India-Pakistan Ties: Did Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Bite Own Tail With Aggression?

Keeping in mind the incorrigible legacy of Bhuttos, Bilawal must beware of the repercussions of what he puts out.

6 min read

Bhuttos are Pakistan’s Kennedys. Debonair and successful political dynasty, and equally cursed. The difference in familial similarity is that the Bhuttos have been consistently unhinged, amoral and with a history of running with the hare and hunting with the houndwhere the proverbial ‘hound’ would eat them, eventually.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s relative secularity (certainly compared to today) afforded many ‘minority’ Shias positions of power in the early years eg, Iskander Mirza (first President of Pakistan), General Muhammad Musa (Pakistani Army Chief during the 1965 Indo-Pak War), etc.

But it is the feudal-Rajput Shiite Bhuttos from Larkana who overcame the subsequent sectarian winds of the Shia-Sunni divide much like how JF Kennedy was the first Non-WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) President of USA.

Ushering In An Era Of Pakistan-China Ties

Like the pedigreed lineage, much before President JF Kennedy, Khan Bahadur Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto (father of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) was the Dewan of Junagadh Princely State and later amongst the most landed gentry with 250,000 acres of land in Sindh!

A culture of feudal impunity, vanity, and a misplaced sense of entitlement were only natural to the Bhuttos which afflicted Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir, and now his grandson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Kennedys faded away with time but Bhuttos have twisted, turned, ranted, and manipulated themselves to political relevance ever since.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto set the patented template of unscrupulous politics. Having joined Iskander Mirza’s government, the coup d’état that deposed Iskander and brought in Field Marshal Ayub Khan had no impact on Zulfiqar’s meteoric rise. Pakistan’s now institutionalised Sino-centricity was scripted by young Zulfiqar as the maverick Foreign Minister was willing to risk USA’s ire, and went on to sign the Sino-Pakistan Boundary Agreement that willed away 750 square kilometers of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to the Chinese. Zulfiqar was to script his next Machiavellian move with Operation Gibraltar that led to the Indo-Pak War of 1965 (despite Army Chief Gen Musa’s objections).

Slimy Zulfiqar conveniently apportioned the entire blame of 1965 on Ayub and started a counter-political movement ie, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 1967. Zulfiqar’s double-crossing would continue as he incredulously posed the infamous ‘idhar hum, udhar tum’ formula to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, even as the Pakistani Military was throttling Bangladeshi opposition.

Rise of Political Islam & Militarism in Pakistan Under Zulfiqar Bhutto

Like always, Zulfiqar publicly supported the Pakistani Military’s clampdown and went on to state that it was ‘saving’ Pakistan but distanced himself from Gen Yahya Khan and the humiliating outcome of ‘Bangladesh’.

Soon, the discredited Pakistani Generals made way for Zulfiqar as the first civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator and President – and the so-called ‘land of pure’ ie, Pakistan, actually had a golden chance with an ostensibly educated, secular, and liberal democrat.

But true to a basic instinct that would pass on generations, Zulfiqar reneged on the presumed promise and pandered to an unfiltered religiosity by constitutionally adopting ‘Islamic Republic’ and declaring the beleaguered Ahmediyas as ‘non-Muslim’. He galvanised nuclear momentum by insisting, ‘even if we have to eat grass, we will make a nuclear bomb.'

Zulfiqar was brutal with the Baloch uprising and laid the foundation for Pakistani interference with covert operations to support insurgency across the Durand Line – today’s mess in Afghanistan was first initiated by Zulfiqar who supported the blood-lusting Afghan warlords. But, as a quintessential no one’s man, he passed on secret information about the Iraqi nuclear program and the Osirak Nuclear Reactor to Israel's Mossad – this from a supposed ‘Statesman’ who sought to galvanise the voice of Ummah.


‘Benazir Was Her Father’s Daughter’

In yet another feature that would define the Bhutto fate on wrong decisionsZulfiqar chose a ‘safe’ Muhajir General whom he would contemptuously and imperiously call his ‘Monkey General’ (for believed obsequiousness and loyalty), ie, General Zia-ul-Haq over six other senior Generals to be made the Pakistani Army Chief. The latter, a scheming bigot in his own right, soon sent Zulfiqar to the gallows after having sung hosannas in his favour, earlier.

Sir James Morris, then British High Commissioner to Pakistan noted about Zulfiqar, “….drive, charm, imagination, a quick and penetrating mind, a sense of humour, and a thick skin. Such a blend is rare anywhere, and Bhutto deserved his swift rise to power….But there was – how shall I put it? - a rank odour of hellfire about him. It was a case of corruptio optima pessima. He was a Lucifer, a flawed angel.”

