ZAB: A voice for the oppressed class


By Bashir Riaz

The 40th death anniversary of Pakistan People’s Party’s founding chairman and former prime ministerZulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) was observed on Thursday throughout the Pakistan and rest of the world. A large number of PPP workers under the party leadership, visited Garhi Khuda Bakhsh to attend the main procession.

ZAB Shaheed devoted his life for the people and democracy.He created awareness among the people about social, civil, economic and political rights and stabilized the country by uniting the four provinces.The 1973 constitution, which was passed with consensus of all political parties in parliament at the time, was a monumental achievement of ZAB. He was the genuine voice for the oppressed class of population which is the majority in the country. ZAB wanted to strengthen democracy in the country and accepted gallows in the struggle for the rights of the poor and powerless of society, and he refused to bow before the military dictator.

Nearly forty years ago on April 4, 1979, the elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (SZAB) was a victim of judicial murder. There were worldwide protests by not just Pakistanis but also by various leaders who condemned this injustice meted out to the people of Pakistan and the people of Kashmir. It was the voice of Shaheed Z.A Bhutto that highlighted the Kashmir issue while addressing the United Nations Security Council in front of the entire world—this voice was murdered by a military dictator. While lamenting the double standards of India, SZAB said in his address, “If India talks about the will of the people of East Pakistan and claims that it had to attack Pakistan in order to impose the will of the people of East Pakistan, then what has it done about Kashmir? East Pakistan is an integral part of Pakistan. Kashmir is a disputed territory. Why does India then not permit it to exercise its will?”

Naturally, Kashmiris displayed their grief and anger in Srinagar, the capital of occupied Kashmir. For three days, the regular life in the valley was disrupted and air space was closed.

After carrying out this judicial murder, the military dictator Zia ul Haq managed to quell the unrest among the people by imposing strict censorship on the country’s media. Everything in favour of democracy or the Bhuttos was banned. PPPP’s newspaper Masawat was shut down. Keeping in view this situation where a battle between democracy and dictatorship was being fought on the media front, Mir Murtaza Bhutto started publishing weekly Masawat from London. It was the only way to keep the public updated about the antics of the tyrant ruling them at the time.

When the book written by Shaheed Z.A Bhutto in jail was smuggled out and reached London, Masawat weekly published it in the form of a 372 page booklet. It was then published as a book titled “If I Am Assassinated” by a publishing house in Delhi named Vikas. This book became a hot seller and proved to be quite popular among the masses. During this period, another important piece of writing by SZAB was found. Due to expensive publishing rates in London, Mir Murtaza asked me to go to Delhi and get it published as a book. Therefore, in May 1979, I went to Delhi to get SZAB’s book published titled “My Pakistan” in both Urdu and English. Even today, people give references from this book.

I went to Srinagar where I interviewed the Chief Minister of occupied Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah. I was staying in a hotel which was in the centre of Srinagar named Jehangir Hotel. The daily newspaper of the valley “Aftab” had published about my visit to the valley so the moment I reached, I started receiving telephone calls. People wanted to inquire about the situation in Pakistan and to share their admiration for Shaheed Z.A Bhutto. During this time, I received a call by Salma bibi who asked me if I am from Pakistan. I replied Yes! After hearing my response, she became quite emotional and cursed saying, “You Pakistanis have no sense of honour; Bhutto was hanged and you could not do anything.” Later on, she came to visit along with her brother and apologized for her emotionally charged behaviour.

Shaheed Z.A Bhutto wrote in “If I am Assassinated” that the Himalayas will cry if I am assassinated; the supporters of General Zia mocked this sentiment at that time. After SZAB was hanged, the tears of Himalayas flooded the Kashmir valley which is situated in its lap. The Kashmiri people respected and adored PPPP’s leader and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shaheed Z.A Bhutto for his courage to raise the Kashmir issue on international forum. They mourned his loss as any loving people would mourn the loss of a beloved leader.

Before I left Srinagar, Sheikh Abdullah invited me to have dinner with him at his place. For two hours, we discussed Shaheed Z.A Bhutto and the Bhutto family. Mr. Shaikh said that SZAB was a courageous man and that they were not expecting such a response by Kashmiris upon SZAB’s death; all businesses were closed for three days and they even had to arrest certain leaders on Shaheed Z.A Bhutto’s chehlum to calm the unrest. In his interview for weekly Masawat, Sheikh Abdullah stated “General Zia’s military government and the judiciary have committed gross injustice towards Mr. Bhutto.” It is true that the people of Kashmir had a lot of hope attached with Shaheed Z.A. Bhutto as a saviour who could possibly give them back their freedom. When SZAB was hanged, they felt their hopes were buried along with him. People of Kashmir had adorned walls of their homes with photos of Shaheed Z.A Bhutto. Literature on SZAB was sold in the valley. There were elaborated poems written in Urdu and Persian on him. In Srinagar, Shaheed Bhutto Memorial Committee was constituted and a crossing was named after Shaheed Z.A Bhutto as well.

On my last day in Srinagar, I met the renowned Persian professor Hajni. He was greatly saddened by the loss of Shaheed Z.A Bhutto and said that if a bullet kills General Zia and his supporters, it won’t cool down the burning fire of anguish in our hearts. We will be satisfied when the same treatment is meted out to Shaheed Z.A Bhutto’s persecutors as was meted out to SZAB in the dark cell of his jail.

The welcome I received in the words of Salma bibi and the farewell I was given by professor Hajni reflect the true sentiments of the Kashmiris. During my five day stay at Srinagar I met people from different walks of life including scholars, poets, and journalists and everyone was deeply saddened by what had happened to Shaheed Z.A Bhutto in Pakistan. They were mourning this loss even one month later and said, “Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the voice of the people of Kashmir and a tyrant from Pakistan has murdered our voice.”

(The writer is former press secretary of Benazir Bhutto.)