Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1928-1979), Pakistan's president and then prime minister, mobilized his country's first mass-based political party around a socialist ideology and highly independent foreign policy.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was born on January 5, 1928, in Larkana, a small town in the province of Sind. Although he came from a major landowning family in Larkana, he was brought up in cosmopolitan Bombay, away from the feudal environment of his ancestral home. After completing his high school education in Bombay, he proceeded to the University of California at Berkeley from which he graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. At Berkeley he became interested in socialism and delivered several lectures on the feasibility of socialism in Islamic countries—a theme which would dominate his party's manifesto 20 years later. Bhutto continued his education at Oxford, where he studied law.

Bhutto advocated a nonaligned foreign policy for Pakistan and opposed Pakistan's alliances with the United States. He believed that the United States was exerting pressure on Pakistan to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards neighboring India. The lingering post-partition animosity between India and Pakistan influenced Bhutto's hard-line thinking towards India. He was intent on gaining international support against India and securing Pakistan from a possible Indian attack. With this in mind Bhutto cultivated relations with China, which had been involved in a border conflict with India in 1962. Bhutto's astuteness in developing relations with China was later useful for the Nixon administration, which used Pakistan as a channel for initiating a dialogue with China. Bhutto also sought to strengthen relations with other Islamic countries, envisaging Pakistan's role as a leader not only of Muslim countries but also of other developing states.

Pakistan had been under military rule by a government headed by Ayub Khan since 1958. Bhutto, who served as minister of foreign affairs until asked to resign in 1966, realized that the toleration of the people for repressive government was diminishing. He felt that this adverse situation presented an ideal opportunity for him to assume leadership of Pakistan. In December 1967 Bhutto formed his own political party, the Pakistan People's Party, whose manifesto promised to alleviate the lot of the urban and rural workers and advocated an equitable distribution of wealth. His program not only appealed to the lower income groups but was supported by the urban intelligentsia which was seeking an end to the military regime and felt that Bhutto offered a new and dynamic plan and a necessary alternative to traditional religious parties.

Pakistan's defeat in the 1971 war with India led to the creation of Bangladesh. Bhutto, with the strongest party in the remaining western wing of the country, replaced Gen. Mohammad Yahya Khan as president. In April 1973 Bhutto became prime minister under a new constitution. His six years in office were marked by extensive nationalization of industries, banks, and educational institutions. Bhutto's policies, aimed at reducing the power of such traditional economic forces as major businessmen and feudal landlords, were well intentioned but lacked sufficient consideration of economic realities. His government's economic policies were implemented hastily by bureaucrats who did not have the requisite management skills and background. Consequently, the economy became chaotic and left most sections of society disaffected with the policies. Bhutto's frequently touted slogan of "Islamic Socialism" proved to be mere rhetoric in the face of daunting economic and social realities, especially the need to compromise with landed elites.

Confronted by increasing opposition, Bhutto introduced repressive measures which included press censorship and imprisonment of political opponents. In an attempt to show the "democratic" nature of his government and his continuing popular support, Bhutto decided to hold general elections in March 1977. Confident of his success, he underestimated the collaboration of the opposition parties. Although he won the 1977 elections, his opponents accused him of flagrant manipulation of votes and mounted a civil disobedience movement against his government. As public discontent and violence spread, Bhutto was forced to impose martial law in several major cities of Pakistan, paving the way for military involvement. He was deposed in a bloodless coup by Gen. Zia ul-Haq on July 5, 1977. Several charges were brought against him, including the murder while in power of a political opponent's father. He was sentenced to death and was hanged on April 4, 1979, despite appeals for clemency by world leaders and international organizations.

While Bhutto's policies in the domestic sphere were harshly criticized, his foreign policy won him some acclaim. He was intent on asserting Pakistan's role in international affairs and strove to fulfill his earlier ideal of Pakistan as a leader of developing countries. He attempted to pursue a foreign policy independent of both superpowers, which brought him into considerable conflict with the United States, especially over the issue of Pakistan's nuclear program.

In 1986, after two years of self-imposed exile, Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the executed president, returned to Pakistan. She became Prime Minister in 1988.

Further Reading on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

Shahid Javed Burki's Pakistan Under Bhutto, 1971-1977 provides a comprehensive and analytical account of Bhutto's government. It also gives considerable details of Pakistan's political history prior to 1971. Piloo Mody's Zulfi My Friend gives insights into Bhutto's personality based on their shared experiences. Politics in Pakistan: the Nature and Direction of Change by Khalid B. Sayeed provides useful background information and analyses of Bhutto's political career. Bhutto wrote several books stating his views on Pakistan's domestic politics as well as its foreign policy. His last work was If I Am Assassinated (1979). Some other books by Bhutto are The Great Tragedy (1971), Pakistan and the Alliances (1969), The Myth of Independence (1969), and Foreign Policy of Pakistan (1964).

Additional Biography Sources

Batra, Jagdish Chander, The trial and execution of Bhutto, Delhi: Kunj, 1979.

Kak, B. L., Z. A. Bhutto: notes from the death cell, New Delhi: Raadhaa Krishna Pr, 1979.

Syed, Anwar Hussain, The discourse and politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

Wolpert, Stanley A., Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan: his life and times, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Zaman, Fakhar, Z. A. Bhutto: the political thinker, Lahore, People's Publications, 1973.