murtaza and thus one can assume that much of what he told Anwar in that cell was a mixture of truths and half-truths.

In his extensive review of Anwar’s book, Eqbal Ahmad writes:

‘It was Murtaza Bhutto who, for reasons Anwar does not make clear in his book, had him thrown into the notorious Pul-i-Charkhi prison of Communist-ruled Afghanistan. The Terrorist Prince is a bitter, largely secondhand account of Murtaza’s People’s Liberation Army, later named al-Zulfiqar …’

This is the crux of the argument of Anwar’s critics as well. Though some of his former comrades have accused him of being ‘Zia’s agent,’ most others have simply lamented that by lambasting Murtaza in his book, he had disrespected the memory of the dozens of young men who were killed, hanged or arrested (by Zia) during AZO’s so-called ‘revolutionary struggle.’

But to be fair to Anwar, his anger towards Murtaza is largely due to how Anwar began to see him. He described Murtaza to be an arrogant and reckless man who played with the lives of naïve young idealists. In his book, Anwar also lambasts Murtaza’s mother and sister (Benazir) who he accuses of alienating and ignoring young activists who had somehow managed to survive Murtaza’s reckless adventurism and Zia’s hangmen.

The EmailMan, however, insists that most AZO men had complete faith in Murtaza and it were ‘suspicious people’ like Raja Anwar who ‘have been used’ (by whom?) over the years to sketch a demonic portrait of Murtaza.

A Pukhtun youth soon after reaching Kabul from Peshawar.
A Pukhtun youth soon after reaching Kabul from Peshawar.

Murtaza’s daughter, Fatima Bhutto, in her book, Songs of Blood & Sword presents a vivid account of her father’s life in exile. Interestingly, she does not refer at all to Anwar’s book. She is, however, particularly harsh towards her aunt, Benazir.

Surviving members of the AZO too have been extremely critical of Benazir. In March 1981, when Tipu (and two other AZO men) hijacked a PIA plane from Karachi, Benazir publically denounced the hijacking and asked her brothers to end their ‘imprudent adventurism’ (because it was harming the movement that she had begun against Zia on the streets of Pakistan).

EmailMan is not a big Benazir fan. In his correspondence with me he went on to claim that over a dozen AZO men who had travelled to Austria in 1984 were arrested by the Vienna police on the information provided by Benazir. To him, Benazir was hell-bent on damaging Murtaza’s movement (to safeguard her own political interests).

I interviewed Benazir in 1993 for an English weekly and asked her about such accusations that had returned in the press on the eve of Murtaza’s return to Pakistan.

She had said: ‘All I wanted my brothers to do was to return to Pakistan and fight with me against Zia. I publically rejected his (Murtaza’s) tactics because they were harming the democratic struggle that we had started in Pakistan. His ways gave Zia the excuse to jail, torture and hang anyone he wanted to. So many young men went to the gallows just for politically opposing Zia. They were not criminals or terrorists. I had no clue what he (Murtaza) was up to or where his people were. All I knew was that his tactics were not correct …’

When Anwar was about to be released from the Kabul jail, Murtaza had gotten KHAD to throw Tipu in the same jail (1984). In a 2004 interview that I conducted of a cousin of Tipu’s (for a research paper), he told me that Tipu’s family still lies low.

‘His parents and siblings were not harassed by the police after Tipu was reported to have died in Afghanistan. But they just simply buried his memory. It was a painful memory.’

During the hijacking, Tipu’s father was picked up by the police and asked to talk to his son. Tipu refused to talk to him. After the episode, Tipu’s family never heard from Tipu again.

His cousin (who was a teenager at the time) said: ‘He lost his way. He was a very emotional man (jazbati). After the hijacking, his family was avoided like a disease. Their neighbors refused to talk to them, cops kept an eye on them, and the PPP disowned them!’

In the end, even Murtaza didn’t want anything to do with them because (according to Fatima Bhutto), Tipu was most likely ‘Zia’s agent.’

Fatima was told by her father that the hijacking was entirely planned and executed by Tipu most probably on the behest of Zia’s agencies. Even Benazir in her 1988 autobiography, Daughter of the East, is not sure what to make of the hijacking. She publically denounced it but says that (later on) she wondered exactly what the real motive was behind the hijacking. She alluded that most probably Tipu and his men had been ‘allowed’ to hijack the plane (by Zia), so he (Zia) could use it as an excuse to ruthlessly crush the 1981 MRD movement against him.

