Raja Anwar: The terrorist prince: the life and death of Murtaza Bhutto. London: Verso. 1997. 211 pp. ISBN 1-85984-886-9. 16.00.
This book is only partly on what the title promises, i.e. the life and death of Murtaza Bhutto, it rather aims at what Tariq Ali describes in his foreword: "This book furnishes a riveting account of the activities of Al-Zulfikar, the armed group formed by Murtaza Bhutto to avenge the judicial killing of his father, Zulfikar Bhutto, the Prime Minister of Pakistan first deposed and then killed by General Zia al-Huq in 1977." It is not an academic book: the author started as a student activist and ardent follower of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whom he contacted on the day that Bhutto quit (involuntarily ?) Ayub Khan's cabinet in 1966. Bhutto came to power in December 1971 and promoted him to his advisor on student and labour affairs in 1974, the youth portfolio, however, was transferred to Benazir Bhutto, two and a half days before Bhutto was ousted in 1977 (p. 16). Anwar describes how the Bhuttos initially refused to see that Zia was out to keep them from returning to power, being himself under the threat of the constitutional provisions for overthrowing a government, i.e. the death penalty. After Bhutto was sentenced to death under dubious circumstances, party activists tried to mobilize public support, by courting arrest and, finally, by self-immolation in public places. By this time, the author had gone underground, escaped "on Begum [Nusrat] Bhutto's instructions, crossed into Afghanistan and took a flight out of Kabul to Germany" (p. 46) only to return to Kabul after Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's execution and joined Murtaza, who had pitched camp there thanks to the services ot the Afghan government. He accompanied Murtaza to New Delhi and other places and finally fell out of grace and was arrested by the Afghans in October 1980 and kept in prison, but, was not killed, after having been sentenced to death by Murtaza. Released from prison in March 1983 he left in January 1984 for East Germany; he still lives in Germany.
The years 1977 to 1980 he, thus, describes as an eyewitness and, at times, also as an actor. Only thereafter, Al-Murtaza became a terrorist organization, the hijacking of a PIA air plane and the release of dozens of Bhutto followers from prison in 1981 marking the height of "success". Anwar's account at times is difficult to believe (like that of the abortive Vienna operation) and will be difficult to verify, since a number of the persons involved in Al-Zulfikar have died, mostly violently, like Murtaza, Shahnawaz, and Najibullah. It will also be difficult to reconstruct history from files, since terrorist organizations usually do not keep records, and files of the intelligence agencies involved may either not be accessible for a long time to come and/or may be doctored.
In Pakistan, during the early 1980s, there were endless rumours of Al-Zulfikar, mostly believed to be government disinformation. I still remember when I was told of a failed attempt to shoot down Zia's air plane with a rocket, fired from a place near Murree Road in Rawalpindi, that very morning, and found it difficult to believe. One is thrilled by reading the same story in Anwar's book. But it will be difficult, to substantiate all claims.
Only after Benazir took over office, Murtaza dared to come back to Pakistan, obviously not very welcome to his sister, who in Murtaza's eyes, was occupying a position which rightfully should be his. That he was shot by the police soon after, is known, and the involvement of the Bhutto family, especially Benazir Bhutto's husband, has been discussed in Pakistan ever since.
The book, thus, is not exactly a biography of Murtaza Bhutto, even less an autobiography of the writer. Few people of the initial phase of Al-Murtaza survived, so we have to be grateful that he wrote his account; of the later years he is one who knew many of the actors, and obviously spoke to some of them and to some of their relations. Looking back, he feels that those who fought first for the release of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and later for the revenge of his death and for the restoration of democracy (there is only little on the MRD) had only been used by the Bhuttos, who showed little commitment to look after the families of the many activists who died.
The book makes good reading, thanks to the translation from Urdu by Khalid Hassan, who once was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's press secretary and also translated Anwar's first book (on Afghanistan). Only at times the narrative becomes repetitive, if not stereotype, especially if he refers to the lower middle class background of the activists. Anwar refers to secondary sources, including newspaper articles, although at other places he points out, that these cannot be trusted. An index would have been helpful.
The book is recommended to students of the politics of Pakistan, but
also to those unfamiliar with Pakistan's complicated history, to realize
how individuals rather than organizations are acting.
South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University, Department of International and Development Economics (Südasien-Institut der Universität Heidelberg, Abteilung Internationale Wirtschafts- und Entwicklungspolitik