5th July 1977 was one of the darkest days of Pakistan’s history. Zia’s coup against Bhutto sealed Pakistan’s fate. The coup came after a right-wing violent movement – partly funded by the Americans – had subsided and its more moderate leaders had signed an agreement with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. According to Prof. Ghafoor Ahmed, the secretary general of the opposition alliance, Zia-ul-Haq tried to sabotage the negotiations on July 1 by directly telling Mufti Mahmud and Prof. Ghafoor that he was opposed to the withdrawal of troops from Balochistan and the release of Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Bizenjo, and other leaders of the National Awami Party (NAP).
According to a former US Ambassador Shirin Taher-Kheli (who was teaching political science in the US in 1977), US Ambassador Henry Byrode had bluntly warned Bhutto that if he didn’t not back down (from the nuclear programme) he won’t stay in the office.
According to Pran Chopra, who was the editor of the Indian newspaper the Statesman, it was after this exchange that the United States was alleged to have supported opposition candidates in the March 1977 elections and to have encouraged the street agitation that ensued.
According to Mr. Bhutto’s own account, Mian Tufail Mohammed, the Jamaat-e-Islami chief, and Zia-ul-Haq played the central role and were the principal American contacts. Air Marshal Asghar Khan (retired) and Begum Nasim Wali Khan strongly opposed the PNA negotiations with Mr. Bhutto and openly supported calls for a military coup against the first ever truly elected government of Pakistan’s history.
It is necessary to recall that Mr. Bhutto did not stand for a liberal capitalist democracy like many of today’s Pakistani liberals. Like many Asian leaders, he believed that the need for democracy had to be balanced against the demands of social and economic justice in very poor and developing countries. He personally was in favour a presidential form of government that was not a hostage to the demands and vested interests of members of parliament.
While he is criticised for not fulfilling many of his promises, the fact is he did more than any other leader to shift the balance of economic power from a privileged few to the poor: from capitalists to the labourers, from waderas to haris, from jagirdars to the peasants, from khans to the muzarais, and from sardars to the commoners. In the end, he antagonised all the most powerful sections of the society. In January 1977, he introduced the second set of land reforms and, for the first and only time in history, imposed federal income tax on agricultural income. That alienated the feudals even among his party. The feudals were happy to see him go to the gallows even as they paid lip service to his leadership.
It is a tribute to Bhutto and a testament of his pro-people policies that the PPP went on to win many elections after his death and remains the only federal party despite the tragic fact that it is now led by the son of one of his many adversaries who celebrated his death. Mr. Bhutto never could have imagined that his party would be hijacked by a motley band of carpetbeggars, ISI-controlled politicians, former Jamaat-e-Islami activists, and mercenaries.