April 4 marks the 29th anniversary of the execution of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the army junta led by General Ziaul Haq. By executing a popularly elected Prime Minister, Pakistan became the second Muslim country to execute an elected Prime Minister by a military junta. Turkey was the first Muslim country that executed its popularly elected Prime Minister Adnan Menderes on September 17, 1961.
There are very similarities in the fortunes of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Adnan Menderes. Bhutto was the founder of Pakistan Peoples Party. Menderes founded Democratic Party in 1946 that was the first legal opposition party in Turkey. Both were very popular among masses. In the first free and fair elections of the 1970, Bhutto’s PPP swept to massive victory with 81 out of 138 seats allotted to the Western wing of the country which became Pakistan after the severance of Eastern wing as Bangladesh in 1971.
In 1950, 1954 and 1957 Menderes won three successive elections. During the 10 years of his term of prime ministry, Turkish domestic and foreign politics underwent great changes. Turkish economy grew at an unprecedented rate of 9% per annum over his 10 year reign, a feat which had and so far has not yet been duplicated.
He was more tolerant towards traditional lifestyles and different forms of practice of Islam than Ataturk. He campaigned in the 1950 elections almost exclusively on the single-issue platform of legalizing the Azan (call for prayers) in Arabic language, which had been banned by Ataturk. While remaining pro-Western, he was more active than his predecessors in building relations with Muslim states.
Menderes was sentenced to death for violating the secular Constitution, paradoxically by the same officers who themselves had violated the Constitution by conspiring against a democratically elected government.
Bhutto was sentenced to death in a flawed trial and a controversial judgment by the Lahore High Court. His appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Anwarul Haq, a confident of President General Ziaul Haq who also upheld the death sentence. At one point of time during his trial, four out of seven Supreme Court judges were in favor of acquitting him. The proceedings were delayed – one of the favorable judges was retired and was replaced by another who opposed the under-trial prime minister. As a consequence of the changed circumstances, Bhutto was adjudged to be hanged.
Interestingly, Adnan Menderes was executed despite pleas for forgiveness by several world leaders. He was executed by hanging on the island of Imrali on September 17, 1971.
Like Adnan Menderes, appeals for Bhutto’s clemency from many heads of state were rejected by President General Ziaul Haq who described the appeals as "trade union activity" among politicians. Bhutto was hanged at Adiyala Jail, Rawalpindi, on 4 April 1979 at 2.04am PST.
Regretfully, Adnan Menderes was humiliated by the military junta just before his execution while Bhutto was not only humiliated by the junta before execution but his body was desecrated after execution, according to Colonel Rafi-ud-Din, Security Battalion Commander, who witnessed his execution in Adiyala Jail.
On his 29th death anniversary, on September 17, 1990, Adnan Menderes was posthumously pardoned and his grave was moved to a mausoleum in Istanbul. A few years ago, leaders of several opposition political parties (Democratic True Path, and Rebirth) assembled at his grave to pay homage. A university and an airport are named after him.
Pakistan has yet to apologize for the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His Pakistan Peoples Party, which swept to power last month after February 18 elections, has called for declaring April 4 a national holiday in memory of his execution.
Three decades after his execution, the question remains unanswered, why military junta hanged him in a hurry. Some analysts say the execution of four Iranian generals by the post-Shah regime of Ayatollah Khomeni frightened the Pakistani junta. If Bhutto, who remained popular at home and abroad, remains alive he may returned to power in the future and then take revenge from the generals.
However, in his book If I am Assassinated, written from his prison cell, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto revealed the then US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger’s threat. Kissinger had said to him in 1976: "we can destabilize your government and make a horrible example out of you." Kissinger had warned Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that if Pakistan continued with its nuclear program the Prime Minister would have to pay a heavy price, a statement many take to indicate an American hand in Bhutto's trial and execution.
Soon after coming to power, Bhutto sought to consolidate his power by reducing the influence of the military and by again purging and drastically modifying the bureaucracy. He retired 1400 military officers and promoted individuals who he believed would show absolute loyalty to him and the civilian government. As a result, many senior officers of the Army, Navy and the Air Force were retired and replaced by hand-picked junior offices. Lt. General Ziaul Haq (who later overthrew him) was promoted to become Commander-in-Chief after superseding several senior Generals. He accused a number of members of the defunct junta of "Bonapartism" and sent some of them abroad in ambassadorial posts. He endeavored to develop a PPP paramilitary force as well as a special police agency which became known as the Federal Security Force (FSF). These latter bodies were to police political matters for the PPP leadership and hence avoid the use of the regular armed forces. The military was none too pleased with these developments but in the immediate circumstances following the loss of East Pakistan it was unable to prevent them from going forward.
We find similar trend in Adnan Menderes who also tried to reduce the role of army in politics. During Ataturk’s rule both the military and the civil bureaucracy had a larger role in government than did the politicians. Both groups had formal representation in the National Assembly through reserved seats for a time. During the 10 years of Menderes’s rule politicians came to have primacy. Menderes did not regret the officers’ loss of relative prestige. In fact, he once threatened to bring in a conscripted army to replace the volunteer professionals. This threat infuriated the officers.
On the other hand, the higher officers had regarded themselves as guardians of Ataturk’s legacy that emphasized secularism, modernization and westernization of the Turkish society. In their perception, Menderes’s general stance and specific policies worked to undermine that legacy. They saw him giving the state and government a religious orientation which they abhorred.