By Aijaz Ahmed
|Bhutto at Lahore High Court, late 70s|
Supreme Court of Pakistan has fixed initial hearing on 13th April in the presidential reference to reopen Zulfikar Ali Bhutto case and its decision is yet to come but the president’s move has already generated a heated debate is in the country. While some people have expressed their support for the reference calling it a chance for the apex court to correct a historic wrong, there are some people, groups and parties on the other side of the fence, mainly from Punjab, who have opposed the move and termed it as an attempt to further divide an already divided country.
Be it PML-N that took a surprising anti-establishment stance in the recent years after Musharraf ousted its leader from power and the country and a pro Iftikhar Chaudhry led judiciary stance since March 2007 or Tehrik e Insaaf, Jamaat e Islami or other religious parties, all are on same page in this case.
‘The reopening of Bhutto case will open a Pandora box if the case is opened by judiciary or any one else’, said Siddiq ul Farooq, former spokesman and central leader of PML-N, adding that the discussion about wrong doings of ZAB will also be opened for debate. The stance taken by PML-N leader was not in isolation, rather the party decided to oppose this move by the PPP.
However, in view of PML-N’s relationship with military establishment of Zia ul Haq era when dictator himself had prayed for his life to be donated to Mian Nawaz Sharif and the present relations of CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif and Leader of the opposition Ch. Nisar Ali Khan with military trop brass, the stance taken by party is understandable but what surprises people of Pakistan was the response of Mr. Jamal Laghari, elder son of Late Farooq Laghari, who was elected as president of Pakistan by Pakistan Peoples Party. He also served on different party offices with Ms Bhutto. Jamal Laghari while commenting on the reference maintained that the Pakistan’s debacle in 1971 and creation of Bangladesh should also be opened for hearing. He also indicated that ZAB played a role in breaking of Pakistan, but he remained tight lipped on the role Bhutto played for release of prisoners of war of Pakistan Army and returning of 5000 square kilometer of land that India captured along with eastern borders of present Pakistan during the war.
Irfan Siddiqui, a close confident of Mian Nawaz Sharif and a pro PML-N analyst claims to be independent while in his furious columns and comments on the case, he clearly sided with the party he is associated with. In a comment, he raised questions of legality on how the court will be able to reopen the case as according to him the decision in Bhutto case and his hanging is a past and closed transaction. Ansar Abbasi, a pro PML-N journalist from Jang Group, and many other senior and so-called independent journalists in the chorus, also supported him.
What was common among all these leaders and journalists from Punjab was their anti Bhutto past and political approach very close to PML-N and the military establishment. From Siddiq ul Farooq to Ansar Abbasi and Irfan Siddiqui every one also tried to widen the present gulf between president Zardari and the Judiciary. Their argument reflects their opinion that the reference was actually aimed at pressurizing the judiciary. This might be true and eventually is happening. To pacify the sentiments of Sindh, they all also speak about greatness of ZAB and observed that the nation did not accept the decision and termed his hanging a judicial murder. But Jehangir Baddar, Secretary General Pakistan Peoples Party thinks other way. He termed the reference an effort to correct history and to remove stains on his personality, beside the reference will help judiciary in bringing the confidence of the people back in justice system.
PPP Senator Faisal Raza Abidi maintained a position, which tends to bring the judiciary under pressure. Faisal in his response said that it is now turn of judiciary to give justice to Pakistan Peoples Party and the people from smaller provinces; he also supported the argument of opening all cases including that of creation of Bangladesh. It will really expose real culprits and role of the then establishment and drawing room politicians who are now posing as self-proclaimed saviors of Pakistan.
Lines are being drawn in the favor and opposition of the reference with politicians, journalists, media people, so-called independent analysts and intellectuals from Punjab and some other Bhutto haters on one side while the rest of the people on the other side. The question arises will this reference also be seen as a case 'Punjab vs the rest of the country'?
Meanwhile, the law ministry moving further on the reference has submitted a formal application with Islamabad Administration for obtaining attested copy of the first statement of Masud Mehmood, then FSF Chief and government approver in the case. The sources reveal that Mr. Masud Mehmood in his first statement recorded by Islamabad Magistrate did not mention ZAB’s name nor did he point a finger towards Bhutto; however during the testimony in front of anti ZAB CJ of Lahore High Court Maulvi Mushtaq, he reportedly changed his first statement under pressure sources maintained. Another application has also been furnished to Lahore High Court for examination of the record of the case and for attested copies.