September 20 marks Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s 22nd death anniversary.
In 1996, he was murdered on this day. His birthday and death anniversary are separated by a single day. Near Queens Road in London, Murtaza’s flat was the centre of a global movement against a false murder case and death sentence of his father, prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
The world media reported the struggle of the two brothers for their beloved father. This was the dark period of General Zia’s dictatorship. His tyrannical rule was a great test for the people of Pakistan. Pakistanis and Kashmiris from around the world protested against Zia’s unjust rule and against the treatment of Zulfikar Bhutto by the military dictator.
Zulfikar Bhutto faced the physical and emotional sufferings inflicted upon him with great fortitude. Another tactic used by the dictator to dampen Bhutto’s spirits was to torment his daughter and wife. However, they made him proud by not bowing down to the authoritarian rule and stood by their people, holding aloft the flag of democratic values. Bhutto’s sons appealed to the world leaders to save a man who was not just their father, but also an eminent leader of the Muslim world. Yet still, his wife Begum Nusrat Bhutto had to witness the judicial killing of her husband and deaths of two sons.
September 18 and 20 are important dates in the life of Mir Murtaza Bhutto because one marks the day he came into this world and the other marks the day when his life was taken away from him. For all those who love him, it is an irony of fate that they will have to celebrate his birthday and then lament his death the very next day.
On September 18, 1996, the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto sent a cake and flowers to her younger brother at 70 Clifton. That same evening, I telephoned Mir Murtaza to wish him on his birthday and he said to me that your leader sent me a cake. I told him I knew because BB mentioned to me she was sending cake and flowers to her brother. That day BB was very happy and so was Mir Murtaza.
On the fateful eve of September 20, when BB learned about the critical condition of her brother who was wounded in a police encounter and fighting for his life, she rushed to Karachi the same night. BB was deeply saddened by the news of his death and couldn’t stop the tears that only a sister’s eyes can cry for her brother. The next day, after attending Murtaza’s funeral, BB left Nowdero at midnight for Al-Murtaza. There, she met her mother who was stunned from grief. BB shared the grief with the remaining members of the family including her sister, Sanam Bhutto and Murtaza’s daughter, Fatima Bhutto.
Some people feared an adverse reaction at BB’s presence from Murtaza’s supporters, however, she was given the space to express and share her grief. After leaving Al-Murtaza, BB said that she was glad, without doubt, that she visited her brother’s house despite concerns by some individuals over her security.
On March 18, 1978, after the decision of Molvi Mushtaq’s court against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto started a movement on the global level to save his father’s life. He led numerous demonstrations in London. He met different world leaders to shake the sleeping conscience of the world at the actions of Pakistan’s military ruler. However, April 4, 1979, changed everything for the young man.
Their sister Benazir believed in the democratic route for resistance whereas Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Shahnawaz Bhutto wanted to avenge their father’s death. They faced difficulties during self-exile. During Murtaza’s long exile, he fought elections and became an MPA in Sindh Assembly. Upon his return, he spent a few months in jail and this created distance between the two siblings.
Eventually, in July 1996, both siblings met at the PM House. More reconciliatory meetings were expected but unfortunately, controversies in some quarters continued. BB expressed her feelings regarding the loss of Mir Murtaza on her brother’s third death anniversary in an email message to me dated September 19, 1999:
“Dear Bash, thank you for your message on Mir Murtaza’s birthday. It’s unfortunate that a precious life is snuffed in its prime. When a beautiful life is snatched from a man and when the love of a father is taken away from his young children. My heart aches at the thought of Mir Murtaza. May God grant him eternal peace in heaven and reward him for numerous struggles he had to fight on this Earth. I will always regret not being able to meet him before July. It saddens me that due to my busy schedule, I could not meet my brother sooner for one last time; he was my blood. As I write to you these words, my eyes are filled with tears. Thank you for your message. I pray that the universe will do justice. Mir Murtaza’s children are also part in my prayers. May God bless them with happiness in their lives and may the unconditional love of their family envelope them in a warm embrace.”
For the restoration of democracy and in the fight against dictatorship, Mir Murtaza chose a different path but the destination was the same as directed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
The author is the Former Spokes-person of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Chairman of Bhutto Legacy Foundation