Bhutto vs Wali Khan: the battle of democratic titans

Osama Siddiqui

Whenever the history of democracy in Pakistan will be discussed, two people who will top the list of historic characters will be Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Khan Abdul Wali Khan. Hence, both of them politically and personally had different backgrounds, however, their love and respect for the homeland cannot be challenged or questioned, but discussed.

Well, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was born on January 5, 1928 in a feudal family to Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto who was a big landlord and very active politically. His value can be felt by the fact that he used to participate in the Round Table Conferences. Later on, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto was made the Dewan of Junagadh state.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto known as Zulfi by his friends and dear ones was educated at Bombay Cathedral School where his friend Piloo Moody remembers him as skin and bones with a high pitched voice. Mushtaq Ali – the famous cricketer who went on to play for India, says that Bhutto was very touchy and extremely sensitive who could be easily offended. This habit of him remained during his political career which will be mentioned later.

Bhutto went on to bag educational degrees from prestigious institutions in America and England, lived a great social life and thereafter returned to Pakistan. He started his career in law but he was made a minister by President Iskander Mirza in his government. Bhutto was politically sharp so he got closer to General Ayub Khan and when the Mirza’s government was toppled he was made a minister in the dictator Ayub Khan’s government and later he got the position of foreign minister.

However, Bhutto disagreed with the Tashkent Agreement in 1966 and also made a fiery speech in the United Nations which made him popular in all the age groups. People liked him, copied him and this was the beginning of the people’s leader in Pakistan. Then he strongly opposed General Ayub Khan by holding political rallies and eventually he was removed, but it could be argued that he was not alone against General Ayub, actually many political parties were involved in the dictator’s ouster which included National Awami Party (NAP) and Tehreek-e-Istiqlal.

Now I come to discussion on the personality of Khan Abdul Wali Khan. He was born on January 11, 1917 to one of the greatest sons of the soil – Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known as Bacha Khan – who was a selfless freedom fighter and his struggle was inherited by his son Wali Khan as he strongly believed in the parliamentary democratic system and strictly opposed the dictatorship.

Wali Khan grew up in an environment which was contrary to the Bhutto’s environment. He was highly against the imperialism. Although, he was sent to a missionary school in Dehradun, but he could no longer continued education due to his eyesight issue. Here, it is to be mentioned that Wali Khan was one of the first few members of the Khudai Khidmatgar Tehreek and was also a student of the school that was started by Bacha Khan.

It is worth mentioning that Wali Khan brought up under the wings of bonafide intellectuals and great freedom fighters who struggled against the British rule, including Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Azad and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Hence, after that the partition of Subcontinent took place and Wali Khan joined a strong left wing political party – National Awami Party.

NAP truly opposed the dictatorship of General Ayub Khan and supported Fatima Jinnah in opposition to him in the presidential election of 1965. This was an appreciated democratic move, because, most of the members of NAP were those who opposed the partition and were politically against the Jinnah’s Muslim League before the partition. However, Fatima Jinnah lost the election that was highly controversial and rigged.

Now it is to be noted that Bhutto before forming his own political party tried to join the NAP and wanted to get a strong position in the party but he was declined as there were many other senior leaders in the party. So, Bhutto set up his party – Pakistan People’s Party and fiercely contested the general elections of 1970. He won majority of the seats in Punjab and Sindh i.e. 81 seats out of 300, whereas the Wali Khan’s NAP emerged victorious in Balochistan and NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and the Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Awami League won the absolute majority in East Pakistan by gaining 160 seats out of 300.

Hence, the problem emerged in sharing of power, so Pakistan got divided and Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman became the Prime Minister of East Pakistan (Bangladesh). Actually before the division of Pakistan, Wali Khan wanted to form a coalition government with the Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League, however, the fate was not in their favor and Pakistan got divided. Bhutto became the first civil chief martial law administrator and later on became the Prime Minister of Pakistan, whereas Wali Khan became the opposition leader.

But it should be remembered that Wali Khan strongly opposed Bhutto when he imposed dictatorship, hence Bhutto had a trait of being revengeful. He accused Wali Khan of breaking Pakistan and threw him behind the bars. Bhutto also dissolved the democratically-elected government of Balochistan, while in protest the NAP’s government in NWFP resigned.

Tensions were at peak and in 1977 Pakistan National Alliance was formed which consisted of the right wing political parties and surprisingly also included the NAP. Protests took place and martial law was imposed by the handpicked Chief of Army Staff of Bhutto, General Zia-ul-Haq who put Bhutto behind the bars and was convinced by Wali Khan’s statement that there is only one grave and one of them will be definitely buried in it. So, Zia hanged Bhutto and martial law continued until his plane was blown away in 1988.

The students of history and politics must learn the lesson that Bhutto and Wali Khan were two heavyweight politicians of their times. When they joined hands together they made the Constitution of Pakistan in 1973 which is respected till date, hence, the problem was their ego which did not let them work together.

Similarly, Bhutto never expected anyone to be equal to him in Pakistani politics, whereas Wali Khan became personal with him by warning General Zia regarding Bhutto, but Wali Khan’s character should have been like the legendary Bacha Khan who forgave police officer Khushdil Khan who had broken his ribs in the prison. If both the leaders – Bhutto and Wali Khan would have worked together, Pakistan would have never entered into the darkest period of extremism which has given birth to religious fanaticism, resulting in humiliating and violent incidents.

To finalize the discourse, actually Bhutto became much popular due to the fact that he remained the leader of the people from Peshawar to Karachi, whereas Wali Khan’s politics later on narrowed down to a single province, however, he as the Bacha Khan’s son and a left wing intellectual should have remained the leader of the poor and neglected people throughout Pakistan. History cannot be undone but a lesson must be learned that how these two persons died without doing much more when they could have changed the fate of Pakistan. 

The writer has done MSc Business and Management from the Cardiff University, United Kingdom and BBA from the Institute of Management Sciences (IMSciences), Peshawar. He has keen interest in cricket, films and the history of South Asia, particularly the Subcontinent. He may be reached at: He also tweets at: @osamasidd97.

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