Review by Review by John MacLean
Gradually I came to realize that the process of saving the desert of the human heart and revegetating…
Anis Shivani's story is the title story of his collection, The Fifth Lash and Other Stories, which will be released by C&R Press later in the year. His other books include My Tranquil War and Other Poems (forthcoming August 2012, New York Quarterly Books), Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies (Texas Review Press, 2011), and Anatolia and Other Stories (2009). He has just finished a novel called Karachi Raj, and is at work on another called Abruzzi, 1936.
The next lash almost finishes him off. He's taken the first four without falling, his eyes looking straight ahead. No more than a tiny squeak, like that of an underfed rat stepped on by a lion, has come from him. But with the next one, a lifetime's anger, frustration, sadness, and misery seem to break loose. When I hear this cry, I can only wonder what kind of reproach must have been uttered at the moment of final indignity by my patron and murshid, my benefactor and master, who dragged me out of the filth of fatalism to believe in the power of a single man to change all of history. What must it have been like to hear the last rebuke of the man who contained within himself the powers and failings of a hundred million people, who was the living personification of all that his nation had become in the course of its glories and failures?
The flogger wipes his brow, tired himself. He looks like a pehelwan who earned his keep performing Greco-Roman wrestling when it used to be a popular sport in Pakistan. Perhaps he was a second-grade protégé of Aslam or Bholu pehelwan, his main preparation consisting of consuming large quantities of greasy parathas and tikkas, so that he might reach the mass and girth of the Pakistani version of sumo wrestlers, prestige being measured by poundage. He's expressionless, although I've seen other floggers take to the job with relish, smiling brightly at the crowd from time to time, giving the thumbs up signal, accepting a bottle of Vimto or some sweet paan as they gather strength to deliver their next lash with the full force of their being.
The flogged man's back will be marked permanently by the scars. A party of hardened Red Crescent—formerly Red Cross—men and women stands ready to revive the flogged man if necessary, so that the count of ten lashes may be finished. They'll take him straight to the vermin-infested, electricity-deprived Civil Hospital after it's done, there to live or die as his luck might have it.
I've witnessed too many of these floggings in the last couple of years to be able to lose sight of my own sorrows for the sake of the condemned man. I try not to be bothered by the looks of delirium among many in the hot, sweaty, troubled crowd jostling for the best possible view of the tamasha. There are women here, more than you would imagine, and the occasional child of a working-class person. Most of the spectators, except for state functionaries required to be here, are from the lower classes. The crowd must be ten thousand strong—as time goes by, public interest in these spectacles seems to be escalating rather than flagging. Now that foreign movies are banned—only tame local ones, low-budget romances from Lahore, can be shown—–and peddlers of video porn are aggressively prosecuted, this has become one of our few mass entertainments.
Did the drivers on the road circling National Stadium hear the inhuman cry of this man? If they did, did they pause or did they keep driving? Why isn't everyone in the country watching this? There has been discussion in the Urdu papers that the floggings—and hangings—should be nationally televised. The Minister for Religious Affairs—although it seems now that every minister's undesignated portfolio is religious affairs— objects that those who wish to be educated by the beneficial aspects of the Islamic punishments ought to be able to find their way to the nearest flogging venue without the government having to bring it to their homes live. There's also the question of whether watching television is haram.
The back of the dark-skinned wisp of a man on the flogging apparatus bleeds profusely. The blood of any man, no matter how anemic looking, is always the richest red, as if God Almighty never wants to scrimp on this account. His dhoti—the strip of white cloth wrapped around his loins—has turned red. Five blocks of white stone—they make me think of the aimless pilings of stone around the ruins of Moenjodaro, by Moenjodarans five thousand years ago or turn-of-the-century British archeologists—form a makeshift support for the man to lean his torso against and bend over. There's nothing to tie his hands or legs with, no way to restrain him except his own recognition that life as he knows it has come to an end.
The flogged man, a former activist for the PPP, the Pakistan People's Party, is in violation of martial law rules forbidding political activity. He's alleged to have distributed a leaflet containing the sayings of Chairman Bhutto to fellow workers at lunch hour at the Pakistan Steel Mill in Pipri—the one that Bhutto founded in 1973. Others are in line to be flogged for similar crimes—disturbance of law and order, theft of government supplies or distribution of contraband goods, failure to observe restrictions against public eating and drinking during Ramadan—and their names and occupations will be publicized in the papers tomorrow. I haven't yet been to public amputations for theft—the right hand for a left-handed man, the left for a right-handed man—which I've heard have already occurred in Quetta and Peshawar, though not yet in Karachi and Lahore.
A piercing yell goes up from a wild-looking young man close to me. "Kill him! Kill the haramzada. Fahhash! Qatil! Mardood!"
