Why Bhutto lives on

Published: April 8, 2013
The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

The generals and their appointed judges hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto 34 years ago with a purpose. The objective was to establish personal and institutional control over politics. With Bhutto alive and in politics — and having his roots in the masses — that was an impossible task. Some politicians and political parties, mostly on the religious, conservative side, found in Ziaul Haq a guardian and in his military rule, an opportunity to gain power. They connived with the general to eliminate Bhutto, hoping they would have Pakistan, society and the people to themselves.

To the anguish of Zia loyalists and supporters, Bhutto lives on — a truly reflective slogan that the PPP has coined to the best political use at the grassroots level. Anybody travelling in the interior of Sindh, southern Punjab and parts of other provinces would know without any ambiguity that Bhutto really lives on in the thoughts, prayers and memories of marginalised communities in these areas. In poor sections of society, Bhutto’s mass politics and mobilisation awakened them and gave the people some confidence and feeling of self-worth. The memory of this and the loyalties to Bhutto have been transferred to the younger generations of these sections. Why?

Any analyst who would like to apply an objective criterion of performance will find it confounding to learn that despite their dismal performance, the constituencies that have traditionally supported the PPP may support it again.

It is the social milieu of rural Pakistan and the popular culture of the PPP constituency where we can find the reason for this. Whether or not the PPP has support in its conventional geographical and social constituencies, I have no doubt about the party having retained its loyalty in constituencies among the poor. Even with a big shift away from the welfare politics of roti, kapra aur makan — the most simple and effective political slogan ever created — the party has retained the image of being a party of the poor. In politics, and more so in popular politics, perceptions matter more than facts.

One other reason why the public remains loyal to Bhutto requires us to understand the mass psychology of heroism. The Pakistani public, particularly in Sindh and Punjab, loves a hero. There is a wide range of heroes in regional folklores, from lovers who never had a union to those who fought against social injustice. They never ask questions about the means of how a man becomes a hero or whether those means are socially acceptable. What the folks admire is courage, commitment and ethos from a person rising from the general public — or a common man. Bhutto had all of the characteristics of folk heroes.

Another thing I would like to bring in here is the place of self-sacrifice and martyrdom in the popular imagination. The most popular leader in the history of post-independence Pakistan, Bhutto, going to the gallows on a controversial judgment was not an ordinary event, as those who wrote his murder thought. Whatever explanation the urban legal wizard may give to the tragedy of Bhutto, the mass verdict is that he was, is, and will remain a martyr. After Bhutto, three of his children — two young sons and one daughter, the latter was quite illustrious — followed him. This is an extraordinary legacy in the history of Sindh, its adjoining regions and, of course, all of Pakistan.

Finally, it is the culture of shrines and their centrality to social and cultural life of the villages. The political heirs of Bhutto understood the power of the shrine and they have built them bigger, taller and more conspicuous than any other. The shinning domes with a big compound for annual gatherings tell all: popular politics rests on popular culture.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (35)

  • Sam
    Apr 8, 2013 - 10:36PM

    He also lives on for the four million ahmadis in Pakistan, along with Zia, to have made life miserable for them.


  • Shakir Lakhani
    Apr 8, 2013 - 11:01PM

    Of course he lives on. How can we forget (or forgive) a man who was responsible for breaking up the country? A man who wrecked the economy by nationalizing almost everything, whose nationalization of schools and colleges set the country back by 50 years? He was a feudal through and through, a man who fooled the people by promising them roti, kapra and makan. The tragedy is that as long as the people remain illiterate (which he always wanted), they will vote for his party. He said that Iskander Mirza was a much greater leader than the Quaid-e-Azam (whose country he destroyed). He is responsible for everything that is wrong in Pakistan today.


  • Mohsin Khan
    Apr 8, 2013 - 11:05PM

    He died too early for people to fully realize that he would have been just another plundering kleptomaniac. Had the Army given him another ten years, history may still have not been that different any way.


  • Ahmad
    Apr 8, 2013 - 11:24PM

    @Shakir Lakhani:
    Well said..


  • Ahmad
    Apr 8, 2013 - 11:25PM

    Yet another attempt to resurrect PPP…


  • Yakub ali
    Apr 8, 2013 - 11:37PM

    Bhutto was great and sadly some people forget that he gave us atomic bomb and a hope of freedoom from vaderas.He was true gurdian and sindhi.


  • Ali Choudhry
    Apr 8, 2013 - 11:40PM

    Who can forget him. A man whose actions took pakistan into darkness. I wonder, what was good in him. He played with the sentiments of poor & illiterate people, making them fool. His rule was purely autocratic. By no means, her daughter was any democratic leader. She & her family did not fought for any betterment for pakistan but for their self gain.
    It is pity to expect such an article by a professor of political science.


  • Sohrab Karboy
    Apr 9, 2013 - 12:17AM

    @Shakir Lakhani: Bravo Shakir, very well said. I really thought that in a land overpopulated with graduates of Mr. Bhutto’s nationalized schools it will be nearly impossible to familiarize them with the travesties of his mis-rule. But reading your comment has changed my mind. Under no circumstances my comment should be interpreted as a support of the military dictators Pakistan was plagued with, and who were dutifully served by Mr. Bhutto from 1956 until 1966.


