Why Bhutto fell

By Zuhair Siddiqui

geust-contTHE despotic personality is immune from many “weaknesses” to which ordinary mortals are susceptible. One of these is a willingness to admit failure. The King can do no wrong, nor can he fail.

Even in the spring of 1945, as the Reich that he had built crumbled, most of Germany lay in ruins and Russian tanks rolled into Berlin, Hitler remained unshaken in his confidence that all that he had done was right. “From first to last,” says his biographer, Alan Bullock, his will and political testament shows “not a word of regret, nor a suggestion of remorse. The fault is that of others, above all that of the Jews, for even now the old hatred is unappeased. Word for word. Hitler’s final address to the German nation could be taken from almost any of his early speeches of the 1920’s or from the pages of Mein Kampf. Twenty odd years had changed and taught him nothing.”


Coming nearer home, and to our own times, we find Mrs. Indira Gandhi scarcely blushing at the horrid record of the last two years of her raj. She finds nothing seriously wrong about it and sees nothing evil in its repressive policies and deliberate subversion of the people’s rights and liberties, or even in the many crimes with which its record was smeared. There were merely “some excesses here and there” committed by over-enthusiastic officials acting beyond the call of duty.

At home, Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shows the same reaction-pattern. He has re-emerged on the political scene not only unrepentant but in a surly, aggressive mood, with his usual slogans and catchwords and shibboleths. His fall, he would have us believe, was brought about not by his own follies but through a conspiracy between a foreign power and local vested interests out to destroy Pakistan and crush her poor masses.

But, unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the people he is again trying to befuddle. Mr. Bhutto is no longer in a position to hide ugly realities and suppress all facets of the picture other than the ones that he wants to be seen. As more and more information becomes available about the real state of affairs during his rule, it becomes easier to check his assertions and claims and charges, and determine the causes that undermined his regime and brought about its collapse.

A competent analysis of these causes would need a combination of a psychological and a political analyst, for at the root of most of them lies the complex and abnormal personality of Zulfikar All Bhutto. But same of its traits are so manifest, and the link between them and his failure as a ruler are so obvious, that even a lay observer can see a lot.

Let us start with the thread of the tangle that shows clearly enough through some of Mr. Bhutto’s pronouncements after his fall from power. The first thing that struck him on his return to Larkana as a private citizen early last month was that the local Deputy Commissioner and Superintendent of Police were not around to open the door of his limousine. He said that he did not care – which clearly meant that he cared a lot for these trappings of high office. Later, in the course of his first address to party workers at his Larkana residence, he said that any Sindhi who might decide to vote against him would not be a true Sindhi and would not be entitled to claim Sindhi parentage.

When Mr. Bhutto landed in Lahore next week, he was so upset by the failure of a security guard at the airport to salute him that he admonished the poor fellow for his “ingratitude”. It was he (Mr. Bhutto), the guard was told, who had created the Airport Security Force, which in turn had given the guard his job. He should therefore have been grateful to Mr. Bhutto. A servant’s salary is the bounty of the King.

And then his obscene threat to Mufti Mahmud, which, according to Mr. Bhutto himself, was so filthy that it could not be spelt out in full because there were women around.

It needs no great psychological insight to see the mind at the root of these pronouncements: exceptionally small and narrow, vindictive, obsessed with personal power and grandeur; a mind practically untouched by all the knowledge acquired at some of the greatest centres of learning in the world. The resort to obscene abuse against his principal political opponent showed something infinitely worse than coarse manners; it reflected a supreme contempt for the political intelligence and understanding and sense of decorum of the common people. Billingsgate is the language that the great unwashed understand best.

Taking any one of these pronouncements as the starting point, one can go back and find many precedents for it in Mr. Bhutto’s utterances during his five long years in power – years too long for the tortured nation that he ruled, but too short for him, for he had envisioned himself in power for at least half a generation.

The smallness of Mr. Bhutto’s mind reflected itself clearly enough in his pronouncements on the very night that he assumed power nearly six years ago, and in his statements and decisions during the next few days. His vindictiveness showed equally clearly.

He had taken over a dismembered country and a humiliated, demoralised people. In such moments of tragedy and crises, even ordinary minds tend to rise above petty hates and jealousies, the urge to avenge injuries and humiliations and “sort out” adversaries, and the desire to promote kin and cronies. But

Mr. Bhutto’s was obviously not an ordinary mind, because it could not rise above these weaknesses. Old scores began to be paid off with startling rapidity, and one wondered how a man so overwhelmed with public problems could afford to divert his attention and energies to such petty personal matters. General Habibullah was arrested, shown on TV in handcuffs. Shakirullah Durrani, Governor of the State Bank, was sacked and arrested, and used to be driven in a jeep down the highway of Karachi’s banking centre around nine in the morning, so that his former colleagues and subordinates who had once seen him in his glory should also see him in his degradation.

