Book Reviews - Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: The Psychodynamics of his Rise and Fall by Shamim Ahmad, published by Paramount Books (Pvt.) Ltd., Karachi, 2019, pages: 284, price: Pak rupees 695/-.
Of all the leaders who came to rule Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has been only second to the Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in terms of receiving attention from authors of different types-biographers, journalists, researchers, and professional historians. While many prime ministers of the country have remained in oblivion even though some of them deserved to be studied seriously given their contribution to the country's political development, Bhutto was regularly made the subject of studies both within the country and abroad. A number of Ph.D theses have been done on him and his rule. The number of books written by various authors expressing different shades of opinion are simply uncountable. Being the founder of the nation, Jinnah was treated by and large, over an extended period of the country's history, and by a majority of writers, as a national hero whose role in history was highlighted in the manner in which the nationalist historians write about the national heroes.
It was much later that Pakistani historians took to writing more professionally about the Father of the Nation. Quite interestingly, the Jinnah that emerged from these objective histories proved to be a more original and powerful historical figure as compared with his previous representation as a straightjacketed national hero. As compared to him, Bhutto became the subject of objective historical works right from the beginning. Of course, there have been books of hagiography written in his honor, but these are mainly from the pen of people belonging to his own political party or the ones who were overly inspired by his charisma. Then there are numerous books written by his diehard opponents, who leave no stone unturned in demolishing his image. Despite the diverse writings about him, ranging from one extreme to another, it is good, from the point of view of historical political writings on Pakistan, that with the passage of time good and reasonably objective works are coming to the fore on Bhutto.
In the analysis of Bhutto, a good number of authors have referred to the contradictions in his personality and politics. It is also interesting that with respect to him the Pakistani society also seems to be divided along two tendencies of what Feroz Ahmed described as Bhutto phobia and Bhutto mania. Feroz Ahmed and many others relate the contradictions in Bhutto with the ones of the society he belonged to, but many others do so in isolation from the society. Most of the works on Bhutto deal with his psychological makeup only as one part of his overall political personality, and as one of the many factors which led him to do what he did in his long political career. Salman Taseer, for example, discusses Bhutto's political career in detail and in doing so also touches upon his psychological traits in brief. Stanley Wolpert also devotes space to Bhutto's psychological makeup.
But the book under review is solely devoted to the psycho analysis of Pakistan's first elected prime minister who made important imprints on the country's history and, who, at the end of the day, met an unfortunate fate when he was hanged by a military ruler through a court's decision, which was later condemned by the world as a judicial murder. How Bhutto emerged on the political scene of the country? What ambitions he had cultivated in himself? How he made inroads in the centers of power within the country? How he became a popular leader? What program he offered to the people? What expectations people had from him? And how he fared once he came into power? All these aspects have been scrutinized by the author, Shamim Ahmad, from the perspective of Bhutto's psychological makeup. The author's findings are not only interesting but are also at times quite revealing. The author's sources are multifarious.
Since he has looked into the theoretical literature as well in order to build a thematic background for his research, he has made use of writings of some of the most prominent psychologists and authors like Sigmund Freud (1857-1939), Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), and numerous others. He also refers to psychological formulations like 'Phaeton Complex', 'Bipolar Disorder', 'Narcissism', 'Sycophancy', etc. Some of Bhutto's psychological traits have been explained along these psychological syndromes, at times successfully but at others not quite appropriately. The author approaches Bhutto's personality with reference to at least four indicators: Bhutto's heroes, his choice of books, his parents, and his being a person who was quite in haste. Bhutto's heroes have remained a subject of study for other writers as well. Oriana Fallaci, famous Italian journalist and novelist, precisely asked him about his heroes. She reminded him that he had been a reader of books about Mussolini, Hitler, and Napoleon.
To this Bhutto added the names of De Gaulle, Churchill, and Stalin. But then Bhutto also mentioned that: 'to read about a person doesn't mean to make him your hero. I have had some heroes. Yes, but when I was a student. Heroes, you know are like chewing gum-they get chewed, spit out, changed, as you like, especially, when you are young'. He further said: 'if you care to know whom I have chewed the longest, here they are: Genghis Khan, Alexander, Hannibal, and Napoleon. Napoleon most of all' (p.62). After narrating all this, the author discusses the personality and career of Napoleon, in order to draw parallels between his and Bhutto's political characters. He specifically highlights Napoleon's urge to promote himself as a revolutionary, his accomplishments in the realms other than military conquests, his belief in supreme power and his being indefatigable. The author thinks that Bhutto shared all these traits.
But one question that he raises himself and doesn't answer convincingly is: as to why, in contrast to Napoleon, Bhutto upheld the rights of the downtrodden and also claimed himself to be a democrat. The answer that he provides is simply this: 'The only conclusion that we can draw is that these claims, ostensibly, were a ploy to win over the masses' (p.69). This conclusion seems to be over simplistic and for this to be concluded perhaps the author did not need to go into the background of Napoleon and draw parallels between him and Bhutto. He could have simply said that Bhutto made use of popular slogans to win over the masses. In fact, it seems that Bhutto's inspiration from Napoleon had been true but the two differed characteristically in that, while Napoleon drew his support from the military, Bhutto did not hail from that institution.