  • Punjabi Pakistani [PP]
    Apr 9, 2013 - 12:24AM

    Well done, Prof.
    Excellent article based on actual analysis.


  • Seema
    Apr 9, 2013 - 1:54AM

    Bhutto lives in our heart…. well done RBR.


  • RHS
    Apr 9, 2013 - 2:26AM

    Great article. ZAB has also become a scapegoat for all the ills of Pakistan. He still makes people feel good as they transfer the failures of the country to him and his daughter.

    He was brave and reckless at times and paid the price like Benazir. They will live on in the hearts and minds of Pakistanis who know better than some of the posters here.


  • sabi
    Apr 9, 2013 - 4:20AM

    “Finally, it is the culture of shrines and their centrality to social and cultural life of the villages. The political heirs of Bhutto understood the power of the shrine and they have built them bigger, taller and more conspicuous than any other. The shinning domes with a big compound for annual gatherings tell all: popular politics rests on popular culture.”

    You have summed up Bhtto legacy in few lines in brilliant way-kudos.
    Sad state of interior sindh and south punjab reveals one more thing-Hero worship demands sacrifices.People of Sindh have preferred hero worship over better life.


  • amir jafri
    Apr 9, 2013 - 6:01AM

    Only Martial law President not in uniform..Can anyone be more perverted and diabolical? No Atomic bomb would have been needed if Pakistan was still intact.

    It should be a capital offense to resurrect him with honor and dignity.


  • F
    Apr 9, 2013 - 6:26AM

    Bhutto lives on – how true!
    – 65 War: driven by personal ambition he goaded Ayub into War that Pakistan lost. And – Kashmir moved from international (UN) to bilateral arena at Tashkent.
    – 70/71: he refused to accept the election results and fully supported the atrocities that followed. Pakistan lost – the war and country.
    – 74: he legislated bigotry into the constitution.
    – 76: he appointed a “meek” General – ZH, to be his COAS. And we know what he did to his master and the country.


  • Psuedo Liberal
    Apr 9, 2013 - 7:01AM

    As someone, who was born much after Bhutto’s death, I have always wondered why do people like him so much? To my surprise all my research has gone into vein. I still haven’t commendable initiatives by him, let alone implemented policies. The policies that do get praise were largely inevitable in nature and bhuttos just happened to be the premier and is given credit for that.
    Being a political science student at the London School Of Economics and Political Science, I am yet to find any characteristic of Bhutto that would coincide with my subject. Mind you the LSE is by far the most liberal university in the UK. I don’t want to believe in conpiracy theories but this is rather lopsided media coverage we are getting nowadays.


  • Mohammad
    Apr 9, 2013 - 9:53AM

    I hate people writing about the past…. past has never left valuable for future instead made our life miserable, so forget them and focus on future.


  • Arifq
    Apr 9, 2013 - 9:59AM

    Bhutto legacy continues to live on because it represents the rights of poor! Well said Professor, showing intellectual honesty and integrity is a rare commodity.


  • village Chamyati
    Apr 9, 2013 - 10:32AM

    Well done Sir, a very articulated analysis of Bhutto Legacy.


  • Irshad Jan
    Apr 9, 2013 - 11:20AM

    I cannot add what Shakir Lakhani has succinctly written above. Bhutto got an ideal opportunity to fully establish democracy in Pakistan after two decades of misrule by bureaucracy & army. Unfortunately he proved to be a big autocrat under disguise of democracy and took decisions which proved to be disastrous, and till todate we are suffering from them. The country missed the train in early 70’s & is still waiting for its return.


  • expaki
    Apr 9, 2013 - 1:06PM

    @Ali Choudhry: Choudhry Sahib, in Pakistan there were and will always remain professors and judges who will prove that BLACK is not BLACK, but in fact its white.


  • truthfollower
    Apr 9, 2013 - 3:27PM

    He was true leader, who stood against America like an oak. He unified all Muslim nations. We were non-allied US in his era. Then Zia killed him and gave us to America!!!


  • Al-Chemisto
    Apr 9, 2013 - 6:55PM

    Students of his class say that He is purana Jiyala and has vowed to vote for PPP….Jiyalism never dies….:)


  • SAL
    Apr 9, 2013 - 7:00PM

    @Shakir Lakhani:
    Very well said. Enough of PPP dominance.


  • expaki
    Apr 9, 2013 - 9:04PM

    @truthfollower: Sir Zia did nor deliver us to USA, but he delivered “US” to brotherly country for experimental purpose. Praise Be Allah


  • John the Baptist
    Apr 9, 2013 - 9:05PM

    Who can forget him for the love he had shown for people from East Pakistan? Just watch the clip below–he called them all “sons of pigs” addressing a rally, high on Queen Anne Whiskey!



  • Abid P. Khan
    Apr 9, 2013 - 9:38PM

    @Shakir Lakhani:

    Shakir, my man you said it. We are champions of Gullibility.


