ZAB’s hanging — a sham trial

November 18, 2018

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LAHORE: Human rights activist IA Rehman, PPP leader and lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan and one of the party’s founding members, Dr Mubashir Hasan, sat down with Indian author and activist Saeeda Hameed to talk about her book, Born to Be Hanged: Political Biography of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in one of the sessions at the Faiz International Festival on Saturday.

The session, titled Parhne Walon Ke Naam, was moderated by Rafiq Jaffer, a member of the Faiz Ghar Management Committee.

The session began with Ms Hameed, a recipient of India’s fourth highest civilian honour -- the Padma Shri -- for her contributions to society, animatedly reading out a couple of excerpts from her book. She described the scene of Bhutto’s hanging, the expressions on people’s faces, the hangman, the wait by the family as well as the dictator for that fated call after the hanging, and how BBC’s Mark Tully first broke the news.

She then explained how the book was compiled, the research process and gathering original documents in Bhutto’s own handwriting. “I couldn’t get any of the original papers without the help of Dr Mubashir Hasan. Bhutto’s notes from the jail were written in beautiful, flawless, straight English handwriting. I thought being a student of literature, if I didn’t use these original papers, they will be lost.”

The moderator mentioned how Mr Rehman had contributed to the title of the book. To which the veteran rights activist said: “Bhutto was hanged for being Bhutto. How could he not be? He challenged vested interests, the army, the bureaucracy, everyone. It had to happen.”

Mr Ahsan chipped in that Bhutto had empowered the masses to stand up to ministers and question them; he gathered Muslim leaders on one platform, moved civil servants, introduced land reforms, nationalisation and so many revolutionary steps. That’s what he met his fate for, he added.

Moderator Mr Jaffer also asked the speakers about the contradictions in Bhutto’s personality: how he appealed to the masses while donned designer suits, was autocratic as well as a democrat. Ms Hameed said she considered the Bhutto family’s tragedy a Greek tragedy.

Ahsan then shared some anecdotes about the run-up to the PPP founder’s hanging, the filing of references in courts, their rejection, challenging Zia’s presidency in court and even read out the court verdicts to shed light on the judges’ mindset at the time. In the same breath, he lauded Ms Hameed’s research for the book and how she got her hands on original documents and court verdicts that he had always wished to quote in an autobiography – whenever that came about.

By this time, Dr Hasan had joined the panel. He told the audience how he and his friends always believed Bhutto would be hanged. “I went to Zia to ask him to let Bhutto go, and that we can take Bhutto abroad. He assured me he can’t kill Bhutto whom he considered a benefactor. But Zia was such a liar; he had decided to kill Bhutto. Besides, the then chief justice Anwarul Haq’s name would feature as one of the worst people in Pakistan’s history for upholding the death sentence awarded to Bhutto and other moves to support Zia. Pakistan’s history is very bleak and that dark period somewhat continues.”

The veteran also shared anecdotes about the then Supreme Court chief justice Maulvi Mushtaq, Bhutto’s case and how it had already been decided to hang him.

The speakers also talked about Bhutto’s socialist tilt wherein Mr Rehman said the former prime minister believed in the Swedish socialist welfare state model, while being an advocate of power of the state. So there was contradiction in his personality indeed, he added.

At the end, Mr Rehman called for Indo-Pak peace that, he said, was the need of the hour more than ever.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2018