“Benazir and Bilawal have turned the PPP upside down.” Dr Mubashir Hasan

Dr Mubashir Hasan, 95, is one of the founding members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and a close associate of the party’s founding chairman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB). In fact, on November 30, 1967, the party’s founding convention was held on the lawns of his residence in Gulberg, Lahore. Dr Hasan was elected a member of the National Assembly in the December 1970 elections, and subsequently became Finance Minister in Z. A. Bhutto’s first cabinet. He also served as secretary-general of the PPP in the mid-1970s.

In this interview with Adnan Adil of Newsline, he shared his memories of PPP’s formative years and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Here are some excerpts:

How did Zulfikar Bhutto emerge as a populist leader, even though he was a foreign minister in General Ayub Khan’s military government?

The 1965 war with India awakened Punjab, Sindh – all those places where the Indian bombs had fallen. Gen Ayub Khan’s [subsequent] acquiescence to the Soviet Union’s proposal or what was signed at Tashkent was condemned by the masses. Then foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s opposition to the Tashkent agreement also became known to the people. Mr Bhutto’s declaration that he would, in due course, reveal the secret behind the Tashkent agreement became a powerful slogan in his rhetoric on India. His speeches before the Security Council and the General Assembly became the crying demand of a large segment of the population in Punjab and those areas of Sindh which were invaded and captured by the Indian forces. PPP activists were ready to do and die at Bhutto’s command. He could not imagine the welcome he received at every railway station where the train stopped during his journey from Rawalpindi to Lahore. After the Quaid-e-Azam, no leader had been mobbed by the people as Bhutto was, after the Tashkent Agreement. Realizing that the people were extremely incensed by the Tashkent Agreement, Bhutto kept threatening to reveal “the secret behind the Tashkent Agreement.”

Was it Bhutto’s popularity that served as a catalyst for the formation of the Pakistan People’s Party?

The highly intelligent J. A. Rahim, who was an expert in foreign diplomacy and had made his name at the Bandung Conference, emerged as a principal supporter of Bhutto during this period. He felt that Bhutto had a flair for politics. In 1967, Bhutto went to Europe for a few months, where he met with Rahim, then Pakistan’s ambassador to Paris, whom Bhutto highly respected. So the stage for the launch of a new political party was set in Paris between Bhutto and Rahim. Both wanted to free Pakistan from American influence.Rahim claimed it was he who suggested that Bhutto establish a political party. Bhutto made Rahim secretary-general of the party, and accepted Rahim’s ideas on what the ethos of what the new party should be. Understandably, Rahim called Bhutto’s PPP ‘his party’ until the very end.

How did you come into contact with Bhutto?

Bhutto’s popularity became known to all, and almost all political leaders wanted him to join their respective parties. In 1966, he was invited by the Nawa-e-Waqt group, which supported him initially, to deliver a lecture in Lahore on Hamid Nizami Day. I went to Karachi to invite him on their behalf. During my brief meeting with Bhutto, I asked him if the party he was planning to form would be left-wing or right-wing. “Left-wing, of course,” he said emphatically. Following the 1965 war, some concerned citizens in Lahore, including myself decided to join the PPP. Initially, I was not in favour of Bhutto, as he was a minister in Gen Ayub Khan’s cabinet, but all the other members of the group liked him. Initially, my meetings with Bhutto related to management issues, not politics. He did not know who was who in the Punjab, which I did, so I was useful to him.

Who were ZAB’s main advisers in the earlier days and what was their role?

The people who were close to Bhutto in those days were Mustafa Khar, Mian Aslam, Sheikh Rasheed (aka Baba-e-socialism), Mirza Tahir Ahmed (of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya) and a police inspector (retd.) Sheikh Safdar, who was a private assistant to Bhutto. Mustafa Khar was a great admirer of his. He was impressed by his speeches on foreign policy in the National Assembly and in the media. Mirza Tahir Ahmed, a brother of Mirza Nasir Ahmed, the head of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, was quite close to Bhutto and would frequently visit him. The network of the Jamaat’s followers was a big source of information. Mirza Nasir Ahmed also remained a de facto adviser of Bhutto, even after the latter came into power.

What was the model of the PPP?

There was no model of the party before us. In those days, the party used to have the office of ‘chairman’ in the provinces. Sheikh Rasheed was chairman of the party in Punjab and Mustafa Khar the secretary….The president of the Socialist Party, C. R. Aslam, secretly directed the diehard communist activists of his party to become members of the PPP and advance the cause of Communism through the new party. They would raise the slogan of: “Asia surkh hai, Asia surkh hai” (Asia is red, Asia is red) and initiate and lead agitations. The objective of the Communist activists was to exploit Bhutto for their own agenda, but they ended up being used cleverly by Bhutto. However, no leftist intellectual supported the PPP.

