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Diabolical Act: Killing of Zulfikar Ali and Benazir Bhutto Two Prime Ministers of Pakistan, Father and Daughter

An senior air warrior and political observer who has the pulse of the region and can sense a change when it comes.



Pakistan has had a tortured history as far as its rulers are concerned. It started with the murder of the first Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951. Many others were deposed and imprisoned giving Pakistan a dubious name in the history of the world.

In this article, I will discuss the killing of two charismatic prime ministers of Pakistan who were father and daughter. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the first to be hanged in 1978 and 30 years later his daughter Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in a public meeting.

Both these deaths were not accidental but were preplanned. Pakistan was created in 1947 as a homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Muhammad Ali Jinnah who became the first Governor-general of Pakistan allowed his overriding ambition to be the prime minister to dictate his thinking when he realized that he had no chance of becoming the prime minister of a composite Indian state. He accepted the British proposal of a division of India. Jinnah was a secularist and during his time even the national anthem of Pakistan was composed by a Hindu.

The national anthem written by Jagannath Azad was sent to Jinnah, who approved it in a few hours. It was sung for the first time on Pakistan Radio, Karachi (which was then the capital of Pakistan). The anthem was changed after the death of Jinnah. I bring out this important point to show the secular mind of Jinnah. After his death, the Pakistan state eschewed secularism and established a theocratic state intolerant to minorities as was witnessed by the 1954 riots which killed hundreds of Ahmadiyyas.

This was also the period when the Pakistan army seized power in a military coup and General Ayub Khan became the President of Pakistan. The military bungled badly and Ayub resigned and General Yahya Khan became the president. He played into the hands of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto then a budding leader of the Pakistan People's party and ordered a crackdown in East Pakistan. I will not go into details here but suffice it to say that in the 1971 war, East Pakistan broke away and formed a separate state.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had a popular base in West Pakistan now became the President after a discredited Yahiya Khan resigned. Bhutto must be credited with the fact that he framed the Constitution of Pakistan which even guaranteed the rights of the minorities. He also introduced the Parliamentary form of government and became Prime Minister on 14 Aug 73.

During the time Bhutto was prime minister the Pakistan Army was lurking in the shadows. Bhutto was vary of the Army and was aware of how General Ayub Khan had carried out a military coup d'etat. He thought it best to select as Army chief a Mohajir who had migrated from India. He wrongly assumed that General Zia Ul-Haq would be loyal to him. The country also at that time witnessed massive agitations against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto where the opposition accused him of rigging the election.

General Zia Ul-Haq thought it an opportune moment to overthrow Bhutto and seize power. Bhutto was arrested but later released on bail. While on bail he toured Punjab and Pakistan and the Pakistani generals were aghast that he was still very popular. Led by General Zia Ul-Haq it was decided to eliminate Bhutto.

Bhutto was arrested for the murder of a political opponent. His trial commenced in the High Court and not as is normally the case in the sessions court. The military generals were keen that Bhutto must be killed and removed from the scene as he was very popular and they feared that he may come back to power.


Murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

The trial was a farce as it had already been decided by the Chief Justice and the Pakistani generals that Bhutto must be executed. On 18 March 1978, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was sentenced to death. One need not look beyond anything to realize that the entire trial was only to justify the execution of Bhutto.

Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark who had attended the trial called it a mock trial in a kangaroo court. Clark later wrote:

The prosecution's case was based entirely on several witnesses who were detained until they confessed, who changed and expanded their confessions and testimony with each reiteration, who contradicted themselves and each other, who, except for Masood Mahmood... were relating what others said, whose testimony led to four different theories of what happened, absolutely uncorroborated by an eyewitness, direct evidence, or physical evidence.


