I remember Mir Murtaza Bhutto

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By Bashir Riaz

Pakistan recently celebrated its seventieth independence day. However, freedom has not come easily and the country has had to struggle against the shackles of dictatorship for several decades. It has been the blood of the Bhuttos that has managed to nourish the young sapling of democracy in this country that was parched of democratic values. Mir Murtaza Bhutto is a prominent name among the long list of Bhuttos who have lost their lives for their country while fighting dictatorship. Murtaza considered dictatorship as catastrophic for his country. On March 18, 1978 when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was sentenced to death, Mir Murtaza Bhutto was studying in Oxford. Despite the difficult circumstances, Murtaza never gave up struggling for his father’s life. He contacted many head of states to save his father.
After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s death sentence, Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Mir Shahnawaz Bhutto left their studies and moved to London and during this time I got the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Murtaza. He was the publisher of the weekly Masawat while I was the editor. Masawat brought the two of us close together. After the July of 1977, I was continuously in touch with Benazir Bhutto. General Zia’s stooges were thirsty for blood of the Bhuttos. They were constantly conspiring to get rid of Mir Murtaza and Shahnawaz and this kept me greatly worried. Benazir Bhutto came to London in January 1984, I was her media spokesperson. Benazir truly loved both Mir Shahnawaz and Mir Murtaza. After their father’s death, she considered it her responsibility as an older sister to take care of her brothers.
The murder of Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the hands of a military dictator had affected Murtaza to a great degree. After the International Jurist Conference, he decided to go to Kabul. At that time, Afghanistan had already seen Turkai’s revolution. The Gulf states did not appreciate Murtaza’s decision to go to Kabul and his support eventually declined. In Afghanistan, Mir Murtaza and Mir Shahnawaz married two sisters. Instead of political struggle, the brothers chose armed struggle. It was during this time when the plane hijacking incident took place. After this, Mir Murtaza was put under sanctions for air travel world-wide. In 1985, Mir Shahnawaz was found dead under mysterious circumstances. Mir Murtaza separated from his wife because she was the sister of Shahnawaz’s wife Rehana. He took his daughter Fatima and went to Damascus.
The circumstances evolved for the better but they were still not favourable enough for Mir Murtaza to return in his home country. He wanted to come back to Pakistan. His friends and well-wishers tried to convince him that the time is not right for his return. The officials in Damascus also warned him that his life would be in danger in Pakistan but Murtaza was determined to return home. He fought the elections and barely managed to win one seat. Some forces tried to intensify the differences between BB and Mir Murtaza Bhutto, however BB always displayed patience. While Mir Murtaza was in Kabul, his party workers, mother, and sister continued to face difficulties in Pakistan. As he was put under travel restrictions, he got a passport made in the name of Dr. Salah Uddin that he used for traveling purposes. During exile, Mir Murtaza wrote a letter to me. He wrote: “finally, I am sure you will continue with your mission with the same determination you have shown in the past. You have my complete trust, just as you have always enjoyed the trust and confidence of my entire family. Shaheed Badshah would have been proud of the struggle you launched for him.” Mir Murtaza Bhutto was a tall and handsome man with a gifted sense of humour. The relationship with him underwent a lot of ups and downs but mutual respect and affections never weakened. After his return to Pakistan in 1993, some people started creating misunderstanding between BB and Mir Murtaza. He started thinking that his role in politics was being restricted. On the other hand, BB worried about his safety. Then the great tragedy happened. On September 20, 1996, the Sarr e Rah police squad shot him dead. The Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto was devastated by her brother’s death, Begum Nusrat Bhutto was in a state of unconsciousness, Begum Sahiba had brought presents for Mir Murtaza’s birthday from London; these were left around scattered, Fatima was in a shock, her world seemed to be crashing down with her father’s death. Unfortunately, the cruel circumstances pushed Fatima and Zulfikar Junior away from their aunt Benazir and a relationship of love turned into bitterness. Chairman Pakistan People’s Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has often mentioned Mir Murtaza in his speeches and talks. 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. Bilawal Bhutto was born on September 21, 1988. This month, he would be celebrating his 29th birthday. Mir Murtaza was born on September 18, 1954 and was murdered on September 20, 1996. These three dates are significant. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is running the party following in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather.
(The writer is former press secretary of Benazir Bhutto and current Chairman of Bhutto Legacy Foundation.)