Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had simply disappeared at the time of his scheduled meeting with Malaysia’s Tun Abdul Razak.
It was 1974 and I had been assigned to the Malaysian Prime Minister for the duration of his stay at the Islamic Summit in Lahore.
Tun Abdul Razakhad turned up for his appointment with Mr. Bhutto only to find no one there – not even any officials. He was understandably feeling very insulted and belittled. One imagines he would have been seething inside, though to his credit, he did not say a word about it. All he said was that he would not attend the great reception being hosted for the delegates that evening, and in fact, would like to depart for Malaysia immediately when the afternoon session ended. He asked that I get his aircraft ready and waiting at the airport.
At the conference I desperately tried to get hold of Mr. Bhutto’s Military Secretary to convey this to him but he was nowhere to be found. I left urgent messages for him to contact me as soon as possible. And then I had to put on my thinking cap and buy some time for Mr. Bhutto to correct this diplomatic disaster. Accordingly, on the way back from the afternoon session in the car, I politely and softly pointed out to His Excellency that this conference was envisioned under the auspices of his predecessor and mentor, whose protege he had been – Tunku Abdul Rahman the General Secretary of the OIC. And as such he, Tun Abdul Razak, was one of the keynote speakers and his speech was scheduled for the next afternoon, just before the closing of the summit and a very important one. The delegates would be very puzzled and might even take it wrongly if he did not address them as scheduled. They might even think that he had boycotted the Conference.
He did not comment on this immediately.
But when we reached our residence and were supposed to start packing to leave for the airport, he came to me, affectionately put a hand on my shoulder and said “Son, you are right. I will stay till tomorrow afternoon and address the conference. But I will not attend your Prime Minister’s reception this evening. And tomorrow we will pack and send our luggage to the airport and I will leave for the airport immediately after my speech. Have my plane ready!”
I was pleased that we had bought some time. And I was debating what I ought to do next when Mr. Bhutto’s Military Secretary called, very late at night, probably after the Shalimar Gardens dinner reception was over and he was back at his base. Brigadier Imtiaz, the Military Secretary, was an upright, handsome and very smart man. He was a “namazi parhezgar”, and friendly and affectionate with juniors – with none of the haughtiness and arrogance that one often associates with high-ranking military men. I was very overawed but also quite fond of him. He was a no-nonsense and fast-thinking action man. Straight away he asked “Haan Javid, bolo kiya problem hai ?” (“Yes Javid, tell me: what is the problem?”) I told him what had happened and the disgruntlement of Tun Abdul Razzak. He replied “Haan, hum Gaddafi ke paas thay” (“Oh yes, we were with Gadaffi.”)
Gaddafi had in tow Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on one side and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the other. He walked up to the front of the balcony holding their hands high above their heads. Then he brought their hands clasped together above his own head, proclaiming in a loud voice “Akhi, Akhi !” (“brothers” in Arabic)
Then he told me not to do or say anything further to the Malaysian PM and wait. He would get in touch with me after speaking to Mr. Bhutto himself.
Having to stay with Tun Abdul Razak that evening had meant that I had missed out on the most glittering, glamourous and flattering event of the whole summit: the public reception at Lahore’s Shalimar Gardens.
The gardens had been lit up and decorated to the highest degree possible. It is quite likely that none of the Mughal Emperors could have done them up better and more beautifully. The tables were arranged in the centre where the water fountains were located. They were placed all around the fountains, which were lit up and in full flow. They extended from where in times gone by the Emperor used to appear and sit, on the balcony overlooking the fountains and waterway all the way back to the end of the garden. The dignitaries were seated in accordance with their status and importance: the senior ones first, then those lower down in protocol and then their delegations and entourages. And finally further down, the Pakistani ministers and officials, important citizens of Lahore and Foreign Office staff.
It was springtime in Lahore and everything was done to perfection.
Unfortunately, I had to watch this glittering event only on TV, instead of being there. Watching it, while Tun Abdul Razak rested in his room after an early dinner, I was taken aback to see Col. Muammar Gaddafi, resplendent in his military uniform, appear on the Emperor’s gallery. He was waving to the crowd and a loud cheer rang out, especially from the Pakistani section of the gathering.
Gaddafi had in tow Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on one side and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the other. He walked up to the front of the balcony holding their hands high above their heads. Then he brought their hands clasped together above his own head, proclaiming in a loud voice “Akhi, Akhi !” (“brothers” in Arabic).
And all the Muslim digniataries got up and clapped while the Pakistani section cheered themselves hoarse. The media, newspapers, TV channels and magazines carried large pictures of these three on the balcony prominently displayed on their front pages and news programmes. Mujib had been accepted as a brother. Consequently Bangladesh had also been recognized as a brother nation. The official recognition of Bangladesh after that dramatic moment with Gadaffi and the cheering that accompanied it was, then, a mere formality.
