But Prime Minister: An Explosive Account on late Benazir Bhutto

Following excerpts adapted from But Prime Minister published by Paramount Booksin Pakistan. Click here to order your copy.

by Javed Jabbar

Benazir Bhutto’s direct participation in the political arena as an individual in her own right began with the removal of her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from the Prime Ministership of Pakistan due to a coup d’ etat by General Ziaul Haq on 5th July 1977. She actively campaigned for justice for her father up to his callous execution on 4th April 1979 after a rigged judicial process. The first of several ironies noted in the text that follows is the unpleasant truth that Z.A. Bhutto, in turn, was a party to the rigged elections held in March 1977.

His assassination irrevocably motivated her to sustain and build upon his legacy. During a total span of about 30 eventful years in politics from 1977 to 2007 she graduated through varied phases of tough struggle to two relatively brief tenures in office totalling about 5 years. In both her terms as Prime Minister she led her Governments through complex global and regional times marked by pivotal changes with long-term ramifications for international relations, state structures and bilateral relations.

Those times included the following events and trends:

The fratricidal Iraq-Iran war of the blood-drenched 8 years of 1980-88 had just ended.

Discontent with the authoritarian communist structures of the Soviet Union and of Eastern Europe as evident in Poland and elsewhere was becoming ominous. Eventually, this led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Internal crisis was building within the Soviet Union.

In April 1988, the agreement on withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan had been signed.

Despite the withdrawal agreement, a fall-out from the role of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan was most strongly evident in Pakistan which continued to suffer from rising levels of illegal sales of narcotics and weapons.

There were disturbing, recurring incidents of violent religious extremism and sectarianism within Pakistan. General Ziaul Haq’s death on 17th August 1988 signalled the end of a dark era, only relieved by some elements of change and hope.

There were clear signs of volatile unrest building up in Indian-occupied Jammu & Kashmir.

These were not, by any measure, the best of times for a new, untested leader to take office.

Yet the charges of corruption, nepotism and misgovernance on the basis of which she was dismissed both times have diverted attention from her genuine accomplishments and some innovative policies that she and her Cabinets implemented. Due to the arbitrary termination of the two Governments’ tenures, most of the progressive policies and plans could not be fully implemented, nor did their productive outcomes become visible and measurable.

The vicious aspect of the conflicts with Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N on the one side, and Benazir Bhutto and the PPP on the other generated undisguised virulence and defamation. This acrimony from 1988 to 1999 mixed facts with falsehoods, accuracy with speculation, exactitude with exaggeration. Both smeared each other to the extent that clarity and truth became so elusive as to be virtually lost. The accountability and judicial processes were subject to bias and manipulation that deprived them of credibility. Even the Charter for Democracy signed by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in London in 2006 in which both pledged to end character assassination and revenge and instead, work together to replace General Pervez Musharraf ’s rule with orderly, mutually respectful democratic conduct did not prove to be a consistent and always enacted agreement.

This writer was privileged to be associated with Benazir Bhutto in different capacities for about 14 years, from 1986 when we first met to our last meeting in mid-June 2000 in Damascus. These different capacities comprised: my status as a Senator who served from 21st March 1985 to 24th November 1988 as an independent Senator but with fairly close affinity with the PPP. The second status began when I accepted the invitation by Benazir Bhutto to become the first Senator to formally join the PPP in the 4th week of November 1988. The third status began with my induction into the first Cabinet of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on 4th December 1988 and extended up to 6th August 1990 when the Government was dismissed. The fourth status covered the period from 6th August 1990 to 21st March 1991 when my Senate term concluded. During those 8 months I represented the PPP in the Upper House of Parliament up to the end of my 6-year term. The fifth status spawned the period from 21st March 1991 to August 1996, a period of about 5 years and 5 months in which one’s relations with Benazir Bhutto went through varying phases of distancing, proximity, reconciliation, and then alienation leading to my resignation from the PPP.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto

The sixth status began immediately thereafter: onward of 5th November 1996 when I was inducted into the Caretaker Cabinet appointed by President Farooq Leghari to replace the second cabinet of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Then came the seventh status onward of February 1997 up to 14th August 1998 when, with Farooq Leghari this writer launched the Millat Party which, in one sense, became an adversary of the PPP that she led. An eighth phase came when, with the endorsement of the Millat Party, this writer joined the Cabinet

of General Pervez Musharraf in November 1999 during which term I held the last meeting with her, described in the last chapter. The ninth phase covered the years between 2000 and 2007 when, subsequent to my resignation from the Cabinet, I returned to the Millat Party. But then in 2004, when despite my dissent, Farooq Leghari ill-advisedly merged the Millat Party with PML-Q led by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, I returned to a kind of silent relationship with Benazir Bhutto. This was marked by only an occasional exchange of verbal messages of formal greetings but no direct meetings or encounters took place.

