Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s was hanged today in 1979. Over 30 years later, his party remains the closest thing Pakistan has to a national political party. But, it’s more dynasty than democracy, preserved in the the myth-making articles, speeches and books of the Bhuttos’ and their loyalists. Thus, recalling ZAB, the secularist-populist politician who criminalized Ahmadis, a small sect in Islam, ushered in a yet more Islamized constitution, decimated Bangladesh and savaged Balochistan, remains a fraught but critical task.
The work of the historian and the journalist converge: both are involved in reproducing national narratives, retelling the past and the present to legitimize particular identities and ideas at the expense of others. So, on ZAB’s death anniversary, I think it’s important to recall the alternative histories buried under heavy doses of propaganda and mythification. Here he is calling Bengalis “sons of swine,” for failing to accept the rule of West Pakistan even though East Pakistan–now Bangladesh–had won the electoral majority:
And here’s Bilawal Bhutto, the latest in the dynastic line, delivering a speech in fairly accented Urdu to a group of workers in a conference room. It looks silly–actually downright ridiculous–but let’s not forget: his mother started out the same way.