When Bhutto flew too close to the Sun

Javid Ali Khan was witness to the 1974 Islamic Summit in Lahore. Could Pakistan’s charismatic ZAB have permanently alienated the West here?

When Bhutto flew too close to the Sun
Writing in the Muslim magazine, Nation and the World, published from Delhi in 2011, my old and dear friend and ex-colleague from Karachi University teaching days, Raihana Hasan, aptly surmises in one small paragraph what this article proposes to expound, while giving further and documented details. She writes, and I quote from her article in its opening paragaraph:

“It was February 1974. Twenty six months previously Pakistan had lost half of itself and its people were still reeling from shock and sorrow. To rally them (and perhaps make amends for his role in the calamity) Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hosting the second Islamic Summit Conference in Lahore, the first step in actualising his vision of a united, powerful Pan-Islamic entity, a vision many suspect alarmed the West and hastened his journey to the gallows.”

Chairman Mao Zedong is greeted by Z.A. Bhutto

Even Bhutto’s detractors would grudgingly accept that he was, indeed, a visionary. His unbridled ambition coupled with his brilliant mind and his belief that he was destined for “greatness” – as becomes evident from his writings – led him to seek or even create opportunities whereby he could lay a claim to his place in the history books. His ambition to become the leader of Pakistan – even half of it! – had been realized. It had come at the cost of the dismemberment of the country, a process in which he also was guilty of contributing: by his intransigence and by siding with the military regime.

But for Bhutto, his own constituency, Pakistan, was too small. He felt he was born for greater honours. And for that he had the vision of uniting the Islamic countries and the remaining Third World countries into a single and powerful bloc which would stand up to the dictates of the developed nations. And he saw himself as the leader of this bloc.

ZAB and Hafez al-Assad

So he pursued a prominent role in global affairs, managing to organize and host the Islamic Summit Conference in Lahore, 1974. The Summit served multiple purposes. As Mrs. Hasan has written (quoted above), it rallied a demoralized nation and gave them something to be proud of – even something to boast about. But personally for Bhutto it provided many diplomatic coups. He was able to get his people to recognize and accept Bangladesh, thus fulfilling his verbal commitment to Indira Gandhi, in exchange for which he had gotten tens of thousands of Pakistani POWs released and repatriated to Pakistan; the chance to win over the oil rich Col. Muammar Gaddafi as a close friend, supporter and collaborator; to come close to King Faisal; to win over Mujibur Rehman and try to wean him away from the grasp of India; and to win over the iconic leaders and strong men of the Islamic countries who had recently taken the world stage through their gigantic personalities and ambitious development policies. These included Hafez al-Assad of Syria, Houari Boumedienne of Algeria, Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Tun Abdul Razzak of Malaysia and Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt.

But apart from the above, his main purpose was to actualize his vision of creating a new single entity, comprising the oil rich Islamic countries and the African and other Third World countries. He wanted to unite and rally them to stand up against the developed countries and their exploitation of their resources and poverty. He wanted to break the chains of neo-colonial domination and financial oppression by the developed world. For this, there had to be complete unity amongst these poor countries and reliance on each other: co-operation in all spheres, especially finances and development, with full control over their own resources. Once this was on the way to being achieved, the initiator, binding force and pivot of it all could lay claim to its guidance and leadership.

Bhutto receives Third World leaders including the charismatic Yasser Arafat - Image Credits - Doc Kazi on Flickr

Bhutto saw himself as that person.

But first, that vision had to be realized. In his opening speech of the conference, Bhutto spelt out his worldview. He highlighted the power of oil and its exploitation by the developed countries:

“Concrete measures have to be evolved, institutions established and mechanisms devised which could channel the resources [i.e. oil], now controlled by the developed western powers, to be commanded by the oil producing countries in such a way as to release them for their [own] independence and utilised by them for their basic needs and services and to also strengthen the Third World economically.”

He called for unity and collaboration to achieve this: “Muslim countries could develop if they extend co-operation to each other.”

He further exhorted the oil rich nations:

“The Third World was now in a position, for the first time, to use its own resources for financing its own development through co-operative effort and it could now forge its own financial institutions.”

