The Making of a National Leader

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Politics in Pakistan has been much the politics of personalities. In one sense, this does not distinguish Pakistan from other nations, since all societies, representing every stage of development, have looked to men of ‘marked and enterprising vitality’ for their political leadership. Figures like Churchill, Roosevelt, De Gaulle, Gandhi, Mao Tse-tung, Tito, Nasser, immediately come to mind. These are men of heroic proportions and the mentioning of them raises the larger question of the heroic personality and his effect on history. We do not propose here to become entangled in this ageless and multi-faceted controversy, although it cannot be entirely avoided. This is so because, at the apogee of his popularity immediately after the 1970 elections, wide sections of Punjabi society saw Bhutto as a hero, a ‘redeemer’ of Pakistan’s national destiny, and, as expressed in the honorific title of Quaid-i-Awam, (Leader of the People), a fitting successor to the Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This image of Bhutto will concern us more directly when we look at the elections of 1970.

The other sense in which the politics of personalities interests us does distinguish Pakistan, as well as most other developing countries from the developed world. In modern political systems leaders must operate within a highly defined arena of permanent institutions, organized interests and established forms of civic behavior. This is less the case in developing systems, where modern political institutions are in a rudimentary stage of development. Here the presence of a dominating figure is often more penetrating and stabilizing, while the absence of such leads to the scramble of ‘sell-out politics’– the result of a condition wherein institutional constraints and loyalties are minimal. Certainly, this is the case for Pakistan, where secular political leadership substantively partakes of feudal, tribal and post-colonial paternalism, and where political stability has been associated with the unquestioned dominance of a single individual. Two very different men who represented polar opposites in terms of their core constituencies have dominated Pakistani politics in such a manner: Muhammad Ali Jinnah who put together the nationalist coalition of political forces, and Muhammad Ayub Khan, whose political base was in the vice-regal institutions. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was among the young rising leaders who sought to emulate either or both of these men. Both men had a formative influence on Bhutto’s political career: Jinnah from afar, because his nationalism left an indelible print on the young Zulfikar, Ayub much more concretely, because he gave Bhutto his first political footing and enabled him to rise to a national prominence. This was a prominence from which Bhutto would turn to challenge Ayub on the issue of Tashkent, and go on to found his own national leadership on a revival of Jinnah’s coalition of nationalists and radical social elements.

Preludes to Leadership: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was born on 5 January 1929 at Larkana, the district seat of the old Chanduka Pargana, one of the richest agricultural districts in Sindh. The second son of Sir Shah Nawaz Khan Bhutto, C.I.E., O.B.E., the young Bhutto grew up in a clan of wealthy Sindhi zamindars who were long conversant with the ways of political power in both the local and provincial arenas. The Bhuttos appear to be of Rajput Hindu origin and, though not part of the jagirdar elite of the Talpur era, were a notable family at the time of the British conquest of Sindh (1844). They were a far-sighted and energetic clan and extended their landholdings to take advantage of the canal systems rebuilt under the British administration. This effort paid enormous dividends after the Sukkur Barrage brought perennial irrigation to Upper Sindh (1932). According to one writer, at one time the Larkana Bhuttos owned some 250,000 acres of land in the three districts of Larkana, Jacobabad and Sukkur.

Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto stood out as a political figure during his era in the Bombay Presidency. He served on the Bombay cabinet and reached the pinnacle of his political career at the London Round Table Conferences (1931-1932), where he had a leading part in achieving the separation of Sindh from Bombay. Subsequent years found him in influential positions: Chief Advisor to the Governor of Sindh, Member of the Joint (Bombay and Sindh) Public Service Commission, etc., though his political career seems to have lost some of its momentum. In the 1937 elections to the new Sindh Legislative Assembly, he lost the Larkana seat to his old district rival, Muhammad Ayub Khuhro. Shortly before Partition, Sir Shah Nawaz accepted his last, and in many ways his most unhappy, public appointment, that of Dewan (Prime Minister) of the princely state of Junagadh in Kathiawar. A state with an unenlightened Muslim ruler and a Hindu majority population, the latter already deeply infected with pro-Congress sentiments (Gandhi was from the contiguous state of Porbandar), the new Dewan was soon caught in the violent cross-currents of Partition. He advised the ruler Sir Mahabatkhan Rasulkhanji, to accede to Pakistan and, after some delay, an Instrument of Accession was exchanged between Pakistan and Junagadh. Neither the Indian Government nor the local populace however, were willing to see Junagadh become a part of Pakistan and, in the face of unrest in the state and an imminent invasion by Indian force, Sir Shah Nawaz asked the Government of India to take control of Junagadh to avoid disorder and chaos. The action by the Dewan, taken without reference to the Government of Pakistan, was severely criticized in Pakistan. Though events had been clearly beyond his control, Sir Shah Nawaz Khan Bhutto never lost the stigma in the popular mind of having negotiated Junagadh away to India. He retired to his estates at Larkana and died in November. 1957.

The Early Years: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto grew up in an atmosphere of landed wealth, of feudal privilege in the Sindhi mould, and of drawing room politics of metropolitan centres like Karachi and Bombay. With his father, ‘an eccentric and colourful character,’ the young Zulfikar seems to have had a comfortable, if somewhat subservient relationship. In an interview with Altaf Husain Qureshi, Bhutto remembered with fondness that ‘during my holidays he would take me on tours and talk to me about political issues.’ In the same interview, he recalled his father’s advice on politics:

. . . when I was ten or eleven he called me and said that the road of politics is that of untold difficulties, but if you follow some principles then politics can give you pleasure as it is the best means of knowing man. He told me, ‘Son, I see in you the potential of a good leader, so I would like to give you three important principles of politics. First always maintain a balanced personality. Be a lover of realities. In life, greed deceives you at every step, success intoxicates and staggers you, and failure depresses and frustrates you. Remember, life has both of these in it, so do not be too cautious. Second, always have confidence in the people. Be aware of their desires and aspirations. Always remember that opposition to the popular wishes cannot last for long. And third, always be above family and circumstantial prejudices. Islam is a philosophy of universal brotherhood and we should stay above such prejudices.

There is little doubt, particularly as his elder son (Sikander Ali Khan Bhutto) proved to be a disappointment that Sir Shah Nawaz came to rest his hopes for a revival of Bhutto political fortunes in his only other son, Zulfikar Ali. Yet, the old gentleman also believed his son’s entry into politics should be properly timed, hence he kept a firm grip on a restless Zulfikar’s political ambitions. As would be expected in a Muslim household, Bhutto’s mother, Begum Khurshid Bhutto, was a more obscure figure. Some unsavory speculation persists in elite circles about her social circumstances and the form of marriage undertaken to Sir Shah Nawaz. She was evidently from a Bombay Hindu family of little means, though the marriage to Sir Shah Nawaz was a regular (nikah) one and seems to have been durable enough as she gave her husband two daughters as well as a son. Her origins and her station as a junior wife, appear to have placed Begum Khurshid Bhutto at a disadvantage in the zenana (women’s apartments) politics of the Bhutto clan, as well as in the elite social circles in which the Bhuttos moved. Some of those who must have known the Bhutto family suggest that the resultant insecurity of his mother’s position, having communicated itself to the young Zulfikar in his formative years, accounts for the rather major sense of insecurity which seems to underlie the darker side of Bhutto’s political leadership.

However this may be, it is clear that the young Bhutto grew up in the most comfortable surroundings. His schooling, though begun somewhat late, was among the best to be found in India and abroad. He attended the Cathedral and John Common School at Bombay, divided his undergraduate college years equally between the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, took his master’s in jurisprudence from Oxford and was admitted to the Bar from Lincoln’s Inn. His pre-college scholastic record showed little evidence of his later brilliance. Having begun formal schooling at the age of nine, the young Zulfikar was ‘always trying to make up for the lost time . . . and always trailing slightly behind in his classes.’ His pre-college years were also partly spent in pursuit of the ‘princely pleasures,’ a style of life that often attracted the sons of wealthy Muslim landholders in cities like Bombay, Lahore and Lucknow.

