Amna Paracha was Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s political secretary through the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s trial. Her husband (late) Saleem Zulfiqar Khan was on the original defence bench. Mr Khan was a close confidant of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and worked closely with her for two decades in the drafting of legal briefs on various issues and also assisting in managing the PPP’s finances.
Q. Could you trace your journey from being Party activist to one of the closest associates of Begum Bhutto and Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto?
I became a follower of Mr. Bhutto from an early age when I was studying at the Jesus and Mary Convent Lahore and he was foreign minister and have remained a committed follower since. However, my involvement in politics started prior to the 1977 elections, when I actively participated in the election campaign as part of a team working directly under Begum Nusrat Bhutto. It was then that I got to know Begum Bhutto personally. After the 1977 elections I left for USA with the intention of pursuing further studies and career but shortly thereafter martial law was imposed and Mr. Bhutto was jailed on a false and fabricated charge and I returned to Pakistan. This was the beginning of my personal association with Begum Bhtto and Mohtarma, which was initially directed purely to an urge to save Mr. Bhutto’s life, whom I believed to be innocent but subsequently evolved into a struggle against martial law.
Mr. Bhutto was in the true sense a leader of the poor masses and the Pakistan Peoples Party has always been a party of the poor and Zia’s martial law especially the period till the judicial murder was barbaric, brutal and harsh. My involvement was a no holds barred involvement. I was willing to die for Mr. Bhutto. I also believe that there was a spiritual connection. In my desperation I once went at Fajr to pray for Mr. Bhutto’s life at the shrine of Bari Imam and as if through some inspiration and without even thinking drove from there to Dr. Niazi’s house where Begum Bhutto used to stay. This was the beginning of my life long friendship and relationship with the Niazi family and close relationship with Begum Bhutto and Mohtarma. Both Begum Bhutto and Mohtarma were gracious and honoured us by including us in the fold of their family, for which honour I shall be eternally grateful.
Q. It is widely believed that Begum Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto were completely paralyzed by the Military so that they could not pursue the Bhutto case properly in the Courts. Do you account any first hand experiences where the state deliberately made it difficult for Z A Bhutto’s family members from pursuing a fair trial in the Courts?
The case against Mr. Bhutto was a conspiracy of monumental proportion in which Pakistan’s military, bureaucracy, judiciary, elite and politicians opposed to Mr. Bhutto were directly involved. Through precise military planning a reign of terror was unleashed and Mr. Bhutto’s family was virtually left alone to fight the tyranny. It is indeed a sorry reflection on Pakistan’s upper middle and middle class society that though the support of the masses for Mr. Bhutto and the Peoples Party did not waver through out the military dictatorship, unfortunately, the educated middle and upper middle class were too scared to openly come out for justice and truth.
The case was so tainted with bias from day one that the question of being able to pursue it properly did not arise. Not only did Begum Bhutto and Mohtarma have to face the bias of the courts, they were both hounded by the agencies and the whole course of the trial was marked by their own periodic detentions as also harassment and arrests of those assisting them. Even their servants were not spared. They did not have the freedom to consult with lawyers in privacy, their meetings in jail with Mr. Bhutto were also watched and recorded so the freedom to consult him was totally missing.
Unfortunately, I did not keep a diary and find it hard now to remember specific incidents. However, I can testify that through the course of the trial both in the High Court and Supreme Court every possible hurdle was created by the military junta to prevent Begum Bhutto and Mohtarma from pursuing any normal activity in defence of Mr. Bhutto.
Q. The atmosphere in which the Z A Bhutto trial took place is believed to be ‘unfair’ and contrary to the norms of justice in the highest courts of law. What are your observations on this?
The trial was biased through and through. Plains clothes personnel of the agencies used to swarm both the High Court and the Supreme Court. The Chief Justices of both the High Court and Supreme Court did not even make an effort to hide their bias. Outside the courts a reign of terror had been created through arrests, harsh jail sentences, floggings and public hangings. Simultaneously a vicious media campaign was relentlessly carried against Mr Bhutto through the course of the trial. Mr. Bhutto and/or his family were not only not given the opportunity of fair hearing but they were victimized and harassed.
I remember that even preparation of documents for submission to the Court was fraught with danger. We used to use a small sports ship in Saddar Rawalpindi, which kept a photocopying machine to get photocopies made. A young Christian boy by the name of Peter Gillani used to help the Counsel to do these tasks. The ISI picked him. I stepped in but shortly thereafter the shop was sealed and the owner was arrested. I recall how difficult it was even to get this small service done. Finally, a party worker put me in touch with a book shop in Aabpara and as a safeguard for them we arranged that we would get all work done at night. I used to go alone at night to Aabpara and they would open the shop and let me in to the upper floor where they kept a photocopying machine. It was in these conditions that the documents required for filing in Court were prepared.
Q. Did the judiciary at that time gave Z A Bhutto the maximum possible liberty to defend his case?
The machinations used by the military regime to thwart a fair trial commenced immediately. The family faced difficulty in engaging counsel. Initially an experienced criminal lawyer by the name of Junejo was engaged but after accepting the brief he backed out and it was widely believed that pressure was applied on him by the army command.
The Defence Counsel were treated with contempt both by Maulvi Mushtaque and Anwar ul Haq while the prosecution was shown deference. Simple requests by Begum Bhutto and Mohtrama for meetings and adjournments were turned down cursorily and both Begum Bhutto and Mohtarma were tailed at all times and were not given the freedom to consult counsel and family and friends in private without fear of being heard. Even during the course of the trial both Begum Bhutto and Mohtarma were repeatedly detained. Persons assisting the Defence Counsel were subjected to harassament.