Given the dichotomy of a martial state and a society of millions of poor, for a politician who was ambitious to play a memorable role in history and wanted to make his name for all times to come, the choice was quite clear. Populism came to Bhutto as the natural choice which he made use of quite efficiently, though by no means accruing all the desired results. Among his sources of inspiration there has been mentioned a number of books which Bhutto read very carefully. On one occasion his father, Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, a powerful feudal of Sindh, presented him the five-volume set of William Sloane's biography of Napoleon. He had been fond of biographies of rulers and generals, and also spent time reading ideological writings as well. Bhutto was himself a prolific writer who wrote a number of books. Some of these were written at times when he was extremely busy. His writings also demonstrate that he drew a lot from the books he had read.
Unfortunately, the author doesn't do much justice to this aspect, and does not explain what the longing of books and spending of days and nights in reading them suggest about Bhutto. To mention a couple of powerful leaders of history and their biographies as his source of inspiration seems to be a bit simplistic in approach and does not do justice to the person in question, who read hundreds of books other than the ones chosen by the author to reach a conclusion about him. In order to ascertain the psychological makeup of Bhutto, the author, like many others, especially talks about Bhutto's parents, his powerful feudal father and his mother who came from a very ordinary background. He explains that Bhutto's mother, a convert from Hinduism to Islam, had been the second wife of Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto. She was never accepted by the feudal family of her husband and lived with the stigma of her humble birth. Her giving birth to a male child, Zulfikar, did enhance her prestige but by only a few notches.
The author observes that 'the Bhuttos never forgot nor let her forget her plebeian origin...'. The young Zulfikar, 'precocious and sensitive as he was, felt the pangs of his clan's hostility towards his mother, and her suffering left an indelible and lasting mark on his character. He assimilated the love for the poor and his egalitarian attitude from his mother. Yet he remained a feudal under the influence of the towering personality of his father'. This explanation of Bhutto's personality has been endorsed by many other writers and quite convincingly explains the dichotomy of two very opposite and contradictory strands of his politics: his sympathy for the poor and his arrogance vis-a-vis his opponents.
But when the author of the book under review, also cites this contradictions of Bhutto's parental background, one is intrigued by the question that why at another place, while building an analogy between Bhutto and Napoleon, and addressing the issue as to how against the latter's dictatorship, Bhutto chose the democratic path, giving voice to the poor, he had concluded that Bhutto's democratic claims 'were a ploy to win over the masses' (p.69). One may say that if his sympathy for the poor was the result of his being the son of the poor mother, it could not be a ploy, and if it was a ploy then the conclusion about his drawing his aspirations for the poor from his maternal background is not justified. The author also approaches Bhutto's personality from the point of view of his socio-political and economic policies.
He discusses in detail the economy of the country during Bhutto's era, his land reforms, and nationalization of industrial and financial sectors, the education reforms, the initiatives in the health sector, the labor reforms, and the establishment of numerous cultural institutions. The author holds that Bhutto did all this in a small span of time as he was in great haste. This haste has been discussed by him in a separate chapter where he suggests that Bhutto wanted to achieve the maximum that he could because he thought that Pakistan's traditional establishment would not allow him much time to do what he wanted to. The author quotes Yahya Bakhtiar as saying that, in one of Bhutto's meetings with the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou En Lai, the latter asked Bhutto why he was in such a hurry about his reforms. To this Bhutto said: 'do you realize that perhaps the army will not give me a chance to consolidate my position? So, I have to rush in a hurry to do something for my people' (p.139).
The author seems to draw a mistaken conclusion from this when he says that Bhutto's statement is an evidence of the dichotomy of his character. 'He was apprehensive of the army', the author observes, 'yet he loved the pomp and show associated with the armed forces, manifested an egoistic and haughty behavior, idolized historical figures, the majority of whom were dictators....'. He further observes that 'ambivalence is defined as: 'the coexistence in one person of two opposing emotions, desires, beliefs, or behavioral tendencies directed towards the same instinctual object especially love and hate' (p.139). Here, it seems that the author makes too much of Bhutto's liking of military men's biographies which may not definitely be rooted in a desire to be one, for none of Bhutto's numerous biographers had ever detected that Bhutto had in his childhood or in his youthful days aspired to become a soldier.
As against this, it has been written by many authors that Bhutto always wanted to have a place in history. It seems that his reading of the military biographies and books about wars was more for the purpose of understanding the institution. Contrary to what the author tries to suggest by way of Bhutto's being influenced by the pomp and show of the military institution, Bhutto is on record saying on a number of occasions how much he cared for creating a niche for himself in the annals of history. Talking to Oriana Fallaci, he had categorically stated that he would like to die at the hands of the military rather than history. While tracing the psychological makeup of Bhutto's political personality, the author develops an interesting and convincing analogy between him and Prometheus, a character of Greek mythology, who stole the divine fire from heaven and handed it over to the reckless hands of man. He was punished by the Greek gods who chained him to a rock where an eagle fed each day on his liver.
The author suggests that in order to make Pakistan a nuclear power Bhutto established an atomic plant, antagonizing the western powers particularly the United States. The author observes that though he himself takes a different position on nuclear arsenal throughout the world yet despite his being a peace lover he commends Bhutto's courage and foresight in enabling Pakistan to withstand the nuclear blackmail of the neighboring and hostile India. So it seems that Bhutto being a Prometheus paid the dividend in the form of strong defense of his country but at the cost of his presenting himself to the 'Greek gods' eagle who did not wait long in 'eating his liver'.
The book under review, as a whole, is an interesting and intelligent work which gives insight in the contradictions of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who, almost four decades after his death at the gallows, not only lives in the politics of Pakistan but has remained a persistent figure of enquiry for the historians. The book will be counted as a useful addition in the literature on Bhutto.
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|Date:||Jun 30, 2019|
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