The whip lands again on the condemned man's back. The first few, when the flesh on his back was intact, echoed with the crack of rigidity. Now they seem to strike his marrow and create a squishy sound. He has regrouped after his fall, ready to close out his quota of lashes.
Others near the instigator in the crowd look around uncertainly.
"Chup kar!" The flogger yells for the rebel to be quiet, as he gears up for another one.
The determination of the flogger incites the crowd to take up the chant of the wild man. "Kill him! Kill him!"
The police with their lathis and tear gas become alert, tightening the cordon, pushing the crowd back, treating the raggedy civilians with contempt
The flogger is disconcerted. He speedily administers the final lashes, letting up a bit, after which the Red Crescent people place the flogged man's comatose body on the stretcher, taking him to the ambulance waiting in a corner of the field.
"Khatam, bas khatam." The flogger signals the end of the show to the deflated crowd. The remaining men charged with crimes against the regime will miss their turn today. They'll await their fate, having witnessed the pain from close quarters.
I'm glad to be a free man. I hate to admit weakness in the face of terror, but I'm at best a lowly protégé of limited gifts, not the stoic Hercules my master was, refusing until the last moment to bend to the tyrants. You may have loved him or hated him, but you have to admire his courage against assassins and usurpers.
I used to accompany Bhutto when he dropped in for a bit to watch cricket at National Stadium against England or the West Indies. Bhutto wasn't a fan of cricket, unlike Zia who makes cricket victories against India occasions for national celebration.
The rabble who come to view the floggings at the stadium aren't allowed into the VIP stands. The enclosures are empty, the chairs dusty, the shamianas flaccidly waving in the loo—the hot wind blowing in from the Sind desert that deadens mind and spirit.
The people of Pakistan, despite the flood of Afghan refugees pouring in and taking away precious menial jobs, approve of the new tamashas. America and Pakistan have banded together to wipe out the terror in Afghanistan—the Soviet infiltrators with their godless ways, their disrespect for tribal beliefs—and the alliance promises to last an eternity. The eighties are shaping up to be a long night of misery. The massive National Logistics Cell trucks promenading on Shahrah-e-Faisal—the avenue renamed from Drigh Road to honor the Saudis—stream in from the port and head to Peshawar on the Super Highway. Rumored to carry arms supplied by the CIA for the mujahideen, they're a testament to the durability of the shadowy fight.
Outside, I'm almost killed by a speeding minibus, driven as usual by a manic Pathan. When he comes to a screeching halt to pick up a pair of burqa-clad women, I ponder the gleam in the driver's eye, the greenish tint of teeth ruined by niswar. The conductor hangs outside the door of the minibus with one hand, his gray shalwar kameez a contrast to the gaudily painted vehicle, its scenes of rural splendor depicting deer and horses. In the land of the free dreamed up by Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and followed up by Quaid-e-Awam Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, recklessness no longer carries shame.
When I made the bargain with Zia's people to save my own flesh from the kind of torture I've witnessed at the stadium, I hope I did the right thing by pursuing self-preservation without betraying the leader and the party. Would Bhutto himself have wanted me to act otherwise? It was not the quality of information the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Federal Investigation Agency were after. It was the fact of my abject compliance. That, I'm both proud and ashamed to say, I gave them without stint.
Twenty years ago on these same boulevards, it was thrilling to watch the transformation of Pakistan, the women switching from saris to skirts and dresses, their lush hair sheared into Western perms. Ten years ago they went from copying Western outfits and hairstyles to introducing originality: you could see it in the way they were simultaneously modest and aggressive, innocent and knowing. Today, you don't see women anymore. If they're middle-class, they're afraid to go out in public, except for the unavoidable teaching or nursing job. If they're working-class, they're covered in burqa. Except for the truly rich and the truly poor, both beyond the constraints of veiled modesty, half this country has disappeared overnight. How did we get here, when ten short years ago women stood shoulder to shoulder with men at Bhutto's rallies, shouting that we needed roti, kapra, aur makan—bread, clothing, and shelter?
I don't know how the people of Pakistan let off steam anymore, or if they even have any need to. How can a hundred million people be bottled up so quickly and easily?
* * *
"Do I drink the blood of the people?" Bhutto said. "So what if I have a weakness for Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal?"
It was 3 a.m. Bhutto hardly ever seemed to want to sleep, staying up late without his face and body looking tired, without his impeccable British suit—his outfit when not dealing with the awam—looking crumpled. But that night I saw hurt and disappointment in his eyes, his thinning white hair a mess.
Zia ul-Haq, the servile chief of army staff with fundamentalist leanings whom Bhutto had hand-picked and promoted to his present position by skipping over six senior generals, ran his fingers along his waxed moustache.
