Kamran Rehmat
Hyderabad: 5 Jan 2023: My earliest memories of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto are typically cast in the halo of a hero given to impressionable teens. This would undergo change as one grew up and wisened to the reality of life away from all the pervasive demagoguery. Having said that, decades after going to the gallows courageously, ZAB retains the now-sepia turned aura as a political leader without parallel in this part of the world, loving and equal amounts of loathing notwithstanding — depending on which side of the aisle you are.
Had he been alive, he would turned 94 today. But it was not to be. There just is no room in Greek tragedies.
And so April 4, 1979 is vividly attached in memory: my brothers and I going to a cricket stadium in Colombo where Pakistan’s national cricket team, including Imran Khan, was playing a friendly. Around afternoon, suddenly, there was a pin drop silence as a newspaper special supplement with a banner headline in all caps — ALI BHUTTO HANGED — made its way into the stadium.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was a close friend of Bhutto, who was treated almost reverentially, as the “Voice of the Third World” in the island nation.
My father endured a horrid time after Bhutto was controversially executed on disputed charges of abetment to murder of an opposition figure by a judiciary under the thumb of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979. At the High Commission, he would receive calls from incensed Sri Lankans taking out their ire over Bhutto’s fate.
A few months down the road, General Zia sent gifts — crate of mangoes — for the ambassador to present Bandaranaike. My father saw this as a red herring and advised the ambassador to pull an excuse with the Foreign Office back home against the adventure.
However, his advice fell on deaf ears and the ambassador saw it fit to please his masters back home and “open a line of communication” with Bandaranaike. The gifts were dispatched in advance of his visit. No sooner had these made their way to her residence than the same were summarily returned with a terse note aimed at the military dictator, who had ignored her appeals for Zia to spare Bhutto’s life.
Fast forward and Zia exploded in a C-130 plane — similar to the one in which he had sent Bhutto’s remains to be buried quietly in Garhi Khuda Baksh. The irony? Both Zia and Bhutto live, the former as a ghost of Dracula, and the other, the torchbearer of the first popular voice of the voiceless.

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