Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan

Someone on twitter suggested collecting stories of where you were when you heard the news of Bhutto’s execution. I hope others will post their stories below, I have a couple..and some random comments:

I was at home because our board exams had been postponed in anticipation of the hanging. I woke up to see Ami (my mother) crying…she just said “they have hanged Bhutto”. Everyone was stunned. All of Lahore seemed so quiet. We went to our uncle’s place and there was a Sui Gas (Natural gas) pipeline near his house (it was one of those things where a big pipeline comes out of the ground and goes back in and there is a fence around it, they are all over the place in Pakistan and I am sure elsewhere). I remember staring at it all day and imagining ways of blowing it up. Of course I did nothing of the sort. But two weeks later we were back in the hostel and studying late at night for our much-delayed board exams. I was with a like-minded friend and we got into some sort of “political discussion” with two boys who were Zia supporters. Upset at some perceived insult to the memory of the late chairman we went and got rooh afza (a red colored drink..meant to evoke blood) in something and threw it at them with the shout of “Chairman key naam per” (in the name of the chairman). That was the sum total of our protest…

A few months before, we happened to see Bhutto in Kot Lakhpat prison. We had gone there to meet my uncle (who was locked up there for trying to launch an earlier coup against Bhutto!) and Bhutto and family and his lawyer Yahya Bakhtyar happened to be in the entrance corridor of the prison. My father stepped foward said salam and Bhutto smiled and salaamed back. I dont remember if there was any other conversation. But he looked over us and nodded and smiled. My mother was anti-Bhutto those days (because he had put her brother in jail) but for several minutes after that she was just speechless. His charisma was very striking. I have not hobnobbed with any great leaders, but Zia came to our parents day ih school and I explained our model of a nuclear power plant to him (I was president of the chemistry club and nuclear power was the patriotic thing)  and he was the furthest thing from “charisma”. Bhutto on the other hand had an absolutely electric presence. I have no clue why or how. My father, who was pro-Bhutto, had a field day with my mother’s having succumbed so completely to his charm with just one smile and Salam.

A friend from south Punjab wrote this comment about his memory: That was very sad day, very sad. I was in school in Bahawal Nagar. I remember my dad was going to for a wedding but he returned home, about half an hour after he left home. He said something is not right, there is something very bad in atmosphere, he noticed movements of army in the town. …….. When the news came out, I saw women wailing on the streets, literally like someone close, a brother, father or son had died. People were so sad, they cancelled any joyful activity. That day in Bahawal Nagar I hardly saw any eye without tears. I did not understand well enough then, but now I know how much he was genuinely loved by people, poor people whom he gave recognition, a voice, an identity.

Another friend from Lahore had this to say: Hero for some in Punjab and Sindh but villain for all Balouch & Bengal, he is the person who declared Ahmadis a minority, murdered political workers in Balochistan, ordered ban on Alcohol, opium & Bhang and helped establish control of organisations like Jamaat Islami supported JTI in educational institutions, the list is very long.

After the above comment, I thought one could add the fact that Bhutto was the big daddy of both the Kashmir war of 1965 (and therefore of the “hard separation” of pakistan and India that only became fact after that, and of the later Kashmir Jihad) and the Afghan Jihad (not called Jihad back then…the CIA and ISI came up with that term later…at the time it was just a Paknationalist operation against Afghanistan run by the “Afghan cell” that recruited such luminaries as Islamist acid-thrower Gulbuddin Hikmatyar to start activities against the pro-Pakhtoonistan regime of Mohammed Daood in Afghanistan). He was also the one who put the emphasis on Pan-Islamism to compensate for the “loss” of Bangladesh and organized the “Islamic summit” in Lahore. These trends were never his sole property, but he certainly worked for all of them. I am sure there are others I am missing right now. But he was also killed by Zia, which compensates for many many crimes. Now safely dead, he is a martyr for people who are generally against all of these evil things…

In any case, the feelings he evoked in people and the kind of people he mobilized into politics are a separate issue and may still evoke a warm glow when many of his own actual choices do not. I am thinking also of the way many third world leftists felt (or can still feel) about terrible events like the Soviet revolution and the Chinese revolution and about mass murderers like Stalin and Mao who killed millions and destroyed the life and culture of so many captive nationalities…. The feelings of the admirers can be sincere and well meaning and can even evoke sympathy when the actions of the “leaders” were not at all what their distant fans imagined them to be. …I have to flesh this thought out. But this connects with the thought that in countries like Pakistan where “people’s revolution” is not even a distant possibility, the role of the “Left” is frequently positive. They stand for human rights, for protection against police brutality and high-handedness, for worker’s rights, for women’s rights, for better public education and better basic healthcare, for the rights of smaller nationalities and minority religions. They are at the forefront of efforts to support the language and culture of Pakistan’s nationalities against the imposition of Paknationalist monoculture. They do a lot of good work, especially in resisting the dominant Paknationalist cultural fascism. Suppose one could continue all that without slipping too far into higher level “class-based political analysis” and other such formulaic jokes (not an impossible task…many leftists repeat those formulas but actually work for mainstream parties and function pretty normally in mainstream “bourgeois politics”).. it would not make anyone happy, but….
Its just a thought.

Brown Pundits