A lord of the dance macabre

The Terrorist Prince
March 20, 1998

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was removed as prime minister of Pakistan in a coup by General Zia ul-Haq in July 1977, and later tried on a trumped-up charge by suborned judges, sentenced to death and hanged. To avenge the death of this brilliant and popular leader, both his sons, Murtaza and Shahnawaz, fled to Kabul to establish a resistance group called Al-Zulfiqar, which aimed at creating unrest in Pakistan through arson, kidnapping, shooting and bombing and assassinating Zia, some of his generals and the sentencing judges.

The organisation consisted of a few dozen young Pakistani men devoted to the Bhutto family and its Pakistan People's Party. It functioned from Kabul, Damascus and Tripoli, was financed by an Arab ruler, and was later supported by India. It hijacked a Pakistani airliner and caused some turmoil in Pakistan. That was the total of its achievements.

Al-Zulfiqar was, in fact, nothing but Murtaza Bhutto and a few callow, ideal-drunk and undisciplined PPP visionaries ready to sacrifice all they had, including their lives, in the service of the party and the Bhutto family. Very soon the followers discovered in Murtaza neither an inspiring leader nor an attractive figure, but an insensitive dictator and a spoilt feudal tyrant whose meetings were medieval courts, whose orders bordered on the impossible, and who lived like a lord but expected the most extreme hardships from them. It was only their blind love for the dead Bhutto that kept the recruits tied to Murtaza's apron-strings.

More was to come. Before long Murtaza began to suspect most of them as his enemies. Living on whims and fancies bred in a diseased brain, he dispatched them on suicidal missions, put their lives in jeopardy through lack of training, accused them of treason, handed out death sentences on them to be carried out by their colleagues, sent some to Afghan jails and issued contradictory commands.

Murtaza emerges from this horrifying narrative as a mindless, cruel arrogant, reckless and dishonest brat who never grew up. He was nothing but a despicable brigand. He was killed in September 1997 in a gun battle with police in Karachi when his sister, Benazir, was prime minister.

All the Bhuttos showed astonishing heartlessness in their treatment of the families of the men who died under torture or on the gallows to restore their party and them to power. Not even a message of sympathy went out.

This translation is an inside eyewitness account by one of the "terrorists" who rebelled against Murtaza's fatuous violence and for this was consigned for four years to a Kabul dungeon. The story has no heroes, only villains, and makes extremely unpleasant reading. But it contains valuable insights into the mind of Bhutto p re and his family. With an absorbing theme and a stunning tableau of macabre details, it is the raw material of history no political scientist or historian should let go unread.

K. K. Aziz, a historian and political scientist, was special policy adviser to Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for three years.

The Terrorist Prince: The Life and Death of Murtaza Bhutto

Author - Raja Anwar
ISBN - 1 85984 886 9
Publisher - Verso
Price - £16.00
Pages - 235

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