Whispered warnings

March 19, 2020

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The writer is an author and historian.
The writer is an author and historian.

FEW of Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s associates are still alive. Those loyal to him, who suffered for that loyalty, are in their graves. They were joined on March 14 by Dr Mubashir Hasan, a founding member of the Pakistan Peoples Party and later its secretary general.

Before joining Mr Bhutto, Dr Mubashir taught civil engineering for 11 years at a local university and practised for another seven as a consultant. A ‘socialist pundit’, Dr Muba­shir’s views coincided with the image Mr Bhutto wanted to project as a champion of ega­litarianism, ‘the people’s redeemer’. Their PPP manifesto proclaimed: “Islam is our Reli­gion; Democracy is our Politics; Socialism is our Economy; Power Lies with the People.” The fifth unspoken element demanded loyalty to the party’s Quaid-i-Awam.

Mr Bhutto straddled two antithetical worlds — archaic feudalism and vibrant modernity. Gifted with what his Oxford tutor Hugh Trevor-Roper called “an effortless superiority”, Mr Bhutto dominated his contemporaries, within and outside the PPP. He persuaded Dr Mubashir to stand as a National Assembly candidate in the 1970 elections, which Dr Mubashir won against a seasoned railway trade union leader. Mr Bhutto appointed Dr Mubashir his first minister of finance. Dr Mubashir’s mother sagely but unsuccessfully advised him not to accept.

“My experience in the field of finance was nil,” Dr Mubashir admitted afterwards. Nevertheless, obedient to Mr Bhutto’s command and his own socialist precepts, he launched a daring, daunting and ultimately damaging programme for the nationalisation of key industries. Dr Mubashir’s recollection of the first meeting on nationalisation in December 1971 indicates how ill-prepared the new government was. When questioned by the secretary finance A.G.N. Kazi and the secretary industries Qamar-ul-Islam on what was to be the criteria applicable to such nationalisation, the future structure of management, method of compensation, the source of funds, etc., Dr Mubashir and his fellow ideologue J.A. Rahim were “unable to give any comprehensive guidelines”. They learned soon enough, and went on to nationalise insurance companies, banks and ghee mills.

Dr Mubashir was too significant to be evicted.

Within its first year, the PPP government succumbed to Mr Bhutto’s ‘Caesarism’. Senior ministers quit, including Mian Mahmud Kasuri in October 1972, Mairaj Mohammed Khan, and then Dr Mubashir in November 1972. Mr Bhutto persuaded Dr Mubashir to remain. Ever loyal, Dr Mubashir continued, but with increasing dismay at Mr Bhutto’s unbridled authoritarianism. He resigned yet again in August 1973. Rafi Raza (one of Mr Bhutto’s closest confidants) recalled the mutual disenchantment: “ZAB had tired of his doctrinaire, leftist views, while Mubashir Hasan as finance minister found it difficult to cope with ZAB’s increasing demands on behalf of friends. Many feudals, even educated ones, seem to have difficulty in accepting the separation of state and personal properties.”

Dr Mubashir was too significant a figure in the party to be evicted permanently. In the run-up to the 1977 elections, at a meeting of the PPP Central Committee, Dr Mubashir found himself nominated by colleagues as PPP’s secretary general. He expressed reluctance to rejoin Mr Bhutto’s government but was once again persuaded to sublimate his concerns to the larger cause. Dr Mubashir fulfilled his new role with customary earnestness, producing informative pamphlets for voters and, for those who had the stamina, a 455-page tome in Urdu on the history of politico-economics titled Shahrah-i-Inqilab. Mr Bhutto never read it.

Even though nominally PPP’s secretary general, Dr Mubashir found himself sidelined, being told to restrict himself to Lahore’s eight constituencies. The 1977 election results proved too good to be true. Mr Bhutto asked Dr Mubashir: “What happened?” Dr Mubashir replied that the people have voted for him. An incredulous Mr Bhutto responded: “Are you sure, are you sure?” The opposition parties shared Mr Bhutto’s incredulity, and took to the streets.

The final fracture between Mr Bhutto and Dr Mubashir occurred during a lengthy meeting in Governor’s House, Lahore on April 11, 1977. Dr Mubashir spoke with unacceptable frankness. After it, Mr Bhutto suggested Dr Mubashir leave for Egypt. He returned in June, a month before Gen Ziaul Haq ousted Mr Bhutto. After Mr Bhutto’s ‘judicial murder’ in 1979, Dr Mubashir, like many PPP leaders, remained loyal to the Bhutto name, in his case to Ghinwa Bhutto.

Throughout his long life, Dr Mubashir contributed tirelessly to society — under-appreciated, unrewarded, unheard. His memoirs The Mirage of Power (2000) contains one particularly potent observation: “A secret, and untouchable ring of informants gradually grows round the prime minister[.] Gradually, he stops listening to other opinions … within a few months, he gets totally isolated and is at the mercy of his informants — good, bad or indifferent.”

Leaders wishing to remain leaders should heed Dr Mubashir’s whispered warnings. He was arrested for expounding such views. He is beyond arrest now. Are we?

The writer is an author and historian.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2020