This is not to say the more serious aspects of life passed the young Zulfikar by. The momentous events taking shape in India could not fail to engage a so highly political family as the Bhuttos. Like much of the rest of the Bombay Muslim community, they placed themselves squarely behind Jinnah’s Muslim League and the demand for Pakistan. In these years of major turning points in history, the young Bhutto came to regard Muhammad Ali Jinnah as a heroic figure. Among his own friends, Zulfikar became a ‘great advocate for the two- nation theory.’ it is certainly significant that Bhutto’s political consciousness was formed in the intensely nationalistic atmosphere of the Pakistan Movement. This had a permanent effect on his perceptions, for an emotional Pakistani nationalism would come to be the touchstone of his political career.

The move to California was undoubtedly a maturing experience for the young Bhutto. His political senses, already galvanized by the creation of Pakistan, and his mind stimulated by the challenge of a new environment far from the paternal dictates of home, the California years unlocked the intellectual brilliance and studied flamboyance that have since become characteristic of the man. At Berkeley, Bhutto received the strong grounding in international law from Professor Hans Kelsen which would stand him in good stead when he later represented Pakistan before the United Nations. Bhutto’s academic performance at Berkeley was almost perfect and he graduated summa cum laude. Yet, he also had time to become the first Asian elected to the Student Union Council and to engage in a number of political and social activities. He. volunteered in the 1950 Senate campaign of Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, who ran against a Richard Milhous Nixon fresh from his triumphs on the House Un-American Activities Committee. He also acted as a publicist for the new state of Pakistan, organized an association of Pakistani students and wrote several pamphlets supporting the cause of Palestine and that of the Vietnamese against the French. During this period, Bhutto displayed an interest in socialism seeing in it the best means of pulling the emerging nations of Asia and Africa out of their deep poverty. Evidently, his mother’s influence–‘She taught me to love the poor and made me aware of their difficulties,’–and abysmal poverty he had encountered in rural Sindh as a youth, made a lasting impression on him and led to an early interest in socialism. In discussions with Piloo Mody at Bombay, the young Bhutto often expressed an admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialism, and later at the University of Southern California, he gave a lecture on ‘The Islamic Heritage’ in which he spoke of the need for socialism in Muslim countries. At both Berkeley and Oxford, Bhutto came under the influence of Harold Laski and, at Oxford, made the acquaintance of Bertrand Russell, who long remained a supporter of Z.A. Bhutto in the years to come. At Oxford too, Bhutto was greatly impressed by Verrier Elwin, a humanistic scholar with a deep knowledge of the hill tribes of northeastern India and an ex-ICS officer who had been Nehru’s constitutional adviser on the status of ethnic minorities. It was Elwin, Bhutto later wrote ‘who first made me realize the meaning of poverty.’ Yet, for all this, Bhutto’s socialism never lost its quality of abstract Fabianism, nor did it ever compete with his far stronger tendency to emotional nationalism, even when the latter required the methods of realpolitik which excluded socialism. Bhutto is one those leaders who has loved ‘The People’ in the abstract. There is no evidence, outside his political life, that he ever involved himself in activities or organizations dedicated to ameliorating the sufferings of actual individuals. A number of other lasting traits were visible in Bhutto during these years abroad. One of these was the meticulous care he took in his personal appearance. Others were his occasional ‘exuberant showmanship’ and his tendency to ‘revel in language and concentrate on effects and when necessary . . . exaggerate or overstate a proposition’ nor was Bhutto always an easy person to be with. Though generally charming, he could be vehement in argument and a times, showed an arrogant disdain for those he did not respect–an attribute he later perceived and criticized, in Nehru. How much he took to heart the lessons of history and politics learned in the academy or indeed how he perceived those lessons, was something of an enigma to his teachers and friends. Even his close friend Piloo Mody would write of Bhutto:

‘Only time can tell whether Zulfi’s reading of history and constitutional law will overcome the temptation o succumbing to arbitrariness and expediency.’