Both Maulvi Mushtaque who was Chief Justice of the High Court and Anwar ul Haq, who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court were openly biased and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was deprived of the basic minimum liberty to defend his case.
Mr. Yahya Bakhtiar who was not a criminal lawyer was forced to plead Mr. Bhutto’s murder case because it was felt that only a man of his courage could withstand the kind of pressures to which people siding with Mr. Bhutto were exposed. The treatment meted out to the defence counsel and Mr. Bhutto himself by Maulvi Mushtaque was openly biased, derogatory and insulting and painful to watch. I was present in the Lahore High Court on one instance when during the course of recording of evidence, one over exuberant prosecution witness mentioned that in addition to Kasuri they had orders to kill actor Muhammad Ali, at which Maulvi Mushtaque smirked and said words to the effect that his turn had not come yet. Mr. Bhutto was present in court and said “Aa Jaiygi”. Maulvi Mushtaque went ballistic and started yelling and calling to the police to take Mr. Bhutto away. This incident was reported in the press and yet Maulvi Mushtaque continued to hear the case and did not recuse himself.
Q. Z A Bhutto trial has now been reopened by the present government of his PPP. What were the constraints that kept BB from reopening the trial?
The two times that Mohtarma came to power she worked under duress. In the first government, one of Zia’s collaborators was the President. She did not have sufficient strength in the Parliament and the opposition was baying for her blood from day one. Also the forces of dictatorship had not been defeated and the presence of Ziaists in the Parliament was strong. The present day democrats were at that time still loyal defenders of Zia and virulent haters of Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Hence, Mohtarma was not in a position to even think of touching this issue. In the second Government though the PPP got in its own President, much to our chagrin and shock he turned out to be a Quisling and intrigues to oust Mohtarma started again. Mrs Abida Hussain who has since like other Bhutto haters become a vocal supporter of the PPP played a key role along with Mr. Leghari’s close friend Shahid Hamid in abetting Mr. Leghari in turning against his benefactor and Party leader. Mr. Leghari in fact failed to even address legitimate claims of the Party that brought him to the Presidency. For example, when Zia declared martial law PPP’s accounts were frozen. I don’t recall exactly but I think an amount of Rs. 60 lacs was frozen. PPP was short of funds and my husband, Saleem Zulfiqar Khan who was also part of the Defence team in the Supreme Court and in charge of maintaining party accounts, tried to agitate this issue during the first Government. He was of the view that the President could de-freeze the account. Ishaq was approached but refused. When Mr. Leghari became President Saleem, approached him but he put him off. In these circumstances the question of re-visiting the trial did not arise.
Additionally, during both of Mohtarma’s terms the judiciary was hostile to her and therefore the timing was not opportune for raising this issue.
Q. Do you think the reopening of the trial will serve in the best interests of the country? Will it be able to satisfy the PPP workers and do you expect the present courts independent enough to give an unbiased verdict?
The question here is not of satisfying the PPP workers. In the murder of Mr. Bhutto a historic wrong has been committed against the country. This murder is the pre-cursor of the mess in which the country finds itself today. Had the army not succeeded in this sordid act, the country could have been saved from the monumental follies and crimes committed against the nation since that fateful day of July 5, 1977. Correcting this historic wrong and understanding the role of the key players cannot but be in the best interests of the country.
The object of revisiting the trial should be to examine the evidence on the basis of which the conviction was given and upheld and of determining whether sufficient evidence existed to provide beyond the shadow doubt that Mr. Bhutto was guilty. The object should be to show on the basis of the available evidence whether Mr. Bhutto was guilty of hatching a conspiracy to kill or whether a conspiracy to kill him was hatched and by whom. The issue is of exposing the conspiracy and the role of the army brass which played the dominant role in the judicial murder and obtain a pronouncement that the trial was wrongly initiated and conducted and a conviction could not have been given.
I do not believe also that the issue here is of independence of the present courts as no reason exists why in the present scenario they would not be independent in this matter. The issue is whether those who have initiated the re-visiting of the trial have chosen a route which cannot yield the desired results. The issue is does the Supreme Court have the jurisdiction to address the issue. It would appear from the proceedings conducted so far that the counsel for the President, Senator Babar Awan, is only interested in gaining publicity for himself and showing Maulvi Mushtaque’s bias and nothing beyond.
Q. Much has been written about the role of Hafeez Pirzada, Mustafa Khar and Mumtaz Bhutto. Being a close associate of BB and Begum Bhutto do you think Z A Bhutto was deliberately left to walk to the gallows by those from within his very own PPP?
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was leader of the poor and downtrodden and he was neither in those harsh and turbulent days of the trial nor at any time thereafter abandoned by the party workers and supporters. The servile upper middle class and elite, even those who benefited from him did abandon him. As for Hafeez Pirzada and Mumtaz Bhutto, neither of them stood out in support of him or fought for him. They laboured under the mistaken belief that once Mr. Bhutto would be removed from the scene, leadership would naturally fall on them. They were and continue to be self serving persons and neither had nor have any political stature. Their stature was derived from their association with Mr. Bhutto. When they abandoned him they lost that stature. Mr. Khar had fled the country and I have no personal knowledge of his role in those days. To my knowledge he played no meaningful role. The fact is that the fight for Mr. Bhutto’s life was fought single handedly by Mr. Bhutto’s own immediate family with some measure of help by the likes of us and the support and prayers of the shirtless of this country.
LUBP: Thank You for such an enlightening interview