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Bhutto’s judicial Murder

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Audio file

Three judges – Men of integrity and courage

The undeclared verdict of history as adopted by people with the benefit of time elapsed and hindsight is the only true verdict on injustices and atrocities. Bhutto’s fake trial is a showcase example. Bhutto stands vindicated in the peoples’ court as “not guilty”. The real criminals as unanimously declared in public domain today were the judges of Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan., who wilfully carried out his judicial murder just to stay in their jobs. One of those judges, Justice Nasim Hasan Shah later admitted so in his book!

Long before Zia imposed martial law, the evil minded dictator had been at work for at least six months, in scheming and engineering treacherous moves to defame Bhutto, undermine his government through religious political parties and his intelligence services. Very much like the strategic employment of Tahir Qadri and Khadim Rizvi led trouble makers through 2008 to 2018, Zia’s holy recruits led by Jamaat Islami brought chaos and violence to the streets of major cities to propagate that the situation was beyond the control of Bhutto’s government.  

Having set up the scene, Zia-ul-Haq imposed martial law in Pakistan on July 5, 1977. Prime Minister Z.A Bhutto, all his cabinet ministers and close associates in administration were arrested, assemblies dissolved, the constitution suspended and all civil rights set aside. The martial law was challenged in the Supreme Court which validated it on November 10, 1977, once again under the judicial curse of the Doctrine of Necessity.

Bhutto was released on July 29,1977, but was again arrested on September 3, 1977, on the charge of authorizing the murder of Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri. However, Justice K.M.A. Samdani of the Lahore High Court found the evidence “contradictory and incomplete” and released Bhutto on September 13, 1977. Zia reacted in annoyance by removing Justice Samdani from his post! Three days later on the night of September 16, 1977, army commandos “climbed the walls of “Al-Murtaza” in Larkana, knocked out all the guards and arrested Bhutto again. All done as part of Zia’s Nizaam-e-Mustafa slogan. Shades of the recent Riyasat-e-Madina slogan during the selected hybrid regime. This time though, fill in names of Gen. Bajwa and Gen, Faiz Hamid as the sponsors and directors for the abuse of another religious slogan in place of Gen, Zia.

Bhutto’s trial began on October 24, 1977 straightaway before the High Court of Lahore instead of a lower court, depriving him of any level of appeal. Five new judges were appointed, headed by Acting Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Maulvi Mushtaq Hussain who was known to have a personal grudge against Bhutto. Mushtaq was a Zia appointee and hailed from his hometown Jullandhar. Maulvi Mushtaq was a candidate for Chief Justice of Lahore High Court when Bhutto was PM. He appointed Justice Sardar Iqbal as chief justice. Maulvi Mushtaq, reacting to his disappointment, took a leave of absence from his job and went to Switzerland and spent two years there. When Zia took over, he recalled Maulvi Mushtaq, a man simmering with vendetta against Bhutto and appointed him CJ of Lahore High Court, despite being away for two years!

Details of Bhutto’s actual trial are well documented and a subject for a similar article another time. After lengthy presentations by the prosecution, when Bhutto began his testimony on 25th January 1978, Chief Justice Maulvi Mushtaq closed the courtroom to all observers. Bhutto demanded a retrial, accusing the Chief Justice of bias. The court refused his demand. On 18 March 1978, Bhutto was sentenced to death.

In May 1978, Begum Nusrat Bhutto filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. The resolutely independent Chief Justice of Pakistan, Jus. Yaqub Ali Khan was forced to retire by the 22nd July, but only three days before his forced retirement, he admitted Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan challenging the constitutionality of her husband’s detention. A nine-member bench was constituted to hear the appeal. The bench was headed by Justice Anwar-ul-Haq close friend to Zia. He had no legal background and entered the judicial service through backdoor. Educated as a student of economics, he joined the Indian Civil Service, appointed to lead the district level governance. He remained in the civil service and later elevated as a judge in the Sindh High Court in 1957. Like Maulvi Mushtaq, he too was a friend of the General and hailed from the same hometown of Jullandhar and those two “stars” in his CV over-ruled every other merit consideration.

Proceedings started with a bench of nine judges. Five of them were reputed as men of conscience and were expected to overturn the verdict of Lahore High Court. The case was adjourned till the end of July 1978, to wait for one of the judges namely, Jus. Qaisar Khan to retire. A five-four equation became four all. Midway through proceedings, Justice Waheeduddin Ahmad suffered a stroke. He was also reputed as pro law and constitution judge. Tables were turned and the initial 5-4 composition was reversed to 3-4; The starting pro-Bhutto majority judges, reduced to an engineered minority.  

In the end, three justices who voted for Bhutto’s acquittal were Justice Dorab Patel of Baluchistan, Justice Safdar Shah of KPK, and Justice Mohammed Halim of Sindh. They did not vote for a lesser sentence but complete acquittal. Unsung national heroes and always a historical minority presence in Adliya No 130.

The four judges who awarded death sentence to Bhutto were all from Punjab. The review petition was swiftly dismissed on 24th March 1979 and Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979. Those four national villains were, Justice Anwarul Haq, Justice Mohammad Akram, Justice Karam Illahi Chowhan and Justice Nasim Hassan Shah. 

As an independent observer, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark having witnessed the trial later wrote:
“The prosecution’s case was based entirely on several witnesses who were detained until they confessed, who changed and expanded their confessions and testimony with each reiteration, who contradicted themselves and each other, who, except for Masood Mahmood… were relating what others said, whose testimony led to four different theories of what happened, absolutely uncorroborated by an eyewitness, direct evidence, or physical evidence.” A former federal Secretary, Roedad Khan who then was a close Zia confidant later said that Zia told him that “it is his neck or mine.”

Bhutto’s dead body was flown to Larkana overnight in a C-130 aircraft and hurriedly buried. Tens of thousands wanted to see the face of dead Bhutto. The face was there but almost none allowed to have the last sight of their beloved leader. Even his wife, Nusrat Bhutto and his daughter, Benazir Bhutto, in detention at the time in Larkana, a proverbial stone throw distance from the burial site were not allowed to attend the burial. Almost nine years later, on 17 August 1988, Zia-ul-Haq was burnt to death in an air crash. He now rusts in pieces without anyone to remember him with good words.

Zahir Kaleem