Through all these nine diverse phases, this writer retained an ambivalent mixture of thoughts and sentiments about this political pioneer of the Muslim world. That mixture began with admiration for her courage and resolve. There was then her capacity to apply a notable degree of intellect and education — rare even among male political leaders — to articulate and formulate political messages and themes. She then learnt fairly rapidly to address mass rallies and public meetings with the emotive rhetoric using her father’s martyrdom to full effect. Aware of the retreat of State capitalism and socialism so avowed by her father, she deftly moved the ideological dimension of the PPP toward a new, even right-wing orientation — while retaining a profile of empathy for the poor and down-trodden. Respectful of PPP leaders and workers who had remained steadfast through the most difficult years of persecution she was also unwilling to accept the seniority and counsel of those veterans who disagreed with her approach. Despite — and perhaps because of — the inherent bondage between the Bhutto mystique and PPP’s identity, she was unwilling to enable authentic internal party democracy from the fear that dissidents could attain high Party office. By replacing her mother as Party Chairperson and also accepting — or arranging — the title of “Chairperson for Life” — she negated core principles of regular accountability and humility.

Possibly the most disagreeable facet of her persona was her willingness to allow corrupt practices by several colleagues, but most specially by her own husband. It is true that though cases were pursued against both her spouse and herself for several years, no convictions became binding and some cases were overturned. In one remarkable instance, the Lahore High Court was obliged to dismiss a pending charge against Asif Zardari because the entire set of original documents related to the case had simply disappeared from the office of the Court’s Registrar. The public was not informed about the fall-out from this mystery as to whether the Court conducted an investigation to affix responsibility and whether any one was found guilty.

Corrupt practices became synonymous with both her terms as Prime Minister, deflecting attention from some positive policies and actions she had overseen. An argument advanced by some of her sympathizers to the effect that, to respond to the vast funds and resources deployed against her and her Party by Nawaz Sharif, allegedly also by ISI and even by Osama bin Laden (in the unsuccessful November 1989 No-confidence motion), she and her spouse had no choice but to obtain substantial matching means to counter the offensive. But this rationale does not, at least in this writer’s opinion, justify permitting corrupt practices to become acceptable. The fact that there have never been enduring convictions in the legal process does not contradict the credibility of the allegations and charges. When she was not in power, cases were instituted against her and her husband by her opponents with dual aims. One: to actually persecute and harass. Two: to use the pendency of the cases as a bargaining chip or as outright pressure tactics to ensure reduced levels of opposition and secure co-operation. The well-known weaknesses of the country’s legal and judicial system enabled these twin aims to be pursued both against her, and by her when she wanted to do so.

In writing this book, this writer has tried to avoid letting the ambivalent mixture of one’s perceptions about Benazir Bhutto shape the whole text. Wherever, in one’s view, she richly deserved admiration and appreciation I have expressed the same. Whenever one disagreed with her or was disappointed with her I have also frankly said so. Where this writer himself was at fault or mistaken, I have tried to be honest in self-appraisal. There is no desire whatsoever to set oneself up in a morally superior position because I am always conscious of my own limitations and contradictions.

Though this book focuses on my interactions with Benazir Bhutto, there are also passages of the text that describe events and themes which principally concern my own activities and views. But such portions of the text are indirectly or directly related either to herself in the specific context of her role as Prime Minister or to my work as a Senator or Minister.

In all the nine phases of the fourteen years over which this writer interacted with her, Benazir Bhutto remained a radiant, beautiful personality. She was charming and engaging, almost always a pleasure to be with. I say “almost” only because there were a few occasions when she was briefly yet unpleasantly unhappy with something I had said or done or when, in my view, she was unable to accept stark reality. But for most of the time, even when I often said “But, Prime Minister” she would smile, and be graciously tolerant.

I relied on the following sources to write the text of this book: memory, personal notes, copies of summaries written for Benazir Bhutto, newspapers, books, internet websites.

In attributing quotes to her, reliance is placed exclusively on memory. Several quotes are exacty the words spoken by her. Where I was not able to recall exact words spoken, I have formulated sentences that, in my view, most accurately summarize the substance of her sentences.

It is unfortunate that, from among those who served in the first Cabinet of Benazir Bhutto, only one person has written a whole book in English about his perspective. That gentleman was Iqbal Akhund, one of Pakistan’s most distinguished diplomats. He served as Adviser on National Security with the rank and status of Federal Minister. He was a highly capable, soft-spoken counterweght to the also-distinguished presence of Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqub Khan who, notwithstanding his own individual distinction, was seen as a continuation from the era and mind-set of General Ziaul Haq in whose Cabinet he had rendered a laudable role on the world stage. Iqbal Akhund sadly passed away in 2020.

