Long live Bhutto! - Hussain H Zaidi - Sunday, April 17, 2011

“What’s at the bottom of the presidential reference seeking the opinion of the Supreme Court whether former Prime Minister Bhutto was deservedly convicted?”

“It’s simply an attempt to set the record straight. That the ex-premier was unfairly tried and wrongfully convicted hardly needs to be emphasised. The general who had sacked him knew well that if Bhutto, given his popularity and charisma, got another chance, he would pay him back in the same coin. So he decided to cast off that threat once and for all, and had him hanged.”

“You mean to say the circumstantial evidence didn’t warrant Bhutto’s conviction, let alone the sentence of capital punishment.”

“Yes indeed. And this is amply borne out by the split verdict handed down by the seven-member Supreme Court bench. Four of the judges toed the general’s line, while the remaining three, the men of integrity and conscience, refused to play along. To-date, Bhutto’s is the only case in which a death sentence was pronounced notwithstanding a split judgment. And let’s not forget that the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, which in the first instance declared Bhutto guilty, had an axe to grind against the defendant for not promoting him to the coveted office. Evidently, Bhutto couldn’t have a fair trial while that judge was on the bench.”

“You said the judges who wrote the dissenting note in the Bhutto case were men of integrity and conscience. If they were really so, why did they choose to serve under the man in uniform, who had set aside the Constitution and upset the applecart of democracy?”

“Because they wanted to rein in the general.”

“Did they succeed in doing that?”

“Not. But at least they registered their dissent with the regime’s policies, loud and clear, which has gone down in history.”

You may be right. But there’s one thing I can’t figure out: The general was all-powerful at the time of Bhutto’s trial. He could easily have set up a bench totally loyal to him to convict Bhutto with one voice. Why, then, did he have that split verdict?”

“An all-powerful man is not absolutely powerful. However enormous it is, power has its limits. The general did try to manufacture a unanimous verdict against Bhutto. But hats off to the judges who didn’t acquiesce in his plans and decided the case in accordance with the call of their conscience.”

“If, as you say, the general was bent upon claiming Bhutto’s head, even his acquittal in the case wouldn’t have saved his life and he would have been framed in another case.”

“Yes, here I’m at one with you. As you would be aware, leaders from several Muslim states had interceded on behalf of Bhutto, but the general turned down their pleas.”

“In my view, only one thing could have saved Bhutto – relentless public pressure. Since Zia was not disposed to letting him off the hook, he had to be forced to do so. And who could force the general? The Americans and the people of Pakistan. The Americans, for obvious reasons, couldn’t be counted upon to plead Bhutto’s case, leaving the masses to be his only bet. But, strangely, the people reacted strongly neither to their leader’s dismissal nor to his imprisonment, conviction and execution – much to his disappointment, and to his family’s. Did Bhutto overrate his popularity or did he misread the masses’ character?”

“It was neither. The people were keen to see Bhutto staying alive. They wanted to register strong protest against the treatment meted out to their great leader. But the sanguinary martial law regime didn’t allow them to do so. As for the ex-premier’s popularity, it remains intact to-date and has brought his party to power thrice after his death.”

“Ok. Even if Bhutto didn’t misread the masses, he did err in elevating Zia to the office of army chief over at least six other generals. He would call Zia his own man and deem him too meek and loyal to step out of line.”

“Yes, that was an error of judgment on Bhutto’s part. Even a genius can make a mistake. But he had promoted Zia in good faith. If the general turned out to be slippery, Bhutto shouldn’t be blamed for that.”

“Granted that Bhutto’s death was politically motivated, the same may be said of the presidential reference. It’s alleged that the PPP wants to kill two birds with one stone: to force the judiciary on the back foot at a time when the courts are going to settle important cases bearing upon the fate of the top party leadership; and, two, to distract public attention from the pressing economic and social problems which the government has failed to grapple with.”

“I’m disappointed to hear that. I can only feel sorry for people who think in such fashion and cast aspersions on the party’s intentions. Instead of defaming the courts, the government wants to shore up their prestige by erasing the stigma of Bhutto’s judicial murder from their face. All along, the PPP has shown the highest respect to the judiciary and to rule of law. So putting pressure on the judges is out of the question. And, mind you, the PPP was brought to power by the people and it’s the people, and none else, who’ll decide the party’s fate. Let the party complete its five-year tenure and then see who the electorate rejects and elects. By the same token, let’s not judge the party’s performance until it’s through with its term.”

“I’m well familiar with the esteem in which the ruling party holds the courts and the importance it attaches to rule of law. The way it has reacted to some of the apex court’s verdicts speaks volume of that. Anyhow, long live Bhutto and his party and may the truth prevail!”

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=42074&Cat=9

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