Fatima Bhutto.
Fatima Bhutto.

The MRD (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy) was a multiparty anti-Zia alliance formed in 1981 and headed by the PPP. It orchestrated three major movements against the Zia regime (1981, 1983 and 1986).

However, it is a matter of record that when Tipu and his men got the pilot to land the plane at Kabul Airport (from Karachi), he was in direct contact (on wireless) with Murtaza. Anwar quotes Tipu as saying that Murtaza even came to visit Tipu and had ‘hugged him.’

But even Anwar suggests that the whole plan was engineered and carried out by Tipu.

Tipu’s idol at the time was the notorious playboy terrorist ‘Carlos the Jackal’ who had worked with radical Palestinian groups and for various left-wing European militant outfits in Germany, Italy and France.

The infamous ‘playboy terrorist’, Carlos, in 1975. Today he is serving a life sentence in a French jail.
The infamous ‘playboy terrorist’, Carlos, in 1975. Today he is serving a life sentence in a French jail.

Anwar writes that Tipu saw the hijacking as a ‘great revolutionary act’ and in his excitement shot dead a Pakistani passenger after accusing him of being part of the Zia regime. He wasn’t.

Tipu told Anwar that he informed Murtaza that the man was claiming to be someone who had actually worked for Z A. Bhutto, but Murtaza had kept accusing him of being ‘Zia’s man.’

The man was shot dead by Tipu after the Zia regime refused to release the 50 odd men that Tipu had demanded should be released from Pakistani jails.

Anwar quotes Tipu as saying that the man was killed on Murtaza’s instructions, whereas Fatima claims that Murtaza had no clue what was transpiring inside the plane. She insists in her book that the hijacking was entirely the doing of Tipu and Murtaza was actually taken aback by it.

The truth may lie somewhere in between because Anwar suggests that AZO was desperately trying to get direct support from the Soviet intelligence agency, the KGB, and for that Murtaza had been desiring to pull off a dramatic act.

Anwar also suggests that the hijacking may not have been Murtaza’s idea, but since Tipu wanted so much to become ‘a star revolutionary,’ he gifted Murtaza the spectacular act that he was looking for.

The KGB had decided not to deal with AZO directly and had asked KHAD to facilitate the organisation. But after the murder of the Pakistani passenger, KGB advised the Kabul regime to ask the hijackers to leave Kabul.

Tipu and his men forced the pilot to fly the plane to the Syrian capital, Damascus. Syria was being ruled by another of ZA Bhutto’s friends, Hafizul Asad who, like Gaddafi, was also anti-Zia. The Zia regime finally agreed to release the men that AZO had demanded, but only after Tipu threatened to kill the dozen or so American and European passengers on the plane.

The hijackers disembark in Damascus (March, 1981).
The hijackers disembark in Damascus (March, 1981).

The released men were all political prisoners who had been rotting in Zia’s jails. One of them was Akram Kaimkhani.

Kaimkhani told me that not all the prisoners wanted to leave: ‘We were planning to fight it out here in Pakistan, but even those who didn’t want to leave, they were hastily bundled into a chartered plane and flown to Damascus. Zia was in a hurry to use this episode to begin a fresh crackdown against his opponents.’

Some of released political prisoners joined the AZO in Kabul, while others settled in Libya and Syria. Some managed to find political asylum in various European countries.

Tipu returned to Kabul, while the other two hijackers flew out to Libya. None of them ever returned to Pakistan.

The prisoners reach Damascus.
The prisoners reach Damascus.

A 1981 AZO poster.
A 1981 AZO poster.

The downward spiral

After the hijacking, Murtaza shifted to an apartment in Damascus. Though he was still AZO’s chief, Tipu became the organisation’s main man in Kabul.

As most of the AZO men remained living in the congested AZO headquarters in Kabul, Tipu was given a furnished apartment by KHAD and a brand new car. He, however, became even more reckless. He would get drunk and race his car up and down Kabul’s main roads, harassing bystanders.

Head of KHAD, Najibullah, admonished him for ‘resting on his laurels.’ And after Najib threatened to expel him from Kabul (apparently on Murtaza’s insistence), Tipu told Najib: ‘I am the real communist. Murtaza is a feudal. I am the true revolutionary …!’