Iqbal Akhund’s book: Trial and Error: The Advent and Eclipse of Benazir Bhutto (OUP 2000) is an outstanding analysis, particularly of the first of her two Governments. Consistently candid, accurate, insightful and balanced, the book so well reflects the integrity and capability of the author as also an excellent narrative on those facets of foreign relations and national security that the Government had to deal with. But no other book in English has been written by any other member of that Cabinet. In Urdu, there are books such as Rafaquat ka Safar — Benazir Yaadein (Journey of a Close Relationship: Memories of Benazir) by Bashir Riaz. But he was not a Cabinet member though he was close to her family and herself. There are other books in Urdu and Sindhi. Former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani who served with me in the first Cabinet and served as Speaker of the National Assembly during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto has written: Chhahe Yousuf se ye aati hai Zadah (A Voice from the Well of Yousuf) which is a pertinent source to learn about his perspectives. Of several books by non-Pakistanis on Benazir Bhutto in English, some are listed in the Bibliography.

I hope this humble contribution adds to information and discourse.


About Author: Senator (r) Javed Jabbar has distinctions in diverse fields. He is a public intellectual who makes contributions to leading think tanks , research centres , public forums on a range of subjects. He has received numerous international and national honours for his contributions and achievements .

He is the husband of Shabnam Jabbar, an independent entrepreneur, designer and home-maker. They have two children : Mehreen Jabbar, the award-winning director of TV plays and cinema films ; Barrister Kamal Kadeer Jabbar who specializes in banking and financial law and is a partner in Keystone Law, Dubai . His grandson is Zaka Zahir Jabbar who is exploring the marvels of school education.

Javed Jabbar's 15th book " Pathways --- selected writings 2010-2015 " won the UBL Literature Prize for the Best English non-fiction book at the 9th Karachi Literature Festival 2017 . His 16th book " What is Pakistaniat ? " is prescribed in leading education and training institutions.

He devotes substantial working time to voluntary work for several public service organizations . He is presently the Chairman , and co-founder ( with economist Dr. Hafiz Pasha in 1995 ) of the Social Policy & Development Centre, (SPDC, www.spdc.org.pk) Karachi , one of Asia's most reputed independent research centres and think tanks . SPDC has 700 publications to date . He is the founding chairman of the South Asian Media Association , Colombo, 1992.  He is present Chairperson and co-founder (1994) of SPO ( Strengthening Participatory Organization,( www.spopk.org ) which works in the development sector at the grass-roots level across Pakistan.

He is present Chairman and co-founder of SOS Children's Villages of Sindh,( founded 1982 ) and Member, Board of Governors of SOS Pakistan which cares for hundreds of orphaned and abandoned children and provides vocational training to youth.

He is founding president since 1985 of, Baanhn Beli (www.bannhnbeli.org ) , the pioneer public service organization of Tharparkar , and also works in other parts of Sindh.

He is founding Chairman, Publican Alumni Trust (since 2010) which operates a reputed school for students from low-income families in Korangi, Karachi.

Javed Jabbar is Chairman, Advisory Council, Malir University of Science and Technology, Karachi and Member, Board of Directors, National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA).

From his school years at Cantonment Public School , Karachi , St Patrick's College and the University of Karachi 1963-66 , and thereafter ,he has founded or been elected to lead a large number of initiatives and organizations in Pakistan and in overseas countries .

He is a former Senator and has served in 3 Federal Cabinets as Minister for Information and Broadcasting , Science and Technology , Petroleum and Natural Resources, and Adviser to the Chief Executive of Pakistan on National Affairs. He has represented Pakistan at major UN conferences .

New laws and policies initiated by him have introduced major reforms in different sectors, particularly the inception of private TV and radio channels and freedom of information . Among several conflict management and conflict resolution initiatives he is associated with , he is a Member since 1992 of the longest-running, quiet, non-media-reported Pakistan-India Track II Dialogue known as the Neemrana Initiative , suspended since 2015 .

He was elected global Vice President of IUCN (www.iucn.org) for 8 years, 2004-2012 in the world's oldest and largest environment organization comprising over 130 countries .  In 2019 , he was invited to serve on an honorary basis as Adviser to the National Curriculum Council.

In the past 10 years, he has been appointed by the Supreme Court and High Courts as amicus curiae and to serve as mediator to ( successfully ) resolve media conflicts , and as Member of the Media Commission , 2013 whose landmark report was written by him . He frequently writes on a range of subjects, including national history, current affairs and political economy for leading journals .

He has received numerous national and international awards and recognitions for his work in diverse fields such as writing, film-making, voluntary service , environment . The cinema film "Ramchand Pakistani" (2008) of which he was the writer and producer --- and which was directed by his daughter Mehreen Jabbar --- won several international awards in Europe and Asia . In 1976, Pakistan's first -- and so far, only -- English language cinema film " Beyond the Last Mountain " ( Urdu version : " Musafir " ) which he wrote, produced and directed was screened to laudatory reviews at several international film festivals . He has written and directed dozens of popular and award-winning TV commercials and documentaries .

In December 2019 , at Adasia 2019 in Lahore the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations inducted him into its Hall of Fame for his distinctive contributions to mass communications .

In February 2020 , the All Pakistan Newspapers' Society presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015, the Pakistan Society of Advertisers presented its first Lifetime Achievement Award to him . The Human Rights Society of Pakistan presented him with a Gold Medal for outstanding public service . He is a visiting professor at leading institutions in Pakistan and overseas

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