Smokers’ Corner: Know your Bhuttos
In the last few months I’ve been receiving a number of emails from some young Pakistanis asking me to define ‘Bhuttoism’. Interestingly, most of them seem to be Imran Khan supporters.
An ‘ism’ is a noun-forming suffix denoting a specific doctrine or theory — Marxism, Leninism, fundamentalism, monarchism, communism, capitalism, Zionism, Islamism. These are only a handful among hundreds out there that have been used by politicians, ideologues and historians. Sometimes elements from a well known ‘ism’ are fused with confined political conditions to generate localised versions of that ‘ism’.
For example, when Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, added his own thoughts to Marxism to adjust classical Marxist theory to the on-ground realities of Russia, his manoeuvre became known as Marxist-Leninism. The same way, when Chinese revolutionary Mao Tse Tung did the same in Chinese settings, his move came to be known as Maoism.
Over the decades there has been further fragmentation in the variety of political thought, and here lie ‘isms’ associated with the policies of individuals who (unlike Marx, Lenin or Mao), were not necessarily political philosophers. Nasserism (associated with Egypt’s Gamal Nasser), Khomeini-ism (Iran’s revolutionary and spiritual leader, Imam Khomeini), Reaganism (former right-wing US president) and Thatcherism (famous conservative prime minister of the UK), are a few examples.
Such ‘isms’ also exist in Pakistan. One of the most used in this country is ‘Bhuttoism’. Interestingly, according to some leading former members of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) who were associated with the outfit in the late 1960s and 1970s, the term ‘Bhuttoism’ did not appear during the PPP’s first government headed by Z A Bhutto (1972-77). Instead, they suggest that this term was first coined by members of the student-wing of the PPP, the People’s Students Federation (PSF) in 1978 in Karachi.
It began to appear as political graffiti on the walls of the universities and colleges in Karachi mainly during the beginning of the tussle between the Ziaul Haq dictatorship and the PPP. General Zia had toppled the elected government of the PPP chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a military coup in July 1977 and then sent him to jail on charges of murder. In 1979 Bhutto was sentenced to death through a sham trial.
Initially the main opposition to the Zia dictatorship came from progressive student groups before mainstream political parties led by the PPP formed the first major anti-Zia alliance, the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1981. As the Zia regime began to patronise and allow the arming of right-wing organisations, especially the Jamat-i-Islami backed IJT, PSF responded by becoming the first anti-Zia student group to begin arming itself as well.
In 1979 IJT introduced the Russian automatic rifle, Kalashnikov, in the growlingly violent battlefield of student politics in Pakistan and consequently, in the late 1970s, PSF’s Karachi president, Salamullah Tipu, formed a tight knit armed militant wing within the PSF to challenge IJT’s rise. This was also the group whose members (including Tipu) escaped to Afghanistan that was then under the control of a Soviet-backed communist regime.
Tipu joined the Pakistani left-wing guerrilla, terrorist outfit, Al-Zulfikar Organisation (AZO) that was based in Kabul. As a frontline AZO operative, Tipu used some of his closest associates in PSF to hijack a PIA plane from Karachi (March, 1981) and force it to first land in Kabul and then fly to Damascus in Syria. Tipu’s demand of getting more than 50 political prisoners released from Zia’s jails was met and the hijackers got asylum in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.
As Tipu and his group of hijackers were descending from the plane in Damascus, TV cameras (of western media outlets) focussed on Tipu who began shouting, ‘We want Bhuttoism!’ This was the first time the term ‘Bhuttoism’ appeared in mainstream media, in spite of the fact that the PPP’s young co-chairperson and Z A Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, (who was a political prisoner in Pakistan at the time), denounced the hijacking and publicly castigated the AZO which was being headed by her brother, Murtaza Bhutto.
PPP leaders avoided using the term ‘Bhuttoism’ in the 1980s, mainly because, thanks to the AZO, it had become synonymous with terrorism. To men like Tipu and the radical youth of his generation, ‘Bhuttoism’ had meant a socialist revolution (in the context of Pakistan) and ‘awami raj’ (people’s rule) as promised by former prime minister, Z A Bhutto.
However, in the 1990s ‘Bhuttoism’ came to be understood as a call to maintain a democratic struggle against military intervention and upholding the supremacy of democracy. After Benazir Bhutto’s tragic assassination in December 2007, the term ‘Bhuttoism’ (now openly used by mainstream PPP leadership), has become associated more with the ideas of Benazir Bhutto rather than of her father.
Thus, today ‘Bhuttoism’ may mean a left-liberal political philosophy that advocates the elimination of Islamic extremism and poverty through sustained social democracy. Its core thought, rather ideological manifestation, has shifted from meaning a struggle to bring about a ‘democratic-socialist revolution’ (and avenge the ‘judicial murder’ of Z A Bhutto), to suggesting that ‘democracy is the best revenge’ — a slogan first used by Benazir Bhutto shortly before her assassination in 2007.