Khalid Hassan brings to life a charismatic and tragic politician, an extraordinary woman, a city and a newspaper.
He writes about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a man he admires, and loves enough to be able to clearly analyse where he might have gone wrong. He writes about Bhutto's promise and his romance and how he swayed an entire generation. He shows how Bhutto changed the style of politics in Pakistan. He also writes about his days in office and describes in detail what led to his downfall. A more sensitive, balanced and comprehensive portrait of Bhutto has not been drawn before.
Khalid Hasan's history of The Pakistan Times from its foundation in 1946 to "The New Leaf" editorial by Qudaratullah Shahab - which marked the newspaper's change from a secular, and progressive daily to becoming an organ of the state - is extremely valuable. His description of the PT desk is unforgettable.
He reconstructs the city of Sialkot where he spent his boyhood and where he went to college, in loving, evocative detail. He makes us walk through its streets and restaurants as we meet memorable characters who would otherwise have remained unremembered and unknown.
He writes about Nur Jehan who told him in 1967 that it did not matter how old she was, her experience of life was that of a hundred year old woman He writes about her loves and her remarkable career in show business, and about her greatest gift, her vioice which in her youth ws like molten silver and which tragically, in the last years of her life, she could not use because of ill health.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto may have been the last in the line of charismatic leaders who became the inheritors of political power in the postcolonial world. When you think of him, you think of Sukarno, Nasser, Nkrumah, Kenyata, Kaunda and Nyrere.
When he was swept aside in a diabolically planned coup by his handpicked Chief of Army Staff, the meek and excessively disarming Gen. Zia-u-Haq, it could almost be said that an era had come to an end, and come to an end much too soon. One more man who had assumed power in the name of the people had fallen by the wayside, a victim both of the contradictions of his own parallel view fo history and forces that lay outside his environment. Like his illustrious counterparts in other parts of Asia and Africa, he left behind the shambles of a half-realised promise, but a promise nevertheless. It was a promise of fresh air to breathe and sweet water to drink, of ripe corn and green horizons and blue waters, a promise of exorcising the demons of hunger, want and social injustice from the body politic. What a pity that just as he was settling in office, the promise began to dissipate, yet another instance of how power, when exercised for its own sake, can destroy what once looked possible.
History shows that at the end of the day, charismatic leaders only bring havoc to the people, the same people whose banner they once held high in the air. Once they are in office and in control of the state apparatus, sadly, other considerations become ascendant. They become victims, of their own rhetoric. They start as crusaders but turn Messianic. The faith they held and once expressed in the masses , is transformed into faith in their own infallibility. The friends and comrades of earlier days of struggle are caste aside before long. The counsel of sycophants' dissent is perceived as treason and criticism as an effort to sabotage the "revolution". And what about the "revolution" that they promised? It becomes its own parody. Repression is perceived as the protection of the people's "interest". Paternalism takes the place of demorcratic action The only voices that are not silenced are the voices of assent, of unquestioning loyalty to whatever The Leader dreams up each night or to his fantasy and whim of the moment. Walter Lippmann said that to those in power, even a pause in praise from those they have surrounded themselves with is perceived as an act of disloyalty.
The people become an unreal, romantic symbol, best kept away. The distance between ruler and ruled widens kept away. The distance between ruler and ruled widens with every new executive decree. Obsession with the security of The Leader and those around him becomes the basis of governance. The people ecase to be viewed as anyting other than a symbol, not living, hungry, thirsty, sweating human beings for whom such dreams were once conjured up. They are now seen of use only as the rabble,to be pressed into service when and where desired. And one day, the monster that the apparatus of state has become raises its ugly head and swallows up its creator. This has happened in country after country of the so-called Third World since the Second World War when the great European powers began to dismantle the empires they could no longer hold. The world had changed.
How is Zulfikar Ale Bhutto to be seen against this awesome backdrop? What sort or manner of man was he? What did he long to do and where did he fail? Why is it that the very people who supported him initially paraded the streets in 1977 in massive protest against his government which they saw as repressive. There was popular anger at the rigging of the election and the politicians opposed to Bhutto took advantage of it. As for the rigging, it ws so unnecessary because he was going to win big anyway.There is no evidence that he ordered the rigging, but he did not exercise the vigilance that it was his duty to do as Prime Minister ans chairman of the ruling party. His own unopposed election from Larkana encouraged the lesser figures in the party to use the muscle of the state wherever possible to ensure their individual victory. There is no evidence that the US government or any of its agencies played a role in the overthrow of Bhutto. This sort of thing was not possible undr President Jimmy Carter who had an abhorrence of "dirtytricks". People have forgotten that until Carter came, there was no worldwide awareness of human rights. In fact, he it was who popularised the phrase and, going by his record in office and what he has done subsequently to promote human rights and democracy, there is little justification for continuing to believe that the CIA overthrew Bhutto.