In November 1953 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto returned to his native Sindh and ‘felt as if my thirst for years had been quenched.’ in 1951 he married Nusrat ( née Ispahani), the daughter of a Poona ( now Karachi) commercial family that traced its recent past to Kermanshah in Iran. Begum Nusrat Bhutto would prove an invaluable aid in helping her husband launch his political career, and would later ably lead the Pakistan People’s Party during the two periods Z.A. Bhutto found himself in prison (1968 -1969 and 1977-1979). Of the four children of this marriage, two daughters and two sons, the eldest, Benazir Bhutto, showed the greatest inclination for politics. After her education at Radcliffe and Oxford, and an internship with the Foreign Ministry, she found herself deeply involved in attempting to reverse the political disaster that overtook her father after the coup d’état of July 1977.

Search for a Political Role: On his return to Pakistan, Bhutto took over the management of the family estates from his ailing father, introduced mechanization and other improvements, and replaced the old Larkana house with a more modern structure. He also began a law practice before the Sindh High Court and lectured intermittently on Constitutional Law at the Sindh Muslim College. Both these latter concerns, however, were tangential to his primary concern of entering upon the political role he had always projected for himself. But his first stab at politics came in the agitation against the One Unit Scheme. A vocal and energetic participant, the young Bhutto was soon elected President of the Sindh Youth Front, authored a pamphlet–Pakistan, A Federal or a Unitary State, made a name for himself as a public speaker and missed being arrested only out of consideration for the influence of his family. The agitation failed to prevent One Unit and thereafter declined. It had also failed to set Bhutto’s political career into sustained motion, although H.S. Suhrawardy was impressed enough to seek Bhutto’s membership in the Awami League–a proposal Sir Shah Nawaz refused to countenance.

Elite politics rather than popular politics would be Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s first route to political position. The relevant connection in this regard was the old friendship between the Bhutto and Mirza families. Begun when a member of both families was in Bombay Government, this relationship was renewed in the winter hunting trips which President Iskandar Mirza made to the Bhutto hunting preserves at Larkana. Mirza was impressed by the young Bhutto, particularly by his argument that Pakistan had unnecessarily restricted its foreign policy by tying itself too closely to the Anglo – American alliance. He thus helped Bhutto achieve one o his earliest ambitions: a place on the Pakistan delegation. In 1957, at the age of twenty-nine’ Z.A. Bhutto was named to the Pakistan U.N. delegation. In the following spring, he represented Pakistan at the U.N. Conference on the Law of the Sea. In both areas, Bhutto made outstanding contributions. Having proven himself at the U.N., dramatic events were soon to occur in Pakistan that would advance Bhutto’s political career even more rapidly than he might have foreseen. By 1958, the chronic instability of Pakistan’s domestic political institutions had become something of a farce, and President Mirza was increasingly disposed to drastic measures. The Army High Command was also watching the deteriorating situation. Though Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto had died in November 1957, the Bhuttos maintained their social connections with the Mirzas and it was during one of the shoots at Larkana also attended by the Army Commander- in-Chief, General Muhammad Ayub Khan, that some of the planning for the coup d’état of 7 October 1958 is said to have occurred. Bhutto’s role in planning the coup is obscure, but was probably at most peripheral. A glimmer of Bhutto’s later policy of ‘bilateralism’ is perhaps visible in the President’s Proclamation where it is said: ‘We desire to have friendly relations with all nations, but political adventurers try their best to create bad blood and misunderstandings between us and countries like the U.S.S.R., and the U.A.R. And the People’s Republic of China.’ Bhutto’s ‘big break came when he was included in the Cabinet constituted by President Mirza and sworn in on 27 October. The same evening Mirza was pressed to resign the Office of President to Ayub Khan, the man against whom he had begun to conspire and who was the real power behind the coup. Thus, at the early age of thirty, Zulfikar Ali  Bhutto took his place as a Minister in the Government of Pakistan and, at the same time, survived the first political crisis of the new Regime, which saw his mentor packed off to exile in London. He had played his cards extremely well.

By courtesy: The Pakistan People’s Party by Philip E. Jones, Oxford University Press 2003

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