Ironically, Zulfiqar (which literally means 'the mystical sword') lived by the sword and died by the same sword that he had chosen, used and abused, unknowing of the consequences.

Less than 10 years after Zulfiqar was executed by his own creation Zia-ul-Haq, the ‘Daughter of the East’ with the same romanticised credentials of looks, education and erudition, Benazir Bhutto took over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. After the dark and broody Zia-u-Haq era of Shariasation, it was hoped Benazir would save Pakistan from its implosive consequences.

Benazir (meaning ‘matchless’) was accused of being incomparable when it came to corruption, with her husband Asif Zardari earning the dodgy sobriquet of ‘Mr 10%’! However, with no less than Saudi extremist Osama Bin Laden himself having bankrolled USD 10 million to bring down Benazir Bhutto government (Operation Midnight Jackal, led by Brigadier Imtiaz ‘The Cat Billa’), and later even funding assassination attempts – one hoped Benazir would stay clear of religious extremism and its pernicious trappings, unlike her father who did succumb to misusing religion towards political empowerment. But Benazir was truly her father’s daughter, and she did exactly the same.


How Taliban Movement Under Benazir Became a Frankensteinian Monster

Benazir quickly abandoned her pacifist moorings and was seen visiting training camps for Kashmiri militants, incited Kashmiris to rise up against Delhi, and unbeknownst to many, midwifed the ‘Taliban’ movement through her Interior Minister Nasrullah Babar.

She shifted pivot from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to the Mullah Omar-led, Taliban. Like her father, she pandered to religiosity by aligning with the likes of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI and herself conceded, “Once I gave the go-ahead that they (Taliban) should get the money, I don't know how much money they were ultimately given ... I know it was a lot. It was just carte blanche."

Like all religious genies that metastasise on their own, the idea of the Taliban besets, and fuels hoe grown Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the group accused of assassinating Benazir in 2007. Like Zulfiqar, Benazir had routinely economised on the truth, and propriety and instead, punted and created an idea ie, the Taliban that would ultimately consume her. Frankensteinian monster story redux, like her father.

Bilawal Bhutto’s India Comments Warranted Diplomacy

Today, Zulfiqar’s grandson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari inherits the same Bhutto name, legacy, and worse, impulse. As the flamboyant chip-of-the-old-block, Bilawal passionately rails against India to establish his own politics – it is a fervour, style and dash that have typified the Bhuttos.

His spiel like Bhuttos of the past is a stark admixture of opinion and reckless fiction in equal measure. He too is aware of the clear difference between the two legs ie, facts and fiction in any argument, but he too remains diabolic, combative and a hero to himself, as he seeks to excoriate India. It is perhaps, par for course, except that history is instructive for the Bhuttos for having invested in knowing fiction to such an extent that it becomes counterproductive for the Pakistani cause itself, and above all, to the Bhutto concerned. There has always been a law of diminishing returns for balderdash, rhetorical flourish, and empty posturing.

Bilawal is certainly entitled to his view of India and its leaders, but the phraseology and the unrestraint way with which he deployed the same, could come back to haunt him. He needs to understand the gallery that gets galvanised by such vile vitriol, especially by a high-ranking functionary – the release of suchlike genies proved to be fatal for Zulfiqar and Benazir when they too played with fire and hoped that it wouldn’t burn their own house too (metaphorically to Hillary and Jaishankar’s ‘snake in the backyard’ analogy).

Already Bilawal’s junior Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has suggested, ‘no country had used terrorism better than India’ – the narrative of outdoing Taliban Khan (read, Imran Khan) may seem politically delicious, but it comes with the curse of normalising an air and spirit that can combust the tinderbox of Pakistan with its own misplaced bravado and audaciousness.

The danger with such an outlandish and uncultured diatribe is not so much in terms of the dismissive global reactions but from the normalisation of a narrative that is uncontainable and unsustainable in the long run. Bilawal would be served well to reread a telling letter that his grandfather Zulfiqar wrote to his mother Benazir where he advises and laments, “If things do not change, there will be nothing left to change.”

Perhaps, Bilawal could draw his own conclusions of trying to undo that curse that accompanies the Bhuttos ie, that they have been their own worst enemies for not having learnt from their mistakes (and of their ancestors) and changed for the better. Talk is cheap, and it literally was from Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

(The author is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More