  • Adil Khan
    Apr 9, 2013 - 11:06PM

    If one looks closely and with a detached view, you’ll see most tragedies in Pakistan have happened around or is connected to Z A Bhutto. 1965 War, Agitation against Ayub Khan, 1971 War, Breakup of Pakistan, Second Marshal Law, Ahmedi’s Verdict, Zia’s promotion over other Senior Generals etc etc The list is almost endless and it has probably decimated Pakstan’s future for decades to come. The war in East Pakistan cost around 2 million lives and millions of rapes. His gift to Pakistan of Zia will haunt us for years to come – he chose Zia because he seemed the least threat to him. His legacy thru BB and her cohort Zardari scars us to this day. His selfish decision to rule the Ahmedis as Kafirs started the secterian fires that engulf the country till this day. He made this decision and the banning of alcohol to appease the Mullahs, although he himself was a whisky drinking socialist! In fact almost all his decisions were made to get himself into power and then stay in power, regardless of the cost to the country and it’s poor population. Thorough his legacy, the common man still hasn’t managed to attain the basics in life, though he promised much with his famous slogans and speeches. Today we rank even below some God forsaken African countries in most leagues of human development. One day people will truly come to know what the real legacy of ZAB and his Royal Family has been to Pakistan. I wonder if one day his grandson will actually have some poor Pakistanis eating grass, as Bhutto threatened


  • expaki
    Apr 9, 2013 - 11:12PM

    @Al-Chemisto: I thought they dead with Zia and Bhutoo.


  • Parvez
    Apr 10, 2013 - 12:06AM

    Brilliant article. You have step by step spelt out why brand ‘ Bhutto ‘ still remains strong.
    Its a shame but its a fact and until another brand does not establish itself the people will just have to live with this.Recommend

  • Pseudo-Liberal
    Apr 10, 2013 - 2:43AM

    @Adil Khan:
    Bravo Sir! Spoke my heart and mind out. Need to step out of this mindset for progression. All these ZAB apologists rant about being liberal, secular and the likes of it, but fail to acknowledge the perils unleashed upon our nation during that regime. An iota of the true essence of Socialism,Liberalism or democratization can not be related to the PPP or Bhutto’s reign. Nonetheless some opportunism and selfish traits can be associated with fair sureness.


  • foz
    Apr 10, 2013 - 11:46AM

    Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

    Born in Larkana 1928
    Minister of Water and Power 1958
    Minister of Foreign Affairs 1963
    Founded PPP in Lahore 1967

    President of Pakistan 1971
    Speaker of National assembly 1972
    Prime Minister of Pakistan 1973
    Died in Rawalpindi 1979


  • Abid P. Khan
    Apr 10, 2013 - 1:34PM

    Whatever motivated you to supply the readers with a breakdown of ZAB’s career as a politican provides me with an opportunity (which hopefully ET does not find too off the mark for topic under discussion) to digress.
    The so called facts provided to build up the argument quite often are hearsays or misquotations. A famous personality is the journalist NFP at a rival newspaper. Commentators of the blogs by him either praise him to the skies or saw him down to the news. He takes the freedom of preferring hearsay over facts. On several occasions NFP has mentioned that Ayub Khan took over in 1959 which is wrong. He bumped off Iskandar Mirza already in 1958.
    The problem arises when such “facts” are quoted by others and finally one day they become the accepted “truth”. A very innocent faux but it does reflect the unscientific approach which is Parvez Hoodbhoy’s whipping horse. And rightfully so.
    A recent article by NFP called
    Generation landslide
    is adorned with a picture of a person supposedly IH Qureshi, the famous historian, KU vice chancellor, a Pakistani ambassador etc. To whoever this mug belongs it is not that of the respected scholar, IH Qureshi.
    Nobody has bothered to correct the mistake or because it is one more non-Bhutto entity, who deserves to be ignored.


  • imran
    Apr 11, 2013 - 2:12AM

    … In 1976, Kissinger immediately travelled to Pakistan to hold a meeting with Bhutto, offering an expensive package of F-5 jets for PAF.
    When Bhutto analysed its technology he was unconvinced of its combat performance, and refused the sale. After learning this, Kissinger reportedly used an unorthodox language and threatened Bhutto while using an inhumane language with many witnessed and surprised with the language used by Kissinger.
    In a meeting, Kissinger had told to Bhutto: “that if you [Bhutto] do not cancel, modify or postpone the Reprocessing Plant Agreement, we will make a horrible example from you”. …


  • seriously?
    Apr 11, 2013 - 4:52AM

    @Abid P. Khan: So you belong to a country where till today september 6 is celebrated as defense day and where the nation refused to take back the dead bodies of its martyred soldiers in 1999 by claiming they were mujahidin – and you get bent out of shape because NFP attached a wrong photograph?



  • Nazia Jamil
    Apr 11, 2013 - 9:33AM

    Like it or not Bhutto was Pakistan’s greatest leader since Jinnah. He took the politics from drawing rooms and palaces to the streets. The rich,powerful,big capitalists, and feudals like Pir Pagara hated him but he lives on. He won two elections in his life and one thereafter (1988). He is the only major leader who defied martial law and walked to the gallows with a smile as jail staff later have testified.


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