And he cautioned against discord between them. “These ‘exciting opportunities’ could be grasped or missed for there are also perils and pitfalls.”

Specifically, Bhutto warned that the gravest of these perils was that of discord between the oil-producing countries, which could do great damage to the political causes that they were espousing. This went dramatically against the policy of the developed countries to divide and rule.
For Bhutto, his own constituency, Pakistan, was too small

In the draft that I had prepared for Bhutto’s speech at the 1974 Summit, I had quoted Allama Iqbal’s couplet on Islam:

“Taqdeershikan quwwat baqi hai abhi iss menh

Nadan jisay kehtey hain taqdeer ka zindani”

(There is still strength in it to change destiny:

That which the ignorant call a prisoner of destiny)

And I was gratified to hear Bhutto read it and translate it. Then I heard him say that those leaders who were gathered on that occasion had to change their destiny and not be prisoners to it. He further implored them: “Let not posterity say that we were presented with [an] historic, possibly unrepeatable, opportunity to release ourselves from the injustices on us for many centuries, and we proved ourselves unequal to it”.

This must have triggered off alarm bells in the developed countries as it was a call to unite against them and throw off the yoke of mere self-interest and self-enrichment. But while highlighting the main agenda of the conference, which was the Palestine issue and the liberation of Jerusalem, he attacked these powers directly in these words:

“The States that had sponsored the partition of Palestine in 1947 bore a heavy responsibility for redressing the injustices perpetrated on the people of Palestine.” And the states gathered at the conference were “commited to strive for restoration of the legitimate rights of the people of Palestine and liberation of Jerusalem. This is our obligation not only to the people of Palestine and not only to the cause of Muslim brotherhood but also to the larger cause of world peace.”

He ended with this final note and a demand for “the withdrawal of Israeli Forces from all occupied Arab territories, restoration of Jerusalem to the Arabs and the restitution of the Palestinians people’s rights”.

This would have caused further concern in Washington D.C., given the context of that era.

How true his words ring in today’s world and its situation! Had his words been heeded, the world would have been a very different place today indeed.

Taking the lead from Bhutto’s opening session speech, all the leaders that followed echoed and reiterated these sentiments unanimously.

Syria’s Hafez al-Assad said:

“We meet today as makers of events whereas we had met in the past in reaction to events.” He hoped the Lahore summit would enhance existing links and be a source of strength, marking a new stage of redoubled efforts and more effective action.

Yasser Arafat visits the tomb of Z.A. Bhutto alongside Benazir Bhutto

Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi went one step further in Lahore, advocating another war with Israel. He said:

“Jerusalem was occupied by force and could only be liberated by taking up arms!” He proposed that the Muslim world be mobilized in a united front for the liberation of Jerusalem – and he wanted “Islamic countries” to send volunteers and arms for this purpose.”

This Bhutto offered to do in his closing speech (to be quoted here later), proclaiming his willingness to go to war if required!

Algeria’s Houari Boumedienne also echoed Bhutto, advocating the elaboration of a practical formula for cooperation. He also followed up on Iqbal’s couplet quoted by Bhutto. And he further added that “the Third World and Islamic world must unite and fight the oppression and dependence on [Western] centres of influence and exploitation.”

Boumedienne was also direct in his attack on the USA and Israel: “We live on lakes of black gold but the profit goes to USA to increase its power, tyranny and cruelty and stregthen the forces of aggression which sought to subject and suppress our people.” As a forewarning of what happened to Iraq in the early 21st century, he did not mince words: “The battle for oil is an all out battle. The USA and the Industrial powers want world control over our valuable resource and raw material.”

Bhutto and Gaddaffi were especially close as leaders and individuals

The Lahore Summit was one of those rare forums where Iranians and Saudis sat together and voiced the same views and concerns. Abbas Ali Khalatbari, leader of the Iranian delegation, said that Iran had always supported Arabs in their fight against Israel. And that Iran cherished unity through oil. (more danger for the Western powers!) He praised Bhutto and Pakistan for organising the Conference.

So in the eyes of USA and its Western allies, Bhutto was standing out as the main villian and instigator of this Third World rebellion in the making.