But the symbolism there had been crucial to the process of recognizng Bangladesh.
Picturing this and then connecting it to what Brig. Imtiaz said to me later that very night on the phone (that Bhutto was with Gaddafi, when he actually should have been at the Governor’s house to receive his Malaysian guest), some understanding of what had probably transpired started to form in my mind. I realized that this whole sequence on the Emperor’s balcony at the Shalimar Gardens must have been scriptwritten,orchestrated and directed by Bhutto with Gaddafi’s connivance to help Pakistan’s leadership recognize Bangladesh.
This was to be confirmed by the man himself, in my presence, later.
On the very next day, I was under a lot of tension and stress – having to deal with a disgruntled but dignified and important Head of Government, Tun Abdul Razak. There had been no word from Brig. Imtiaz all morning and the Malaysian PM was to leave that evening as he had told me, bringing forward their scheduled departure.
That afternoon while we were all having lunch with Tun Abdul Razak and his Ministers, one of the serving staff came running to me somewhat in a flurry, saying there was an important telephone call for me. Something about his agitated state prompted me not to berate him for disturbing His Excellency’s lunch. Instead, I very politely excused myself from the table and followed him. As we exited the dining room he excitedly whispered “Vazeer-e-Azam ka phone hai!” (“The call is from the Prime Minister!”)
I picked up the phone, expecting Brig. Imtiaz with some news, but it really was the “Vazeer-e-Azam” himself!
“Bohot naraz hai buddha ?” (“Is the old man very angry?”) Bhutto asked forthwith. I told him that was an understatement. I quickly explained what Tun Abdul Razak had said: i.e. his refusal to attend the reception in spite of my entreaties. I said that he had only stayed back for his speech otherwise he would have left on the previous evening. And I mentioned the Malaysian leader’s plans to leave immediately after his speech, that very day.
Bhutto asked me to go right away and tell the Malaysian Prime Minister that he wanted to come see him and collect the gifts that he had so kindly brought with him. “I will hold,” he assured me on the phone.
I came back to the dining room and informed Tun Abdul Razak that Mr. Bhutto wanted to call on him. Razak’s answer was a brusque one, saying “You know I take an afternoon nap after lunch and I have to make a speech today, so I need to have my sleep and rest.” The way he said it, I realized there was no question of requesting him further. So I came back to the phone and relayed this to Mr. Bhutto.
“Alright, tell him I will come anyway and wait there until he has finished his rest and then see him for as much time as he can spare, even if it is only five minutes.” I went to Tun Razak and conveyed this to him.
But surely he must be very busy. He has such a lot on his plate and is conducting the whole conference. How will he spare the time ?” the Malaysian PM asked.
I conveyed this to Mr. Bhutto. He asked me to tell Tun Abdul Razak that this meeting took top priority, over any other business or meetings. When I conveyed this to Tun Razak, he at last relented. He said that he could understand that Mr. Bhutto had been keeping extremely busy. Moreover, he agreed to call on Bhutto at the Governor’s House again on the way to the Assembly Hall – much as we had done the previous day.
Here I would like to interrupt this interesting story briefly to explain what some readers might find strange: the arrogant Mr. Bhutto’s informal and rather gracious attitude towards myself – a not-so-senior officer (Director/First Secretary) in the Foreign Office. This may have also been apparent in my previous articles, as in the one I wrote about the President of Togo’s unannounced forced stay in Karachi which Mr. Bhutto converted into a personal and diplomatic coup.
The background behind this was that I knew Mr. Bhutto socially before quitting Pakistan. He was a very close drinking buddy of my dear friend Rafi Munir from the Hyesons family of industrialists – at which time he was launching his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Then I also came across him at some parties after he became Chairman of the PPP, especially at the house of Ahmed Pirbhoy, a millionaire playboy who was friends with the whole lot of the new Party – namely Mustafa Jatoi, Hafiz Pirzada, Mumtaz Bhutto and others who were present at all his parties.
Mr. Bhutto knew me back then only as the nephew of Shaheed-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan, for whom he had a lot of respect. When I moved to Sweden, I used to write columns for Dawn and the Sun, mostly on international affairs and the Third World. Unknown to me, Mr. Bhutto used to read and appreciate my articles. When I took the lateral exam for the Foreign Office on the advice of my respected friend Riaz Khokhar, from Sweden, I was not selected as I had mentioned in my application that I would accept only a senior position – First Secretary or above, which most of my friends and contemporaries from Cambridge days were already holding. Thus, I was not selected.