According to Anwar, Murtaza was not happy about Tipu’s new-found ‘star status’. Tipu told Anwar that ‘out of jealously’ Murtaza got him implicated in a murder case in Kabul.

This happened after Tipu laid out his plans to attack US and Israeli embassies in certain European countries. He then shared with Murtaza his grandest plan, that of assassinating Zia during the dictator’s official trip to India! The idea was not shared with Najibullah because the Soviet Union was close to India and had a Pakistani head of state been assassinated in India, this could have implicated India or even started a war between and India and Pakistan.

Tipu travelled to New Delhi where Zia was on an official visit. According to Anwar, Murtaza gave Tipu the contact number of a man who was to supply him with the weapon that was to be used to assassinate Zia.

Tipu never got the weapon. He returned to Kabul fuming. Again, quoting Tipu, Anwar writes that Murtaza told Tipu that a certain man was responsible for the botched operation. Taking this as a signal to act against the man, Tipu shot him in a suburban residential area of Kabul. To his horror, he was immediately arrested by the Kabul police and thrown in jail. In mid-1984 he was sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad. He was 28.

Murtaza (centre) with Tipu (right) at the AZO headquarters in Kabul (1981).
Murtaza (centre) with Tipu (right) at the AZO headquarters in Kabul (1981).

By the time of Tipu’s execution, Anwar had already been released by KHAD. He left for Germany. After Tipu’s demise, Murtaza mostly operated from Damascus and the remaining AZO men were asked to leave Kabul by KHAD.

Some returned to Pakistan only to be arrested and jailed, while some, with great difficulty, managed to reach Tripoli. Qaddafi had closed down the training camp there. So the men stayed in Tripoli as second-class citizens. The few lucky ones finally managed to find political asylum in some European countries. None of them ever came back.

A group had been dispatched to the Austrian city of Vienna, where it was to storm and take over the Israeli embassy. The other option was to attack a gathering of western diplomats. But as the infighting between Murtaza and Tipu was raging in Kabul, all members of the group were arrested by the Vienna police and given long jail sentences of 15 to 25 years each.

After conducting repetitive reconnaissance of the Israeli Embassy and figuring out how they would storm it, they suddenly stopped receiving any new instructions from Kabul.

Soon much of their time was spent drinking beer and sleeping in parks and in cheap hotels. Not knowing what was transpiring in Kabul, they were finally apprehended by the police along with the cache of arms that they were carrying.

An early AZO member in Kabul (1982).
An early AZO member in Kabul (1982).

In 1985, the AZO began receiving its third batch of fighters. Most of these were young Sindhi-speakers from the interior of the Sindh province. Some of them were arrested and executed by the Zia regime when they returned to Pakistan to assassinate a pro-Zia politician in Karachi.

Anwar claims that by 1985, the AZO had become a militant Sindhi nationalist outfit.

Also in 1985, Shahnawaz was allegedly poisoned to death in Cannes, France. Benazir in her autobiography believes that Shahnawaz’s Afghan wife was somehow involved and (thus) working on the instructions of the Zia regime.

Shahnawaz Bhutto.
Shahnawaz Bhutto.

Murtaza folded the AZO in 1990 and returned to Pakistan in 1993. Some observers suggest that his return was ‘facilitated by those who wanted an open confrontation between Benazir and him.’ Benazir was in power when Murtaza landed in Karachi. He was immediately taken into ‘protective custody.’

Though the AZO had folded, its name was constantly used in 1990 by Sindh’s Chief Minister, Jam Sadiq Ali, who unleashed the police against the PPP on the pretext that many of its workers were working for the AZO.

However, when in 1992, the military began a ‘clean-up’ operation in Sindh, it went straight after dacoits and then alleged MQM militants. The AZO’s name suddenly vanished from the newspapers.

The curtain had come down on the Soviet Union, the Afghan conflict was coming to an end (for the time being at least), and left-wing militant outfits were being disbanded all over the world.

In 1993, Murtaza arrived in a very different Pakistan. Zia was no more, his sister was in power, and a new kind of a militant was emerging. A militant who justified his violence not through Marxist dialecticism or by quoting Lenin, Mao or Marx, but by claiming that his/her actions were being determined by the Almighty himself!