Bhutto's mimicry of Zia, both in front of him and behind his back, had ceased earlier that winter. He no longer called Zia his "bandar general," nor did Bhutto, in front of visiting heads of state and ambassadors, pull on an imaginary string anymore to bring his monkey general close to him, telling his astonished visitor, "See how my monkey obeys me? He can play any trick I tell him to! Show us your tricks!" And Zia would always fold his hands below his navel, bend and bow and show his hideous teeth as he smiled, all the while thanking the master, "So kind of you, sir, so kind of you, all these attentions, so many attentions."
Had the Sher-e-Punjab, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, been there, he would have picked up Bhutto's spirits by repeating one of the master's sayings without a trace of irony. And they would both have laughed riotously. But the Lion of Punjab had been promoted and purged one too many times, and had finally joined the freakiest part of the opposition, Pir Pagaro's faction, after having been with Bhutto since the heady days of 1968, when the scent of revolution was as persistent and undeniable in Karachi and Lahore as in Berkeley and London.
Khar had been married four times, and his current wife Tehmina, perhaps the prettiest of the bunch, was always rumored to be pregnant. Unlike Bhutto, the Lion of Punjab kept an iron grip on his women. Bhutto's own mistress, the Bengali beauty Husna, lived across the street from 70 Clifton. I never saw the master get angry with Husna, despite her flirtatious ways with men.
Whenever the master spoke in his own defense about not drinking the blood of the people—followed by his signal gesture of tearing open his shirt and screaming, "Is there anyone who dares to shoot me? Then shoot me! I'm ready to die for Pakistan"—the adoring masses in Karachi, Pindi, and Lahore gave him a raucous reception.
But we weren't at a rally, such as when Bhutto victoriously brought home ninety-three thousand POWs from India in 1973, or greeted his brother Qaddafi at the 1974 Islamic summit in Lahore. We weren't at a siasi jalsa where tens of thousands of Pakistan People's Party supporters had been bused in, the occasion yet another declaration of a thousand year war with India, or recitation of the address to Henry Kissinger about Pakistan's determination to build the bomb even if it meant we had to eat grass.
It was the night of January 6, 1977, and Bhutto had called in Zia to tell him his intention to hold elections in two months, a long-awaited step that filled him with dread and giddy joy in equal measure.
"Asghar," Bhutto called to me, in no mood for flippancy, "bring the files."
I knew the ones he was referring to. They were on the Louix XIV bureau in his bedroom, compiled by his most trusted internal security advisors.
Then Bhutto said to Zia, "We're going to have elections in sixty days. That ragtag bunch of opposition parties, led by traitors and idiots—let's see what they come up with."
Zia smiled obsequiously. "At your service, sir." The dark circles around his eyes looked their murkiest, and his hair, parted in the middle, more thickly pomaded than ever.
How we end up waiting on masters we dare not imagine when we start out! I'd been directly in the Bhuttos' service since I was fourteen. I was born in the same year as Bhutto, 1928, certainly not in one of Sind's powerful wadero families like the Bhuttos, the Khuhros, the Soomros, or the Jatois, but in a humble peasant household on the lands of Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, Zulfiqar Ali's illustrious and handsome father, the much decorated freedom fighter who'd worked side by side with Jinnah. It was 1942, and as a tall, muscular young man with a presentable appearance and ready wit, I was picked from several others to accompany Sir Shahnawaz on hunts with the British visiting his lands. I understood from their conversations that world war would finally make it impossible for the British to hold on to India. And I learned from both Sir Shahnawaz and his British guests the manifold arts of deference—for it was never clear, in that ambiguous half-decade of war, who had the upper hand, the Indians or the British, which meant that both sides had to tread carefully.
Sir Shahnawaz was my first Bhutto benefactor. I was sent to school in Bombay, and then Hyderabad and Lahore after partition, always expected to return to the ancestral lands in Larkana, where the senior Bhutto would pat me on the head, and tell Zulfiqar Ali's mother, Lakhi Bai, "Among the humble of the earth, walk the truly proud." Lakhi Bai used to be a seductive Hindu dancer, before converting to Islam. She was Sir Shahnawaz's second wife, after an early wedding to an older woman, a marriage of formality that consolidated the lands between the families. Zulfiqar Ali himself would be "married" to Shireen, a twelve-year-old who brought tens of thousands of acres of land, and although he claimed to his second wife, the beautiful Iranian debutante Nusrat, that he never loved Shireen nor slept with her, I know that Shireen visited him at Al-Murtaza in Larkana, and I am also quite certain that Bhutto had a daughter with Shireen whose existence has never been officially confirmed.