Execution and rise of Benazir

Bhutto's lawyers appealed in the supreme supreme court and later a petition was filed to Zia-Ul-Haq. The generals however had decided to get rid of Bhutto did not allow the due process of law to take effect. Sadly the Supreme Court of Pakistan has a very dubious distinction in political decisions. It is now realized in Pakistan also that the repeated judgments of the Supreme Court justifying martial law on the basis of the defunct Doctrine of necessity were actually a sham. One can write an entire book on this topic but suffice it to say that Justice Chowdary the last chief Justice of Pakistan finally came out with a judgment against the application of the doctrine of necessity but it was decades too late.

All the appeals of Bhutto and his lawyers were summarily rejected and at the age of 51 on 4 April 1979, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged to death in Central jail, Rawalpindi. There were muted protests as the army had ensured that no popular agitation was to be allowed in favor of Bhutto. Pakistan created a unique record for itself by hanging a prime minister for a murder which he had not committed. Such an event has not taken place in any country in the world in the 20th century accept Turkey who had hanged their prime minister for corruption. This time even Turkey appealed that Bhutto be spared the hanging and they were prepared that he could come in exile to Turkey. General Zia Ul-Haq and his generals were however extremely scared that a live Bhutto abroad could still be a threat to them and so they executed Bhutto. I will call it a judicial murder and the blood will squarely be on the hands of the Pakistan Army.

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General Zia Ul-haq was an extremely insecure man and he began to Islamize Pakistan. He is assumed this was the only way he could continue in power. He brought in obnoxious laws like the Hooded ordinance and pandered to the extremist elements in the Pakistan Society. He got the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and his wife Nusrat arrested. Begum Nusrat who was sick was not allowed to go abroad for treatment and it was only the intervention of the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who prevailed on General Zia Ul-Haq to let her go abroad for medical treatment. He was so scared of Benazir Bhutto who had now taken over the mantle of the leadership of the People's party that he brought an amendment into the Constitution that specified that a woman cannot be President of Pakistan.

God however had other plans and general Haq was assassinated when the plane in which he was flying along with the American Ambassador crashed. Results of the inquiry into the crash have never been made public but I understand that nerve gas was released in the pilot's cockpit that paralyzed the crew and the plane crashed.

With the death of General Zia, the field was open for Benazir Bhutto. She took part in political agitations and once again galvanized the masses. She led the People's party to victory and became the prime minister of Pakistan. The Pakistan Army continued to play backdoor politics and they wished to see the exit of Bhutto's daughter.

Despite being the most popular politician in the country the army somehow ensured Nawaz Sharif to become the prime minister of Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif miscalculated like Bhutto and appointed an army chief who he thought would be loyal to him. But General Parvez Musharraf who had superseded many generals to become the chief carried out a military coup against Nawaz and put him in jail. He would have probably got him executed on the charge of treason but this time Saudi Arabia intervened in a very big way and was made clear to General Musharraf that such an act would not be tolerated. Saudi Arabia than allowed Nawaz Sharif to come to exile.

In the meantime terrorism in Pakistan was rearing its head and partly this was due to the ambivalence of General Musharraf. He also, like General Zia Ul-Haq had no political base and was looking for ways and means to continue in power. The Americans had now realized that the most popular politician in Pakistan was Benazir Bhutto and they brought pressure to bear on Musharraf. The general had already become very unpopular in Pakistan and the Chief Justice of Pakistan unlike the earlier chief justices of the Pakistan Supreme Court was not ready to say 'yes, sir, three bags full' to General Musharaff. The Pakistan President reportedly agreed to a deal where he could continue as president but Benazir Bhutto would become the Prime Minister.

The general was hobnobbing with the Taliban and had also given a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and his subsequent deputy. At that time the Taliban who had been ousted from Kabul was looking for a foothold in Pakistan. They made a plan to assassinate Benazir Bhutto. On 27 December 2007, Benazir Bhutto during an election meeting was assassinated. The Taliban claimed that they had carried out the killing of what they termed 'America's most precious asset.'

