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Culture and society, Politics

A leaf from history: The prime minister is hanged

In the evening of April 3, a team of four officers entered Rawalpindi Jail to end a chapter in Pakistan’s history.


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Updated: April 5, 2019

It was time. Jail Superintendent Yar Mohammad, Magistrate Bashir Ahmad Khan, jail doctor Sagheer Hussain Shah, and Security Battalion Commander and Security Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Rafiuddin had all arrived to carry out court orders.

As narrated by Col Rafiuddin in his book Bhutto Kay Aakhri 323 Din (The last 323 days of Bhutto), the jail superintendent visited Bhutto at 6.30pm in his cell, along with a witness. He found Bhutto lying on the floor. He first called Bhutto’s name to draw his attention, and then read out the execution order.

“According to the March 18, 1978 order of the Lahore High Court, you, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, are to be hanged for the murder of Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan,” read the order. “Your appeal in the Supreme Court was rejected on February 6, 1979 and the review petition was turned down on March 24, 1979. The president of Pakistan has decided not to interfere in this matter. So it has been decided to hang you.”

“I did not see any sign of panic on Mr Bhutto’s face while the jail superintendent was reading out the order. Instead, I could see that he was quite calm, relaxed, and had a smile on his face,” observed the colonel.

After listening to the jail superintendent, Bhutto retorted that he should have been informed about the execution 24 hours before but that had not been done. On the contrary, he argued, when his daughter and wife met him at 11.30am, they were not sure about the day or time either. Bhutto was told that the required order for execution was with the jailer.

Without any hesitation, the jail superintendent then asked Bhutto whether he would like to write his will, since he was to be hanged in a few hours. Bhutto nodded and asked for some writing materials. He also asked the jailer to show him the black warrants, to which the jailer replied that as per the law, that could not be done.

At 8.00pm, Bhutto drank a cup of coffee. He also called for Abdur Rahman, his jail attendant, and asked Abdur Rahman to forgive him. Around 10.00pm, he asked Rahman to bring some warm water so that he could shave.

Bhutto then turned to Col Rafi.

“Rafi, what is this drama that is being staged?”

The question went unanswered.

Bhutto then brushed his teeth.

For some time, he sat on his bed and began writing something. He asked the warden about how much time was left till his execution. He was told the time. He then burned all pieces of papers he had tried to write on.

At 11.25pm, Bhutto told his attendant that he would try to sleep for a while because he had not been able to sleep properly last night, but asked to be woken up at midnight.

But soon, the assistant jail superintendent and other staff arrived at his cell. They wanted to wake Bhutto up from the outside. When they did not get any response, they were told to enter the cell and try to wake him up.

The officials complied, only to find that Bhutto had opened his eyes. Again, Bhutto did not respond to the doctor’s call. On the insistence of Col Rafiuddin, Bhutto was medically checked for a third time; the doctor said that he was fine.

Around 1.35am, the officials’ team entered the cell and saw Bhutto resting on a mattress. The magistrate, Bashir Ahmad Khan, asked him whether he had written a will. Bhutto replied in a low voice that he had tried, but his thoughts were so disturbed that he could not do it and instead he burnt the paper. He was then asked whether he wanted to walk to the gallows or whether he would prefer to be carried, to which Bhutto remained silent.

After a few seconds, the jail superintendent called his men, who lifted Bhutto by his limbs and put him on a stretcher. As Bhutto lay motionless on the stretcher, he was handcuffed.

Once they reached the scaffold, two wardens helped him to the hanging board. His handcuffs were then readjusted; once his hands were taken behind his back, Bhutto was placed in chains again.

All present there stood in silence.

Tara Masih, the executioner, was already there and ready to perform his task. He put a mask over Bhutto’s face.

When the clock struck four minutes past two in the morning, the executioner whispered something into Bhutto’s ear and pressed the lever. Bhutto’s body fell about five feet; it remained in that position for half an hour. A doctor then checked Bhutto and pronounced him dead.

Tara Masih then brought Bhutto’s corpse down, and began massaging his hands and legs. It was said that the executioner wanted to straighten his limbs, which might have twisted owing to the impact of the hanging.

Half an hour later, the doctor handed over the death certificate to the jail superintendent. His body was handed over to jail officials, who bathed his body.

His body was placed in a coffin, and taken to Chaklala air base where a C-130 plane was ready to fly to Jacobabad. The plane took off, but after an hour’s flight, it returned since it had developed some fault. Another plane then took off with the body and the officials accompanying it.

At a distance, Benazir Bhutto spent the night in insufferable grief and distress, lonely and confined. As she sunk in grief, someone in the wilderness hummed a 1968 French song titled Comment Te Dire Adieu? (How to say goodbye to you?) — composed in the same year that Bhutto began his political struggle against Ayub Khan. But in the wee hours of April 4, 1979, it was time to bid farewell to the prime minister. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was no more.



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Dawn
About the Author: Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.

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