I had the full run of the Bhuttos' library in Larkana. I also had the good fortune to sit in on many a meeting with the founders of Pakistan, guests of Sir Shahnawaz, as they deliberated on a constitution that was to elude us until Zulfiqar Ali's own miracle of constitution-making in 1973, and figured out how to balance the country strategically amidst the imperialist aims of India, China, the Soviet Union, and America. When Zulfiqar Ali returned after studying at Berkeley and Oxford, and became a barrister at the prestigious law firm of Dingomal in Karachi, defending his friends against criminal charges, I made the new capital of the new country my home, and gained the master's trust, as he quickly acquired a reputation as a man who was going places. At Karachi's Sind Club, Bhutto spoke often of Sind becoming the Indian subcontinent's California, evoking that distant land with affinities in climate and soil, but utterly alien attitudes. It was a sign of Bhutto's charisma that even when he compared Karachi to Los Angeles in those early days before Karachi had sprawling suburbs, I gave him my full trust.
My thoughts on this irksome night of Zia's solitary conference with Bhutto were taking me too far astray. I made my way to the bedroom, and knocked gently on the door.
Begum Nusrat Bhutto, still beautiful and graceful though approaching fifty, said politely, "Come in."
She knew it was me. Bhutto himself never knocked. Though she wasn't a night owl like Bhutto, she waited until Bhutto came to bed, even if it was at five or six in the morning. She lay sprawled on the bed, the white silk sheets unrumpled, going through picture albums of Pinkie and Sunny when they were little girls, and Mir and Shah, the two sons, also at a young age.
"My children grew up as beautiful as when they were young," she said. This habit of nostalgia was a new one for Begum Bhutto. Frankly, it disconcerted me.
"Yes, Begum Sahiba, they did."
"Is Zia still with Zulfi?"
"I've never seen a more repulsive man." She grimaced. If she was afraid of Zia—in a country that had typically been run by the military, even when a civilian administrator had been given the official reins, how could you not be afraid of the army chief of staff?—she began to let on that night. "If it's true that ugliness outside reflects ugliness inside…" She didn't finish the thought. "Look at this picture of Pinkie picking roses in the garden."
I studied the photo, taken at 70 Clifton shortly after the dashing Bhuttos, Zulfi and Nusratam, had built the sprawling mansion to match their growing social reputation in the Karachi of the fifties.
"Begum Sahiba, I came to get some files."
"Of course." The light went out of her eyes, the photo album sliding from her hands as she slumped back. "This has been a long night."
Having finished my task, I was leaving the room, when she said, "Asghar, I want you to remain the eyes and ears of this family. Listen to Zia carefully when he thinks you're not being attentive. Bring the information straight to me if he ever slips up."
"Yes, Begum Sahiba."
"And wire Pinkie to come home from Oxford for the elections. Tell her I said so. Zulfi needs her."
I'd have to check on that with Bhutto, but I didn't say this to Begum Bhutto.
The stack of top-secret files I had come to retrieve had been compiled by Bhutto's Federal Security Force chief, Masood Mahmood, and his internal security adviser, Rao Rashid. They identified the potential security challenges of the coming election campaign. There were reports by the chief ministers and governors of all four provinces, building on information from police inspectors and intelligence operatives. The election could easily degenerate into chaos, once the lid was off and the opposition parties smelled blood. We had to forestall them at every turn.
When I went back to the dining room, Zia was sitting in the same stiff posture, his eyes shining as if viewing the face of God. Bhutto was sitting untidily in his chair. He needed the Sher-e-Punjab to draw energy from and to give it back, or if not the Lion of Punjab, then the other dashing figures in his circle—J. A. Rahim and Hanif Ramay and Malik Meraj Khalid and Mubashir Hasan. The chief of army staff drained all the power from Bhutto.
"Sir!" I said loudly, to bring Bhutto back to alertness.
"It's all right, you can go to sleep now, Asghar." It was the first time in all my years with Bhutto that he'd wanted me to go to bed before he was ready to do so.
I dared not disobey, even though I wanted to stay until Zia left. Perhaps the discussions about security were too classified even for me, although usually I was kept around even when high officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence came to brief the leader.
* * *
The Landhi jail hadn't registered on my imagination, until I started going there every Thursday to pump information out of J. A. Rahim, my favorite among the PPP founders. The imagination is swamped by the fortress-like Kot Lakhpat prison in Lahore, where Bhutto underwent his farcical trial on the charge of ordering the Federal Security Force to murder Ahmad Raza Kasuri's father, and by the even worse prison near Pindi, where he was hanged. I myself was detained for only a few days at Kot Lakhpat, although I also became familiar with less foreboding houses of detention in Punjab and Sind.
The British system of administration—judge, jury, and executioner, not to mention administrator and collection agent, all combined in one—remains intact in these parts, through the legacy of Jinnah and Ayub and Bhutto and Zia. Who's going to mess with the sacred office of the district commissioner? The jails are the same from the time of the Raj. Their façades rise in the middle of busy commercial streets, as do those of the foreboding thanas, the nightmare of every law-abiding citizen. Objective facts in your favor are easily twisted into damning evidence by hearsay. The jail in Pakistan is part of ordinary politics.