Who formulated the ideology of the party and coined the basic slogans of the PPP?

The document contained one paper written by Bhutto, two by Rahim, including one titled ‘Socialism is necessary for Pakistan’ and the other on ‘The need for a special relationship with Assam,’ in which he cited the example of France’s special relationship with Quebec in Canada. Actually, Rahim’s son, Sikander, originally wrote the paper on socialism. A paper titled, ‘Declaration of the unity of the people,’ was jointly written by Hanif Ramay and me. It was also included in the foundation and policy document…The lines “Socialism is our economy, democracy is our politics, Islam is our religion and all power to the people,” were crafted by ZAB and Rahim. The line, ‘All power to the people’ was inspired by the Soviet Revolution’s slogan of, ‘All power to the Soviets.’ Incidentally, roti, kapra aur makan was never the PPP’s official slogan. This slogan was coined by some people on their own by borrowing the lines of a couplet from Habib Jalib’s poem, ‘Maang raha hai har insaan, roti, kapra aur makan.’

How did the PPP conduct its election campaign for the 1970 elections and pick its candidates?

Mirza Tahir Ahmed and the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya helped the PPP a lot in the election campaign and selection of candidates in Punjab. Mirza Tahir Ahmed had considerable information on the ‘electables’ in different constituencies across the Punjab. Three people selected PPP’s candidates in Punjab, Mustafa Khar, Mirza Tahir Ahmed and myself. Kausar Niazi fought the election from jail and won. His entire campaign was run by the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya.

And in return for all their support, your party declared the Ahmadis non-Muslims.

Bhutto was under pressure from the Saudi King, Shah Faisal, to declare the Ahmadis non-Muslims. Shah Faisal was very unhappy with them. The Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya had set up a centre in Israel. Sheikh Rasheed and I had opposed the declaration of Ahmadis as non-Muslims at a federal cabinet meeting. But all the others endorsed the proposal. The Ahmadi leader also said something in the National Assembly, which was held against them. In answer to a question, the Ahmadi leader said that according to his faith, he considered all those (Muslims) who did not believe in the prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmed as infidels (kafirs). At this, the assembly went into an uproar.

Did the PPP leadership expect the party to sweep Punjab the way it did in the 1970 elections?

I had an idea that we would win all the seats from Lahore. When the election results started pouring in at midnight, Bhutto telephoned me and, in utter surprise, asked me: “Doctor, ye kiya ho raha hai? (What is happening?),” I answered: “Sir, people have voted for you.” “Are you sure?” he asked twice. He expected to secure only half of the seats that we actually won in Punjab.

Why did the PPP fail in East Pakistan?

As I used to keep visiting East Pakistan as a consultant civil engineer, Bhutto deputed me to meet the leaders of East Pakistan and ask them to join the PPP. Bhutto knew the Bengali leaders, who had been his colleagues in the National Assembly since 1962. However, no notable from there joined the PPP. Only those Biharis, who were living in Dhaka, joined us. I also asked Kamal Hossain, a great admirer of Bhutto’s, to join the PPP, but he declined.

It is alleged ZAB had a role in the breakup of East Pakistan.

This allegation is totally baseless. There was no bigger lover of Pakistan than Bhutto. After the 1970 elections, the PPP held a big public meeting at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore, where Bhutto made a speech, in which he said that “There (in East Pakistan), you (Mujib) have a majority in the assembly, while we have a majority here. So no province has the right to rule over the other province.” Significantly, there was also the India factor. The Agartala Conspiracy Case had been instituted against Mujib-ur-Rehman.

How was power transferred to Bhutto?

After the surrender of the Pakistan Army in Dhaka, the generals revolted against President Gen Yahya Khan and invited Bhutto to take over. Bhutto was in Rome (Italy) at the time. Mustafa Khar was in Islamabad and in contact with the army. Bhutto considered him a reliable channel. There was an understanding between Bhutto and Khar that until Khar used a certain code – “It’s a turnkey job” – Bhutto would not return. A PIA aeroplane was standing for Bhutto in Rome. When Khar was absolutely sure that the generals would hand over power to Bhutto, he used this code and Bhutto flew into Islamabad and met President Yahya Khan. Yahya Khan wanted Bhutto to become a Civil Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) and retain him as President. Bhutto refused to accede to his demand. General Gul Hasan and Air Marshal Rahim were also opposed to keeping on Yahya Khan as President. So in this meeting, it was decided that Bhutto would take charge both as CMLA and president of the country. The same evening, Bhutto took over and moved to the Punjab House. A few days later, he met Mujib-ur-Rehman at the President House’s in Rawalpindi. Mujib wished to go to England and sought some money for his expenses. Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry delivered £4,000 to him in a briefcase and he left for London. Bhutto freed Mujib against the wishes of the Pakistani people, who wanted him killed.