In 1996, Murtaza was killed in a controversial police encounter near his late father’s house in Karachi. The once dreaded AZO became just another (enigmatic) footnote of history.

In the late 1980s, the body of the PIA plane that was hijacked by AZO in 1981 was turned into a restaurant at Karachi’s Funland recreational park.
In the late 1980s, the body of the PIA plane that was hijacked by AZO in 1981 was turned into a restaurant at Karachi’s Funland recreational park.

What happened next?

General Ziaul Haq: Killed in a plane crash in 1988. The crash was allegedly caused by a bomb planted in the plane.

Benazir Bhutto: Elected Prime Minister twice (1988 and 1993). Assassinated (allegedly by extremists) in 2007.

Murtaza Bhutto: Returned to Pakistan in 1993. Killed in a controversial police encounter in 1996.

Shahnawaz Bhutto: Poisoned in 1985.

Salamullah Tipu: President of the PSF in Karachi. Joined the AZO in 1981. Executed in Kabul in 1984 for murdering an Afghan national. Education: College Graduate. Ethnicity: Mohajir. Age: 28.

Lala Aslam: An early AZO operative. Was dispatched to assassinate the Pope who was visiting Pakistan in 1981. Died while handling a time bomb he had constructed for this purpose. The Pope was being targeted for his ‘anti-communism’ statements. Education: Matric. Ethnicity: Pukhtun. Age: 23.

Nasir Jamal: Was Tipu’s classmate at college and one of the three hijackers of the PIA plane. Escaped to Libya after the hijacking. Is said to be still residing there. Education: College Graduate. Ethnicity: Mohajir.

Arshad Khan: One of the three hijackers. Escaped to Libya with Nasir Jamal. Current whereabouts unknown. Ethnicity: Mohajir.

Nasir Baloch: Arrested in Karachi for facilitating Tipu, Jamal and Arshad in the hijacking of the PIA plane. Hanged in 1984. Education: Matric. Ethnicity: Baloch. Age: 27.

Ayub Kabaria: Arrested in Karachi for helping Tipu. Jailed for 14 years in 1984. Education: Matric. Ethnicity: Mohajir.

Saifullah Khalid: Arrested in Karachi for helping the hijackers. Jailed for 14 years in 1984. Ethnicity: Pukhtun.

Razaq Jharna: PSF member. Joined the AZO in 1980. Arrested for the assassination of Chaudhri Zahoor Ilahi (a minister in the Zia regime). Arrested in Lahore. Hanged in 1983. Education: Intermediate. Ethnicity: Punjabi. Age: 24.

Lala Asad: Brother of Lala Aslam. PSF member. Became an AZO operative in 1980. Killed in police encounter in Karachi in 1981. Ethnicity: Pushtun. Age: 22.

Rehmatullah Anjum: PSF member. Joined AZO in the 1982. Killed in police encounter in Lahore in 1983. Education: Graduate. Ethnicity: Punjabi. Age: 24.

Javed Malik: PSF member. Joined the AZO in 1982. Part of the group that was sent to Austria to storm the Israeli Embassy and attack a reception. Arrested in Vienna in 1983 and jailed. Released in early 1990s. Returned to Pakistan. Jailed again. Released in 1995.

Usman Ghani: Joined the AZO 1981. Hanged in 1984 for assassination attempt on Justice Anwarul Haq. Ethnicity: Punjabi. Age: 25.

Idris Todi: Joined the AZO in 1982. Hanged in 1984 for assassination attempt on Justice Anwarul Haq. Education: Matric. Ethnicity: Punjabi. Age: 25.

Idrees Beg: Joined the AZO in 1981. Hanged in 1984 for assassination attempt on Justice Anwarul Haq. Education: Matric. Ethnicity: Punjabi. Age: 25.

Ayaz Samu: Sindhi nationalist. Joined the AZO in 1982. Arrested in Karachi for murder of a pro-Zia politician. Hanged in 1985. Education: Graduate. Ethnicity: Sindhi. Age: 24.

Ilyas Siddique: PSF member. Joined the AZO in 1981. Shot in Karachi in 1982. Education: Intermediate. Ethnicity: Mohajir. Age: 20.

Out of the eight AZO men arrested in Austria, only one managed to return. The whereabouts of an estimated number of two dozen more AZO men, who never returned to Pakistan are still unknown. However, some of them are known to be residing in various Libyan, Syrian and European cities.



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