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The Controversial Execution of a Pakistani Prime Minister

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MG is an air warrior with a distinguished career and now a corporate advisor, writer, and intrepid traveler and novelist


A Foul Deed in Pakistan

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a firebrand politician in Pakistan. He was a junior minister during the term of General Ayub Khan and later became foreign minister of Pakistan. Bhutto was in some respects a megalomaniac, and his role in the breakup of Pakistan was significant. After the breakup of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was able to get president Yahiya Khan to resign and Bhutto became the president of Pakistan. Later, he got a new constitution framed and he became the prime minister. This was the turning point for Bhutto's career, as the Pakistani army, after the defeat in East Pakistan, was waiting for the right moment to throw him out. In 1978, General Zia-ul-Haq orchestrated a military coup that overthrew Bhutto.

Bhutto Comes Into Power

The genesis of the problem that brought Bhutto to power was the 1969 general election. In this election, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won a majority and logically should have been made prime minister of Pakistan. Bhutto was the man who egged on General Yahiya Khan not to honor the verdict of the 1969 elections that would have put Sheikh Mujibar Rehman in the prime minister's chair. Bhutto further advised the General to launch a crackdown in East Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibar was arrested and tried for treason. The rest is history as India under Indira Gandhi took advantage of a fluid situation and freed East Pakistan. Now we know that Bhutto was the catalyst that broke Pakistan with his dream of being the prime minister.

A Military Coup

After the breakup of Pakistan, Bhutto became president and later prime minister, but he was again at loggerheads with the opposition, who accused him of rigging the election. Bhutto now committed a fatal mistake. He promoted General Zia ul Haq, a junior general, as the Chief of Army Staff. by superseding five other generals. General Zia showed his loyalty to Bhutto by ousting him from power in a military coup. Bhutto was sent to jail.

Now a diabolical plan was hatched by Zia and his generals to eliminate Bhutto: he was charged with the murder of a political opponent’s father. The evidence was flimsy at best, and to expedite matters, the case was heard straight away in the Punjab High Court. This was a travesty of justice, as the case is normally first heard in the Sessions Court. In this case, a bench of crony judges appointed by General Zia Ul-Haq heard the case.

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Left: General Zia, right: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Left: General Zia, right: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Death Sentence

Despite the flimsy evidence, Bhutto was sentenced to death by hanging. An appeal was made to the Pakistan Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Pakistan has no tradition of an independent judiciary and the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence by a 4-3 verdict. Zia could now put his diabolical plan in action.

Zia disregarded all appeals from world leaders and ensured that Bhutto was hanged. It was a travesty of justice. The Indian government, at that time headed by Morarji Desai, failed to condemn the hanging. It was a shameful act and the Janata government paid the price by being trounced in the 1980 general elections.

A Miscarriage of Justice

Bhutto was a maverick. For all his faults, he did not deserve to be hanged as a common criminal. It seems clear that Bhutto was murdered with the help of the Pakistan judiciary. One wonders how these judges who upheld the hanging of Bhutto can rationalize their actions after such a terrible decision.

If Bhutto was to be tried, he could have been tried on the charge of treason for helping break Pakistan into two parts. Nobody remembers the part played by Bhutto in the breakup of Pakistan. Unfortunately for him, he got caught on the wrong side of the army and as happens in Pakistan, Bhutto paid a terrible price and was hanged like a common criminal.

An Ongoing Tradition

The murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto did not end the politics of blood. General Zia Ul-Haq, who became president after a military coup, was assassinated in 1989 when the plane in which he was traveling was sabotaged and crashed. History repeated itself in 1998 when General Pervez Musharraf in another military coup ousted the elected Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and got him sentenced to prison in life on charges of treason. Later he relented on pressure from Saudi Arabia and sent him into exile for 10 years. Musharraf was himself overthrown in 2009 and had to flee the country as he was being tried for the murder of Benazir Bhutto and the Baloch leader Bugti.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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