Rahim sahib was the one who, afraid of the slippery slope, refused to go along with Mubashir Hasan when the latter advocated including "Islam is our faith" as the party's motto, along with "democracy is our polity" and "socialism is our economy." When a bunch of us—myself, Khar, Jatoi, Pirzada, Meer—were picked from our homes one night in September 1979, and flown over to Bhutto's grave in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, there to assemble helplessly and ponder the ruins of our dreams, Rahim sahib was the only one who didn't take part in the namaz-e-janaza Khar commanded us to offer. Rahim sahib never took kindly to Bhutto's superstitions. Bhutto visited the mazars of pirs, quoted Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Sind's patron saint, and ordered ta'wiz for Nusrat and Pinkie's endless maladies. When Pinkie completed her first fast at the ripe age of sixteen, and Bhutto invited his closest friends to celebrate, Rahim sahib was conspicuously absent.
I'm met in the visiting room of the jail by an Inter-Services Intelligence man, whom I only know by the pseudonym "Talib." He's round, bald, blotchy with red spots all over, and doesn't care a whit about his pudgy, grubby appearance. He lights a cigarette and offers me one. I haven't smoked since 1967, when the PPP was founded and I decided to do away with my addictions. The only time I've heard anything about Talib's private life is when he told me his niece had been accepted to an animal husbandry course in Surrey. Talib doesn't mind the traffic of wardens and prisoners and visitors in the busy waiting room. He doesn't bother to keep his voice low.
"Something's afoot." Worried, he blows smoke rings, face turned to the ceiling. When I don't take the bait, he adds, "Some conspiracy to overthrow the regime, some movement to bring the crowds out on the streets. Again. As if we haven't had enough crowds to last us until the next century. Do you know anything about it?"
"I'm paid to be an informant, not to be the visionary leader of the opposition. I can't take you where they haven't gone yet."
There's more bite in my talk than usual. I'm just back from the flogging scene. The uncontrolled emotion of the young man in the crowd, who wanted to kill the poor man on the flogging rack, has disturbed my equanimity. On the way over to Landhi, in the minibus that reeked of human sweat and excretion and reminded me of the odors at Kot Lakhpat jail, the Pathan conductor kept pestering me to give him details of the "phansi," even when I kept telling him it wasn't a hanging, it was only a flogging. Did the man's eyes pop out and did his stomach bulge, the conductor wanted to know.
"We make the rules now, you understand," says Talib. "If we say you have to do something, you do it. You're a human Kodak, taking instant shots of our great leaders' rotten skulls. Once we have the snapshot, we decide if we'll shit on it, or preserve it in the gallery of rogues in the presidential bunker."
I'm familiar with his type from my time at Bhutto's side. Whatever the regime, they're with it a hundred percent; the minute the enemy takes over, they switch loyalties, as though they've never believed anything else. They move from certainty to certainty without any hitch.
"I agreed to tell you if Rahim sahib said anything important. He's a quiet man. He wasn't always, but now he is."
Suddenly, Talib springs up. "Meet Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the Sher-e-Punjab!"
I'm shocked to be face-to-face with the former governor and chief minister of Punjab, the man second only to Bhutto in the charismatic pantheon around him. Khar looks as if he's just finished a disagreeable lunch with a difficult subordinate, nothing more serious.
It's the first time I've seen him since the night of the funeral prayer at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. When I rise, he clasps me. I can't read his expression. Is he on the side of the party, or is he also an informant, or worse?
"How's the founder feeling today?" Talib asks Khar.
So Khar is also visiting Rahim sahib. As if Rahim sahib could be plotting a conspiracy from inside Landhi jail. Among the PPP brain trust, he's the one least likely to come up with an aggressive response. He was the one—despite his socialist formulations—always warning Bhutto and the rest of us that we weren't a party of "dogmatic fanatics," who flipped his lid when Bhutto, without consulting him, announced in 1976 his plan to nationalize the cotton-ginning and rice-husking mills, supposedly to banish the corrupt middlemen who prevented fair distribution of profits to the hari, the kisan, the mazdoor. Rahim sahib stewed in anger that the new round of nationalization would alienate the middle class from the party once and for all.
I'm convinced the martial law regime has lost its head. It sees conspiracies where none exist. Ever since Zia rejected Carter's offer of four hundred million dollars to help fight the Afghan jihad as "peanuts," he dares to say and do outrageous things. They now have the luxury to pursue ghosts and spirits, rather than real dangers.
"Be strong," Khar whispers to me, hugging me again.
"Enough with the sentimentality," Talib hisses. "You guys are lucky we're not the FSF."