J. A. Rahim was one of the main architects of the PPP, but later Bhutto maltreated him too.

A man of great moral integrity, J. A. Rahim was quite blunt in expressing his opinion. He was the only one who could tell off Bhutto. Bhutto used to refer all his papers on foreign policy to him for his comments, after which he would finalize them. Rahim had a falling out with Bhutto, and occasionally would sit at the Sindh Club in Karachi, and pass uncharitable remarks about him. People would report back his comments, with a slight exaggeration, to ZAB. That was the background to what subsequently happened to Rahim. He was not only dismissed as federal minister but also beaten up. He was admitted to the CMH hospital and some soldiers were deputed outside his room. He asked me to immediately engage a lawyer for him, as in his view he was under arrest. I told Rahim that he was not under arrest and could step out with me. Later, I and Rafi Raza worked out a scheme to send Rahim to Yugoslavia on an official study tour at state expense. Rahim agreed.

Khar also had a falling out with Bhutto.

Khar had been an admirer and friend of Bhutto since 1962, but Bhutto feared him because of his rising popularity in the Punjab. I advised Khar to lie low as Bhutto was, by nature, quite suspicious of others. Interestingly, he was staying at Khar’s house in Lahore, when he ordered his removal as Punjab chief minister and nominated Hanif Ramay in his place. The next day, Bhutto told Khar that he thought Khar would have murdered him that night.

Why did you leave Bhutto?

In 1974, I resigned from the federal cabinet thrice but Bhutto did not accept my resignation. A few months after the J. A. Rahim incident, I also left the cabinet. In October 1974, just when the federal cabinet was to take a fresh oath, I left Pakistan for Egypt, where my brother, Shabbar Hasan, was working for the World Health Organisation. Bhutto phoned me and asked me to join the cabinet and take whatever portfolio I desired. I refused on health grounds. Politics is not a gentleman’s job. One has to do many unsavoury things in politics.

How would you describe Bhutto as a leader?

Bhutto had a tremendous capacity of articulating complex national issues in simple language; he was even ahead of the Quaid-e-Azam in this skill. However, he wanted to concentrate all power in his hands, which badly damaged him. In the end, he did not have a single influential friend, who could have bailed him out. Some friends, in their own way, had tried to advise him, but most were afraid to express their opinions freely before him.

How would you evaluate the PPP of today?

Bhutto’s PPP was a socialist and anti-imperialist party. Today, it is neither of the two; it has become like all the other parties – a pro-capitalism party. Benazir Bhutto and Bilawal Bhutto have turned the party upside down. Earlier, ideology was important. Now personalities have gained more significance than ideology. Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and the Islamic parties all have a capitalist agenda.

What is the future of Bilawal’s PPP?

If the PPP adopts a socialist agenda, it can become a popular party once again because socialism has the strength and penetration that can win the hearts of the poor. Today, those with wealth have a monopoly over the entire system; ordinary people do not matter. The PPP does not reflect what is in the heart of the people of Punjab. It does not speak their language. The Punjabis do not appreciate a leader who, they think, does not articulate the policy that they want vis-à-vis India. That is why the PPP’s politics does not have the power it used to have in the past. The very foundation of the PPP was based on its tough stance on India.

Another problem is that Bilawal cannot speak well either in Urdu or Punjabi or even Sindhi. He seems to lack the capacity of developing his own style of oratory. It is not possible to imitate someone else’s style as style comes with personality. Behind the style of Bhutto and Benazir were their long political struggles. They had learnt the catchwords and phrases of the people and how to use them. Once, after a public meeting, ZAB arrived at Hotel Inter-Continental, where he was staying and said to me: “Doctor, you saw the way I delivered certain words during my speech and then swirled around on the stage.” Bhutto would begin his tour of Punjab from Lahore and then, after visiting different cities and towns, would return to Lahore. From the people’s response to his speeches, he would craft the speech to be delivered in Lahore. “I see the light in people’s eyes when I use certain words,” he would say. He was a true people’s leader. Sometimes, he would express his anger when people did not agree with him. Once while speaking at the Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore, he put up a few suggestions before the crowd for their approval. The crowd shouted: “Manzoor hai” (approved). However, to on one last suggestion, they said: “Namanzoor” (not approved). Bhutto hurled an abuse at the crowd – in a low tone.

If Bilawal could learn the art of oratory and articulate what lies in the heart of the people, he can emerge as a leader. Also, if he makes regular appearances in the media, he can create some space for himself in politics.

(The full interview appeared in the Newsline magazine.)

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