But at a chance meeting in Vienna with Mr. Bhutto, who was then Prime Minister and on a state visit, this fact emerged when he inquired about my results in the exam. At first, he was displeased at what he termed my “audacity”. But he relented later and on his intervention I was appointed as First Secretary. Later at the Staff Administrative College in Lahore when under training, I was summoned by then Foreign Secretary Agha Shahi, who asked me if I was the boy from Sweden who had studied English from Cambridge.
He then charged me with drafting a speech for Mr. Bhutto for the opening session of the Islamic Summit, commenting gruffly that the Prime Minister was not pleased with the one already drafted for him by the Foreign Office and thought perhaps I might do better. What he was looking for, I was informed, was “a turn of phrase”. In other words, putting the facts in such a manner that they have maximum effect – which, in a speech, draws applause.
This I did with my late friend and colleague Shahid Rahman’s assistance. I was pleased at the opening session to hear Mr. Bhutto read his speech. And while this speech was not entirely mine, it did have some snippets written by me and which did draw applause.
So it was that Mr. Bhutto knew me well and seemed to have a soft corner for me.
In any case, returning to our story, the Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak relented and forgave Mr. Bhutto for forgetting his appointment of the previous day. This time, I was taking no chances. Before leaving at 3 pm, I rang up the Governor’s House to reconfirm that Mr. Bhutto was there and then set off from the house.
As we drove into the portico like the previous day, to my horror, once again like on the previous day, there were no uniformed guards around. And there was no sentry and no ADC to open the door and greet the guest. I panicked as the car came to a stop.
Then, sitting in the front seat, from the corner of my eye, I saw a drainpiped trouser with pointed shoes running down the stairs and as the person came down and opened the door I saw it was Mr. Bhutto himself!
He opened the door and assisted the honoured guest out of the car. I got off and rushed to the other side to assist but Mr. Bhutto, holding the aged Tun Razak’s hand, was already assisting him up the stairs. He was apologizing and explaining that all his staff, his ADC and his Military Secretary who should normally have been there to receive him had not slept for two nights in a row. And so, he had given them a few hours off to get some much-needed rest. As for himself, Bhutto said, he had not slept at all for three nights and days and still had more meetings and more guests who expected him to call on them.
When seated in the lounge, Mr. Bhutto confessed that on the previous day he had been with Gaddafi instead of being there to keep his appointment with Tun Razak. He said Gaddafi had called urgently that he had Sheikh Mujib with him (as requested by Bhutto) and the three of them needed to talk and plan for how to get Bangladesh recognized by the Pakistani public.
It was then that they had conceived the whole drama, directed and scripted by one Mr. Bhutto, of appearing on the balcony at the Shalimar Gardens dinner reception, using the services of the very popular Gaddafi to unite them. And it had worked beautifully. But, he apologized that they had all got so involved in the orchestration of this whole scheme that he did not keep track of the time and missed the appointment. Tun Razak said he understood fully and it was really badly needed that Bangladesh be recognized and brought into the Muslim commonwealth. So that matter was resolved amicably.
I was still standing by the door unsure of my place when Bhutto saw me standing there and said “I hope you are not taking notes. This is absolutely confidential.” I replied that as it was an informal and personal meeting I was not taking notes and that I was just waiting to escort His Excellency to the Conference venue. Mr. Bhutto told me that I should also go and get some rest and he wanted to speak to Tun Razak alone, and that he would be the Malaysian PM’s Protocol Officer for the day and escort him in his own car to the Assembly Hall! When Tun Abdul Razak got out of Mr. Bhutto’s car, personally escorted by him, the only one to be given that honour, the ever-present media, witnessing this, were going to town with rumours and stories of this new “alliance”.
As instructed by the Tun earlier, all their luggage had been packed and sent to the airport as he wanted to leave immediately after addressing the conference. Following his earlier meeting with Mr. Bhutto, in his speech he welcomed the presence of Sheikh Mujib in the conference and “admired the sagacity shown by Prime Minister Bhutto in this regard.” I was quite sad that I would miss Mr. Bhutto’s closing speech and summing up which promised to be the highlight of the summit. But then someone from the Malaysian delegation came to tell me that Tun Abdul Razak wanted to stay to hear Bhutto’s summing up and would leave for the airport immediately afterwards. And what a thundering and masterpiece of a summing up that was! It needs to be spoken about in great detail and I hope to do so.
But first, while taking the Malaysian Prime Minister to the airport, for the first time he dropped his reserve and waxed eloquently in praise of Mr. Bhutto and what a great man he was and what a great leader, etc. He told me “You are a very lucky young man to be working for such a brilliant man and should feel honoured to be under his guidance and leadership”. He told me he had invited Mr. Bhutto to visit Malaysia and he had honoured him by accepting. What a turn around! From refusing to meet him, he was now a fan of Mr. Bhutto’s.
And it all transpired in that half hour they were alone together. Bhutto must have been at his charming best.