He's got both of us there. Khar and I know well that it was the twenty thousand strong Federal Security Force, Bhutto's supposed guarantee against a military coup, his own protective People's Army recommended by Chou En-lai, that dealt a deathblow to the PPP spirit. Late one night at his home, Rahim sahib, having insulted Bhutto in front of others one too many times, was visited by the FSF and seriously injured. The final blow came when Rahim sahib called Bhutto a "giant among pygmies" at Husna's home.
"You're on trial, so be careful," Talib warns me, as I'm ushered into Rahim sahib's cell. Talib makes it sound as if my deal with the regime could be off, and I might be in for rough times.
The cell has been recently freshened. The stinking hole in the corner, where the PPP's founding brain is supposed to evacuate and drain, has also been spruced up. A fresh sheet is on the wooden charpoy. It's a step up from the metal frames used as beds in worse prisons.
Rahim sahib gets up from the charpoy and yells at me. "Ghaddar! So you're here too! You've joined the gang of hypocrites. Khar, Pirzada, Jatoi, Mumtaz, they've all been here this week. I'm telling you, I don't know anything about a conspiracy. I'm from the awami wing of the party, not the fascist wing."
"I know that, Rahim sahib." Surely the cell is bugged. Is that the point of these visits? If Rahim sahib knows that, and so do Khar and the others, and I too, then what's going on here?
Suddenly the air goes out of him. He falls on the charpoy.
"Sit," he commands me.
I don't know where I should sit. I settle down on the dirty floor. Rahim sahib doesn't notice.
It's quiet. The buzz of the flies, hovering over the shit and stink, is what's missing today from the cell. It's a standard ten-by-twelve, with the tantalizing bars in the upper corner of one wall letting in a stream of sunshine, and just enough clamor from the outside—the shouts of the rehri-wallas, the screeches of speeding minibuses, and the wails of ambulances—to make you do anything to get out.
"Tell Rehana to make you some of your favorite kheer."
"Sir?" Rehana, Rahim sahib's pretty, loyal wife, is under house arrest in the Karachi suburb of Nazimabad. A double M.A., and a star pupil when she met Rahim sahib at his lectures at Punjab University, Rehana begum has been trying to hitch me with a succession of her nieces since the days I first got to know the couple. Rahim sahib is hallucinating.
He becomes alert. "I'll tell you a secret. It's not Khar and Pirzada and Jatoi, those morons full of hot air, they have to worry about. Come closer, and I'll whisper in your ear." I get up and bend over. "Zulfiqar," he says. "Al-Zulfiqar."
Now I get it. He's talking about Mir Murtaza Bhutto, who left Oxford after his father's arrest in 1977, and four years later reportedly heads a terrorist organization established to avenge Mr. Bhutto's hanging. He's rumored to have been in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Afghanistan, Germany, plotting revenge.
"There'll be something big in the news soon. I'll tell you more." But when I push my face close, he has a change of mind, and boxes me on the ear, stinging hard. "Ghaddar, you've joined them. Bloody traitor."
"Sir, for what it's worth, I think what they're doing to you is wrong. You shouldn't be here. This place is for criminals. You should be teaching at some respectable place—under any regime, under any political system. Your mind shouldn't be wasted like this."
"So that's what you think? And what about the party? Who's going to take care of the party?"
"The party's over, sir." I believe it. The masses switch from one diversion to another. You can only hold their attention as long as you perform one monkey trick after another. When you put away the bandar-ki-topi and the dug-dugi, they move on, restless to find something to titillate them or someone to hurt. "The party's over, sir, good and done. Finished."
I tell myself to beg the warden to get Rahim sahib psychiatric attention. Some of us, because we turned informants or did the martial law regime other favors, have had to pay less of a price than others. Rahim sahib, who didn't bend, has the least useful information among any in the inner circle to share with the regime. They already know everything anyway. This is all another tamasha, for the insiders' own benefit, put on with the consummate skill of actors.
I can't make up my mind about the seriousness of the information about the Al-Zulfiqar plot.
* * *
I wouldn't have called it a dismissal. A suspension, yes, buttressed with stronger words than necessary. All in all, a moment's slip of class, a lapse of judgment. If ever it was going to happen, it was bound to be because of a dustup with Pinkie, the most inflexible of the Bhutto offspring. Mir and Shah and Sanam, I could handle with aplomb. Something about Pinkie never rubbed me the right way. She was like Khar in that sense, the Sher-e-Punjab being unlike the other PPP founders, displaying something of the quality of an opportunistic latecomer. That came across especially when Khar, or Pinkie, seemed to argue with most conviction.