Rafique Saigol, Managing Director of Progressive Papers Limited, was sacked under a martial law order — only to be appointed a few months later as the head of the Pakistan International Airlines. Two newspaper editors whom Mr. Bhutto did not like were unceremoniously thrown out.

On the other hand, Mr. Bhutto did not forget to tell the nation on the very night that he took over power, that he had a talented cousin and nobody should object if he gave him a good job. Apart from pettiness, these acts showed an arbitrariness that was soon to become the most striking feature of the Bhutto regime and its besetting sin. Luckily for him, the instrument of martial law was at hand and he was quick to see its great potentialities as a weapon of arbitrary rule. So it was used to the full for four months — to punish old adversaries, throw out possibly difficult public servants and hold the political opposition to ransom.

When martial law had to be ended under popular pressure, a set of alternate instruments of arbitrary rule was forged under the emergency laws. Where even these laws proved difficult, they were battered out of shape to satisfy the caprices and vagaries of a mind that knew no law. And where even battering wouldn’t do, the laws were just broken — how wantonly and cruelly is being revealed in full light only now, in the unending stream of evidence against the Bhutto regime in the courts.

It was this combination of arbitrariness, cruelty and the complete elimination of ethics from policies — or utter lack of scruples, to put it in simpler words —that determined the policy of the Bhutto regime and dictated its methods in all spheres of national life — political, economic, social, administrative. The ultimate end was the perpetuation of Mr. Bhutto’s power, absolute and unquestioned, and the glorification of his image: “The great leader, the supreme leader, the undisputed leader.” And to that end all instruments of state power, and all the resources at the command of the Government and the Party, were to be directed.

Mr. Bhutto presumed that he would be able to get away with all this because he had set up a popular political party, given it a progressive manifesto, and introduced a series of economic reforms that at least looked like steps towards the fulfilment of the manifesto. Moreover, he had an infinite capacity for befuddling people with his histrionics and stunts and various tricks out of his political circus.

Now, all this was good enough as far as it went; but altogether, it did not go far enough to warrant the presumption. The party that Mr. Bhutto had set up undoubtedly had great promise: its manifesto was radical without being unrealistic and was cast within the framework of democratic socialism. During the first few years of its life the party rallied around its banner not only large numbers of poor, dispossessed and oppressed people, but a band of forward looking intellectuals dedicated to the cause of social justice and economic equity. Here was excellent raw material.

Mr. Bhutto, however, was not only uninterested in its proper development but determined to use it merely as an instrument in his quest for power and as a means of perpetuating that power. Its real potential as a democratic force and an instrument of radical social change he was determined to destroy. He therefore maintained the party as an amorphous mass without a democratic structure, a proper membership or elected office-bearers. He had been chosen chairman by an ad hoc body of initial adherents in 1967, and in that capacity he continued to boss over the party throughout its five years in power. He nominated its office-bearers at the national and provincial levels; the provincial gauleiters chose the party managers and their assistants for the districts, and so on. The authoritarian structure and organisation of the party would certainly have come under pressure if it had been provided with a proper membership base through an enrolment campaign. But that kind of pressure was exactly what the party bosses feared, and there was no regular enrolment drive until the end of 1976, when the party suddenly set out to enrol ten million members.

It was the heyday of the Bhutto regime and its return to power for another five years was generally considered a foregone conclusion. The enrolment campaign therefore evoked a ready response in all parts of the country and from all manner of men and women — film actors and actresses, “intellectuals” and journalists, lawyers and doctors, maulvis and mashaikh, and so on. One often read about the influx of a whole village or tribe or biradari into the ranks of the party, and the whole thing began to look like a big tamasha.

During the intervening years, most of the party’s genuine ideologues and idealists had been thrown out or had lost all their force and influence, and its left wing had been nearly pulverised. Mairaj Mohammad Khan and Hanif Ramay had found their way from high office to prison. J. A . Rahim had been dismissed and beaten up and later put under home arrest. Khursheed Hasan Meer had fallen from grace and been worsted in his duel with Maulana Kausar Niazi.

