It’s been 44 years since the tragic demise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party, yet we still hear: “Bhutto kal bhi zinda tha, Bhutto aj bhi zinda hai.” He was known for his charismatic leadership and dedication to politics for the common people, Bhutto’s legacy continues to inspire even today. While he was a polarizing figure due to his strong stances on various matters, he remained untainted by corruption allegations.
The Lahore High Court delivered the verdict of the death penalty for Bhutto on March 18, 1978. Despite appeals for clemency from heads of various countries and the UN Secretary-General, there were indications of bias and personal grudges in the conduct of Chief Justice Molvi Mushtaq Hussain. “Mr. Bhutto was denied justice!’ was the common consensus.
On April 4, 1979, Bhutto was executed under false murder charges orchestrated by General Zia ul Haq, his most formidable rival. The news of his death sparked widespread protests globally, with world leaders condemning the act and international newspapers labeling it a political murder. People of Pakistani and Kashmiri communities united in demonstrations, especially in London and Europe, where Mir Murtaza Bhutto launched a global protest movement saying: “Jiye Bhutto!”
“I would rather perish at the hands of the military than fade away into oblivion,” said former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, moments before his execution on April 4, 1979, in the Rawalpindi District Jail.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s contributions to Pakistani politics are undeniable. As a popular leader, he introduced a unified constitution that still endures despite amendments over the years. His political party, the PPP, championed the manifesto of providing bread, cloth, and housing to the people, resonating with the masses and advocating for their basic rights. Despite being a feudal lord himself, Bhutto voiced the concerns of the impoverished and empowered them to stand against feudal oppression, offering hope and dignity for a brighter future.
However, even today, courts are sometimes misused under the guise of accountability to discredit political leaders. History teaches us that it is the public, not controversial court decisions, that can ultimately remove public leaders. Those who sought to erase Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s legacy have failed, as his ideology lives on, while the names of his killers have faded into obscurity. Bhutto’s ideas continue to inspire generations, keeping his memory alive and relevant to this day.
The loss of Bhutto was deeply felt by those who believed in democracy and his advocacy for the people of Pakistan and the Muslim world. He played a pivotal role in foreign policy successes, fostering friendly relations with China and spearheading Pakistan’s nuclear program. He tirelessly raised the Kashmir issue in the United Nations and endeavored to empower the common people by bringing them into politics.
Zia ul Haq, the military dictator, saw Bhutto as a potent threat due to his mass appeal and devised a plan to eliminate him. In a special interview with Masawat Weekly London, Begum Nusrat Bhutto said, “This was not a murder case against the Prime Minister but it was the murder of justice. We want justice for an innocent person who was the elected representative of the people. His people demand justice.”
Though justice was not easily achieved, the people persevered, and Bhutto’s legacy lived on through his children and grandchildren. Remembered as a leader who refused to compromise on principles, Bhutto’s memory remains embedded in the hearts and minds of generations in Pakistan. Despite offers of clemency, he made a courageous choice to be remembered as a historical figure rather than compromising his principles for the people of Pakistan. His contributions are forever etched in the annals of history, inspiring future generations in the nation.