The killing is however not a cut and dried case and there is every possibility that the Pakistan Army which was hand in glove with the Taliban was aware of this assassination plot. Despite the killing of Benazir Bhutto the Pakistani dictator General Musharraf could not continue and had to resign. He first went into exile in England and then later shifted to Dubai.

The killing of Benazir Bhutto who had two stints as Prime Minister of Pakistan was a diabolical act and it is impossible to conceive that the entire incident was not in the knowledge of the Pakistan Army.

General Musharraf came back to Pakistan but he entered the lion's den and his past sins caught up with him and he was arrested for many offenses and charges of treason and a hand in the murder of Benazir Bhutto were framed against him.

The Pakistan Army could not allow one of their former chiefs to be tried for these offenses and via backdoor politics were able to arrange for Musharraf to get bail and flee the country. He is now in Dubai, in exile, a discredited man who dare not come back to Pakistan.

Last word

I feel very pained when I write about the Bhutto family and the way they have been eliminated from the political life of Pakistan. I have no hesitation in saying that this is the handiwork of the Pakistan army which in any case has not covered itself with glory by not being able to win a single war and in the bargain lost half the country.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had his faults but he did not deserve to be hanged like a common murderer. Similarly, Benazir Bhutto was no great shakes as the prime minister of Pakistan but she did not deserve being killed by the Taliban. All this is now in the realm of history and I sincerely hope that no other Pakistan leader is done to death. I have visited Pakistan and the Sikh gurdwaras there and I am very happy the way they are looked after. But something must be done about the Pakistan Army and its role in the political field minimized.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 04, 2020:

Tom, most neighbouring countries around India are dominated by army.

tom on October 04, 2020:

pakistan -army with a country

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 03, 2020:

Tom this is the history of Pakistan but then the army there is now a permanent institution in the government. Why talk of Pakistan, even Burm and Thailand are controlled by the military

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

Tom, Thank you

tom on October 02, 2020:

yes that is why dorab patel dissented

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

He may have disliked him but putting a murder charge had no sound legal evidence.

tom on October 02, 2020:

yes this is correct,but nawab served as governor of punjab ,both bhutto and ayub disliked him.he warned ayub not to trust bhutto ,please refer sir morris james pakistan chronicles

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

TOM, no, the Nawab of Kalabagah was shot to death by his own son in 1967. Bhutto was convicted of killing Nawab Mohammad Ahmed Khan, father of one of his most strident critics. The prosecution said Mr. Bhutto had ordered the political assassination in 1974. It was basically a cooked up case against Bhutto

tom on September 30, 2020:

bhutto instigated the murder of nawab of kalabagah ,an honest man

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 27, 2020:

Yes, justice Dorabji Patel did dissent but then the majority judgement sent him the gallows because the army wanted it.

tom on September 27, 2020:

justice dorab patel dissented, he was a parsi

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 24, 2020:

Flourish, Benazir and her father were done in by the army. Sadly for decades, the USA supported the Pakistan military.

FlourishAnyway from USA on July 24, 2020:

I recall years ago seeing a profile of Benazir Bhutto with an interview of her, detailing how she was Harvard and Oxford educated and had such progressive ideas. I thought sadly that she was long of this world. “Diabolical act” indeed describes what happened.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 23, 2020:

Nice Comment Pamela, Yes, this is a sad story and one hopes it is not repeated

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 23, 2020:

This article is very interesting. It is sad thet both of the Bhutto's were killed. That is a terrible history for Pakistan. Thanks for explaining this part of the history of Pakistan.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 23, 2020:

Chitra, nice of you to have commented

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on July 23, 2020:

Nice informative article. We have witnessed all this, but you provide good information for those, who haven’t.

Thank you for sharing.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 23, 2020:

Mohd Iqbal, Thank you for reading and commenting

Mohd Iqbal, Bangladesh on July 23, 2020:

I liked this article as it shows the true nature of the Pakistan army. They carried out plenty of atrocities in Bangladesh. The world better beware of Pakistan which also sheltered terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Thank god we separated.

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