I hadn't thought it was a big issue when I disagreed with Pinkie's advice to Bhutto that morning in April 1977 at 70 Clifton. I'd done that whenever Bhutto asked questions of both of us. Her answers were of the sort a naïve undergraduate at a Western university might offer, having read John Stuart Mill for the first time. It was acceptable when she was a nineteen-year-old undergraduate at Radcliffe, part of Bhutto's entourage, the only woman among ninety-one men at the Simla negotiations with Indira Gandhi in 1972. But to be twenty-five, having read her PPE degree at Oxford, and started a one-year course in international diplomacy, and to come up with no more than her old inanities?
"Tell me, should I call for fresh elections?" Bhutto asked her.
The opposition, the motley alliance of mostly fundamentalist and ethnic parties known as the PNA, the Pakistan National Alliance, had mounted mass protests alleging that Bhutto's PPP had rigged the March elections to win sixty percent of the vote and seventy-five percent of the seats in parliament. Everyone understood that we would have won comfortably in the 1977 elections anyway; but having more than a two-thirds majority in parliament was important to Bhutto if he was to amend the constitution to vest more powers in the person of the president—himself. There had been some rigging, but not as much as the opposition claimed. The PNA had called for a pahyya jam hartal that Friday, borrowing from an old tactic used against the Raj. They hoped that business and transportation, from Khyber to Khairpur, would shut down.
The night the election results came in, with absurdly large victories in Punjab, was the worst I'd ever seen Bhutto, worse than at the time of the debacle of East Pakistan. "What have these foolish people done, Asghar? What have they done?" Bhutto dismissed all his confidants, drinking whiskey until the early hours of the morning. He recovered his determination soon, but understood he was facing a new kind of threat, one so obviously of his own making that he would be hard pressed to keep the traitors at bay. The awam would always be with him, but what about the restless among the military, the landlords, the capitalists?
So Bhutto's question to Pinkie involved his very future. "If you make concessions," Pinkie said in her British accent, more pronounced after Oxford, "they'll ask for more and more. Don't call for new elections. Let them come around to accepting the results."
"Ah, Pinkie," smiled Bhutto, "if only it were that easy."
He was right. Pinkie's great accomplishment in life to that point was being elected president of the Oxford Union debating society. The list of topics she'd told me they debated sounded juvenile. Was the British commonwealth a viable entity? Should drug addicts have their compulsions satisfied in prison? Did America have a more idealistic foreign policy, or did Britain? Begum Nusrat Bhutto bragged to every friend and acquaintance about Pinkie being president of the Oxford Union. She all but skipped about like a happy sparrow, now that Pinkie had come back, pleading with Bhutto to take Pinkie on the campaign trail only after she had fattened her up. For there was no doubt, Pinkie had become anorexic, and was at pains to hide it from her parents and her sister Sunny. If only Pinkie would show doubt once in a while, but she never did—unlike Bhutto, who often doubted himself.
"Papa, the awam count on you to be steady under pressure. Don't give in, or they'll sense weakness and lose trust in you." Which was not even the point. The doubt was never about the awam, as Bhutto understood, and I did too.
I'd just about begun to lose my patience, when Bhutto noticed my agitation and said, "Asghar?"
"Sir, if I may, I think we have to bend to the new political reality. We made a mistake. The overeager party functionaries in Punjab made a huge blunder. Now we have to correct it. And the best way to do that is to go so far out of our way to be humble and apologetic that the wind is taken out of the opposition's sails." I delivered this with much greater force and panache than I normally did when asked my opinion by Bhutto. I may have been his trusted aide, involved with his personal business, but I wasn't one of his political advisers or secretaries, and decades of loyal service to the Bhutto family had taught me to always keep my station in mind. "Miss Bhutto is wrong," I concluded, unable to stop myself.
"Bravo!" Bhutto put aside the morning papers, Dawn and Morning News and The Sun, and clapped slowly. "Pinkie, this man would give you a run for your money at the Oxford Union."
Pinkie seethed with anger. Her skin, true to her name, turned rosy all over. "Papa, this is an outrage! The Bhuttos set their own destiny. Only their heart tells them what to do. They don't stick a finger in the air and take cues from the gutless and obedient."
Bhutto laughed uproariously. I didn't see the humor, and launched into an explanation of why Asghar Khan of Tehrik-e-Istiqlal, the most secular among the PNA alliance, was a force to reckon with, because he expressed the wish of the people to be free of tyranny, and how Maulana Mufti Mahmood and the other religious party leaders, reprehensible as they were for wanting to take the country back to the seventh century, represented the genuine aspiration of the people for spiritual solace. I must have gone on for a while, because in the end Pinkie had to say, "Asghar, I think your time is up."
Bhutto only looked curiously at me during my tirade, fiddling with his long, graceful fingers, and lighting the pipe he'd lately taken up. When I was finished, he said, "Pinkie is like my friend Qaddafi. They get inspiration from beyond the heavens, the same source that motivated Bulleh Shah and Shahbaz Qalandar." I was sick of these frequent comparisons of Pinkie to luminaries beyond her ken. In truth, we're all incomparable—although Pinkie's name, Benazir, literally means without compare. "You and I, Asghar, are like—"
"Like what, Papa?" Pinkie interrupted.
