By Lal Khan
September 28, 2012
He fought for the founding principles and the genuine mass traditions of the PPP. He admonished the lust for wealth, power and office. His courage and determination was implacable
Sixteen years ago on 20th of September 1996 in the dusk falling into darkness, Mir Murtaza Bhutto aged forty two was riddled with bullets of this rotten state. He was assassinated along with six of his comrades in front of his house, 70- Clifton, Karachi while his wife, young daughter and son were waiting anxiously for him at the most famous political address in Pakistan. At the time ironically his sister was the prime minister and the chief executive of the country. Innumerable conspiracy theories and accusations have been doing the rounds since. Yet none of the culprits have been apprehended or indicted and personnel of the state forces named and arrested have been set free by the lower judiciary.
Murtaza had led a turbulent and a challenging life. After his father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto [and his PPP government] was deposed and later assassinated through the gallows in April 1979 by General Zia ul Haq, Murtaza’s life was shattered. This one traumatic event plunged him into the whirlwind of political struggle. After all his efforts to mobilise support to save his father’s life, meeting numerous heads of states, appealing to several international organisations of the ruling elites and approaching famous political figures he failed to save his father from the bestial mercilessness of the vicious general who had manipulated political Islam to perpetuate his tyrannous despotism. At that period the corner stone of the US imperialism’s foreign policy was also the utilisation of Islam to further its economic and strategic interests in the region.
To avenge his father’s murder and advance the mission of revolutionary socialism etched in the origins of the Pakistan People’s Party, founded by his father in 1967, Murtaza chose the arduous path of armed struggle. However, in spite of several attempts and even with some successful operations his organisation, Al- Zulfiqar failed to eliminate the brutal dictator and dislodge his despotic regime. Paradoxically the wily and cynical experts of the regime used these violent individual acts against the state to further exacerbate their brutal repression of the youth and workers in Pakistan.
During the high-jacking of a PIA plane in 1981 in which more than two hundred political activists were freed from Zia’s notorious torture cells and incarceration, a military officer was killed. This was also a period when a mass revolt was simmering in society against the Zia’s despotic regime. The vicious dictatorship used this pretext to carry out some of the most brutal atrocities to crush this rising revolt. In 1983 the Zia regime carried out a massacre of the workers peasants and youth who had come out to defy the repression of the state. Just in Sindh 1063 people were killed by the military gunship helicopters and the sheer brutality of the army. However, like so many other guerrilla organisations of armed struggle, Al-Zulfiqar also began to wither as some of its members were exhausted and had lost the determination to fight. But Murtaza never wavered, although through this experience of armed struggle he had come to the conclusion that to succeed, a mass mobilisation and class struggle is the key.
With sharp differences and contradiction between US imperialism and Zia ul Haq coming to the fore, resulting in Zia’s elimination in an air crash; another mass upheaval was knocking on the doors of the Pakistani elite and the bourgeois state. The imperialists in connivance with the strategists of the elite conveniently switched from a brutal bourgeois military dictatorship to an ineffectual democracy based on the same economic, social and political strategy. Benazir was brought in to power sharing after a thorough preparation and assurances the status quo would be maintained. Murtaza was shocked that a party founded to change the status quo was now being made a tool for the perpetuation of the rule of finance capital, the rich and powerful. Anti-imperialist sentiments of the PPP cadres and its founding radical programme was tossed aside and an accommodation with domestic and foreign capitalist became the order of the day. He vowed to return and overturn this degenerative trend. It was a daring step to take as being a sworn enemy of a vicious state he was putting his life at risk. On his return he was arrested and incarcerated in prison - and this during the tenure of his own sister. But it is not as melodramatic as it seems. It was the same old Zia’s state that was calling the shots. Eleanor Roosevelt once remarked, “I always forgive but never forget”, but the reactionary bourgeois state neither forgives nor forgets someone who had taken up arms against it.
Events were manufactured, family feuds stirred up and events were engineered in such a manner that Murtaza was refused a party ticket by the PPP. Although he won a provincial seat in Sindh as an independent his umbilical relationship with the PPP had not severed. He was putting forward a bold revolutionary programme linked with some of the socialist origins and was trying to mobilise the masses and reorganise the PPP as a party of the working class. During his exile he had read Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and other revolutionary teachers. During a meeting with activists he once used Trotsky’s lengthy quotation from the Brest- Litovsk talks of 1920 to substantiate his arguments. His was prepared to accept arguments on various ideological issues even after intense debates. However, his rapid predilection to the left and rising popularity in the party’s mass base was alarming for the sections of the state. These elements tried to provoke him but he brushed aside these provocations without being subdued and maintained his stance with dignity and valour. But the crucial mistake was that he was coaxed to declare a separate party from the traditional setup led by his sister Benazir. There was not one activity that he could not do in the mainstream party. By his reorganising and cadre building work he could have carved out a revolutionary wing that could lead the struggle to achieve the party’s socialist aims he was struggling for. This act isolated him but he was still a threat to the political superstructure and the socio economic system of the Pakistani ruling classes. Hence sections of the state struck with a bloody vengeance.
Trotsky once wrote, “No struggle ever goes in vain.” Murtaza fought for the founding principles and the genuine mass traditions of the PPP. He admonished the lust for wealth, power and office. His courage and determination was implacable. His struggle and blood are a challenge for the youth that orientate towards the party and those who want to change the system. It is their historical task to redeem the revolutionary goal he lived and died for.
Lal Khan is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign.