As I saw Bhutto 

One of Bhutto’s original supporters remembers him

It was the late 1960s when the bipolar world was divided between capitalism and socialism. This part of the world also witnessed the wave of socialism. The downfall of Ayub and the rise of a new phenomenon in Pakistan’s politics which is still powerful as it was in the 1960s and 1970s, the charismatic giant of politics Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who is the icon of resilience and the symbol of democracy in Pakistan, who chose to stand firm on principles and faced the dictatorship with utmost valour, and still lives in the hearts of millions even after 42 years of the darkest night in the history of Pakistan, when the most popular leader of the county was tried harshly and unjustly by Zia and later sent to gallows.

One of the students in those days who later on became close aide of Shaheed Zulfkqar Ali Bhutto and minister in his government was my father Abdullah Baloch, whose memories about his leader are shared below as a tribute on his 42nd death anniversary as he saw the rise, the glory, the success and also the darkest days faced by the party and its leader.

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My father narrates “During the late 1960s there was an echo of one person all around, people used to talk about and discuss Bhutto everywhere from drawing rooms to cafes to public forums. As a youngster I was pulled by the charisma of Bhutto and during one hot summer day of 1968 I made up my mind and went to 70 Clifton where Ghulam Mustafa Khar received me and took me to Bhutto sahab who was sitting and having tea in his drawing room  along with Hafeez Pirzada, Hayat Mohammad Sherpao and Mairaj Mohammad Khan. I introduced myself and expressed my desire to work with him in his party, which he appreciated. He told me to visit the party office and start working. The towering personality and commitment in his eyes were quite enthralling. The doors of 70 Clifton were always open and we were free to share our views and opinions with him. The first party office of PPP in Karachi was at Sindhi Muslim Housing Society, the office was rented on the name of Mohammad Khan Ghangro as it was Yahya’s martial law and no body was willing to give us space on rent for the party office.

“SZAB had an Impeccable dressing sense, even his federal and provincial ministers were given a particular dress code, white for the day and black for the evening with different collar strips of the President, Prime Minister, Senators, Ministers, MNAs and MPAs, quite similar to the Chinese dressing which was later on replaced by the Zia regime by the sherwani. He was so charismatic that many of the party leaders including me used to follow his dressing and specially his trademark Mao cap, which was a fad amongst the youth of those days.

He was a great admirer of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and as an Auqaf Minister he assigned me to install the golden gate gifted by the Shah of Iran where as a mark of respect he always used to salute on entering the dargah of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

The late 1960s was the peak of socialism, the Red Book was the proud possession of every leftist in those days, and during the Hala Convention one of the young members who later on became Federal Minister was quoting the Red Book, and the leftist group of the party led by Mairaj Muhammad Khan were of the view that party should not contest elections, but SZAB shrugged off their decision and said “Don’t give me examples from the Red Book, you have read it but I have done dialogue with them, and we cannot serve the people unless we contest elections and come in power.”

Bhutto was clear that the only way to serve people is democracy. On return from the convention he came back to Hyderabad and formed the parliamentary board for 1970 elections, and he nominated me as a member. He emerged as a challenger for Ayub, such that the feudals of those times used to avoid any encounter with Bhutto to avoid Ayub’s wrath. PPP was the first political party where the worker class was the epicentre of the party that pulled a student like me to 70 Clifton.

“And believe me those were the tough days when Ayub’s government was struggling before the might of the rising leader, Bhutto. In 1972 when I was an MPA my house was burnt in the Karachi riots. He called me to 70 Clifton, consoled me and patted me on the shoulder, to which I said this is a very small sacrifice for the party and the cause, which resulted in a smile on his face and he responded “I expected the same from you”.

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He created such a party in which the leader had direct contact with his workers, there was no such party in Pakistan before that. He was very encouraging by seeing my passion in politics and asked me to regularly visit the party office. The daily expenses of the office were covered by the sales collection of Nusrat magazine. He was a very good listener, but if once anybody used to repeat anything he used to snub them and say “don’t repeat”.

He used to encourage competition within his party to extract the best amongst all. The classic example of this was to keep an extreme leftist, Maira,j and Hafeez, son of a former CM, both poles apart, together in the Karachi chapter, it was the great leadership quality of SZAB. He believed that healthy competition was good for the party in which one tries to outmanoeuvre the other, and the ultimate beneficiary was the party. He inculcated trust and confidence in youth by inducting a young person like me in the cabinet, as I was just 28 years old at that time, also appointed me as General Secretary Karachi with Kamal Azfar as President, again poles apart. He always showed his conviction and trust in youth.

“In 1976 during super flood despite being MPA from Karachi I was appointed in-charge minister for flood relief by SZAB. I tried my best and saved Sehwan and Dadu from being inundated by flood with his guidance. Later he appreciated me for my efforts in his historic speech. Once he did a rally in Lyari where he tirelessly travelled all night, went home for a while and then returned  back to visit the remaining places such was his enthusiasm and commitment. He used to call labour conferences yearly because he always wanted to have a grip on the pulse of the proletariat class.

“His son late Shahnawaz built a hogan (jhuggi) with a lantern hanging inside at  70 clifton where he used to take Bhutto along with him and spend some time. The love for the poor was in the blood of the Bhutto family.

“Once I went to see off SZAB at Karachi airport, he asked me, “Where I will head from here?” I replied home, as I was not feeling well. He immediately took out a bottle of tablets from his pocket and told me “even though I am not well but still travelling, now you should better go to work.” He worked tirelessly and inspired all of us. He used to notice even the minute things which most people might ignore, he was very observant and particular.

“It was 5 July 1977 when I was at home and learnt about the shocking news that martial law has been imposed and that our elected government has been toppled. It was a shock for all of us and a tragedy that Shahed Bhutto was tried unjustly. Instead of a session court he was tried in the High court first, which was technically wrong as the high court is the appellate court, not the trial court. The Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Molvi Mushtaq Hussain, who was hearing Bhutto’s case was biased. Even the Supreme Court Judge, Mr Justice Nasim Hasan Shah, who gave the decision to hang Bhutto later admitted that he was trying to protect his job. All the judges who tried Bhutto were under PCO oath and their loyalty was towards Zia.

Every passing year 4th April reminds me what an enormous loss it has been for the country, Shaheed Bhutto was a mentor and leader for me. I will always cherish the time spent with him, the lessons learnt from him and the pearls of wisdom that he shared with me. His words still echo in my ears, such leaders are born in centuries.”

Mustafa Abdullah Baloch
Mustafa Abdullah Baloch
The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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