The emasculation of the party removed the biggest potential obstacle to authoritarian rule and deprived Mr. Bhutto of an effective link with the masses. Another source from which some resistance to arbitrary governance might have come had been brought under attack on the very morrow of Mr. Bhutto’s assumption of power. Nearly two thousand public servants were arbitrarily sacked under a martial law regulation early in 1972. And even after the restoration of constitutional government, the political executive retained almost unlimited powers to get rid of public servants who might prove “difficult”. These powers were used ruthlessly until the public services became unconcealed instruments for the promotion of Mr. Bhutto’s political aims and ambitions. The corruption of the services was an essential part of the process.

A strong, well-organised and democratic political party with proper cadres of workers and a dedicated, imaginative leadership, is the first prerequisite to the success of socialism. The second is a clean and efficient administration capable of standing up to undue political or partisan pressures. Mr, Bhutto battered the party and crippled and corrupted the services, and it is not surprising that almost all the measures that his regime undertook in the name of a socialist economy were gravely distorted in the process of execution. Indeed, the fruits began to turn sour even before they could be tasted.

The nationalised sector of industry became a cesspool of corruption and nepotism. The land reforms were vitiated by the machinations of the more powerful landlords in the ruling party, many of whom succeeded in retaining thousands of acres despite the ceiling of 150 acres. Educational administration was largely messed up.

Altogether, at the end of the regime’s five years, the “revolutionary changes” that Mr. Bhutto claimed to have brought about looked like a cruel mockery of socialism. And the discontent that they had aroused was so deep and widespread that, during the two months before its fall, the regime was forced to promise a review of the nationalisation of flour and rice mills and cotton ginning factories. Moreover, denationalisation of schools was being considered, and measures to provide constitutional and legal safeguards for the public services were on the anvil.

The retreat, which gave much malicious pleasure to the detractors of socialism, and brought grist to their propaganda mills did not in fact signify a failure of socialism. It only showed that a socialist transformation could not be brought about through a practically bogus party and an administration deliberately misused and corrupted by the political executive.

But, perhaps, the Bhutto regime would have survived despite all its failures and bunglings, and its perversions of socialism, if it had not been poisoned at the heart by intolerance and cruelty. The ham-handed treatment of dissent within the party, and the sorry fate of the dissenters, have already been referred to. The savage attempts to suppress the opposition parties and silence criticism in the press only added to the widespread discontent and deepened the people’s hostility to the regime.

Tales of horror camps for its adversaries, of the torture of detenus and the degradation of their women and children, of unspeakable sadism and obscenities, trickled through in spite of tight censorship and an enslaved press. They tended to turn the people’s frustration into a fierce anger, and added revulsion to their hostility.

The very measures by which Mr. Bhutto sought to ensure his perpetuation in power became poison for his regime. He was himself too obsessed with his passion for power, his professed “sense of mission” and his much-vaunted “sense of history” to perceive the effects; and he had blocked all the channels through which he could have obtained true information about public feelings and reactions. It must have been a very false “sense of history” that impelled Mr. Bhutto to adopt the attitudes and policies that he did and to imagine himself as the chosen instrument of a historic purpose. In the true meaning of the term, a sense of history involves a proper comprehension of the factors and forces underlying the rise and fall of civilisations, the progress and decline of nations, the successes and failures of the great movements that have sought to change the thoughts and conditions of men down the ages.

In a leader of a nation or a movement, a sense of history implies a capacity to measure his own role and performance by a realistic scale rather than by an arbitrary yardstick created by megalomaniac compulsions. And at the heart of a sense of history lies the ability to draw the right lessons from history, to view the present realistically in relation to the past and to project it imaginatively into the future.

The manner in which Mr. Bhutto ran his regime and conducted himself shows a complete negation of these essentials. His keen intellect and quick grasp failed him in his study of history, for he appears to have approached the subject with a closed mind. He could see only the short-lived glory of the great tyrants in history, and not the evil that they did and the legacy of misery and suffering that most of them left for their respective peoples. Leaving distant history aside, Mr. Bhutto showed no sign of having learnt even from the tragedies of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, or from the more recent collapse of long standing dictatorships in Spain and Portugal.

A traumatic experience sometimes proves a great eye-opener, but the trauma of his sudden fall from power seems to have left Mr. Bhutto with his mind as closed as ever. Soon after that experience, he told a foreign journalist that he was studying Hitler once again to find out how he had been able to control his generals. “Knowledge comes; wisdom lingers.”

Source: Herald, January 1978