Bhutto never finished the thought. Zia arrived just then, his knobby hands clasped in front of his private parts as if protecting them, bowing and scraping his way to the breakfast table where Bhutto presided majestically. Zia always offered me a big smile, exposing his shiny teeth, suggesting either compassion or cruelty, I never understood which.
Once, soon after his surprise appointment as chief of army staff over the heads of others, I happened to exchange more than pleasantries with Zia. Bhutto was in a private session with his advisers and couldn't be disturbed. Zia waited outside the conference room, and I joined him. He talked about the difficulty soldiers had in keeping their heads above water on their abysmal salaries. He wasn't complaining. He just didn't know how to take temptation away from the soldiers, if they saw corrupt civil servants getting ahead without penalty, sending off their kids to study in England and their wives to shop in Dubai.
"Asghar, the human soul is infinitely corruptible," Zia said. "Every power in the hands of the authorities needs to be exercised to keep its tendencies in check. We're inherently fallible."
"But that's what politics is for. The exchange of ideas in the marketplace, so the truth wins out."
Zia smiled tolerantly. "As often as not, politics leads to dissension. The unchecked ego can play havoc with the fragile minds of the people."
Zia talked about the daily lives of the soldiers in cantonments, and I had to accept that he knew about their struggles firsthand, that it wasn't just academic talk, like that of the latter-day socialists, student and union leaders, who'd jumped on the PPP bandwagon over the years.
The morning of the disagreement with Pinkie, I wondered if anything animated Pinkie's soul, or if the space was empty. I don't know what compelled me later that day to enter her private territory, her sacred room itself, and go through the drawers, peek under the bed. Was I searching for incriminating evidence, something to cause a rift between father and daughter? Was I adopting FSF tactics in my eagerness to please the boss? My ostensible excuse, that I was looking for some files I'd misplaced, didn't even sound convincing to me. Bhutto asked me to take a leave for a couple of weeks, go off to al-Murtaza to clear my head. I needed to be at his side at this critical juncture as he planned his next moves to outmaneuver the opposition, but I also understood the extent of Pinkie's wrath if Bhutto didn't make the symbolic gesture to put me in my place, so I left quietly by train that day.
In those two weeks the country went up in flames. Hundreds of people were dead in clashes between protesters and the FSF in the major cities. Everyone outside the PPP seemed to have only one thing on their mind: get rid of Bhutto, at any cost. As if that was going to cure the country of its problems. Bhutto asked Zia to declare martial law in Karachi, Hyderabad, and Lahore.
I'd listened to Bhutto talk to his ministers day in and day out for five years. How complex and intractable the country's problems were! Squeezed by America on the one hand and Russia on the other, the Indian and Afghan and Iranian and Chinese threats always hanging over our heads, little money in the treasury because of the incompetence of the state-run enterprises and the out-and-out thuggery of the business class, provincial politicians in the NWFP and Baluchistan threatening secession with every acknowledgment of their autonomy—it was all Bhutto could do to hold the country together. The opposition acted as though the country were an advanced democracy five short years after our first-ever elections. Khar was a spoiled child. Despite their greater wisdom, so were the PPP founders except for Rahim sahib, in wanting Bhutto to go faster than the people had been prepared. Pinkie thought you could repeat certain words endlessly and they would become true. Begum Bhutto was unnaturally happy in the midst of this end-of-the-world turmoil.
My vacation in Larkana only drew me closer to the master. The rallies throughout May and June of 1977 became monotonous and taxing. I saw Bhutto wilt under pressure, more than he had during the 1971 civil war. The more Bhutto conceded, the more the opposition wanted. They smelled blood. This didn't mean that Pinkie was right about sticking to our guns. The problem was that Bhutto's rapid-fire concessions were coming haphazardly, bearing the stink of opportunism and desperation, their logic difficult to penetrate. Bhutto couldn't afford to look like he was one step behind the opposition.
We were at a large jalsa at Lahore's Minar-e-Pakistan when Bhutto dropped the bombshell. "Merey aziz bhaiyo, behno, hamwatano, kisano, talibo, mazdooro, assalamu-alaikum." He began by addressing the peasants, workers, students, as he'd always opened his speeches since 1967.
At this site, only a few months ago, he'd announced a new set of land reforms to reduce the size of landholdings even more than in the 1972 reforms; for land to pass on to landless peasants was more than a matter of signing legislation, but we had to start somewhere. In the towns and villages around Lahore, over the years we had held many open kutcheries—modern-day darbars—where Bhutto called on the landlords and peasants of the area to air their complaints in front of each other, the PPP's local administrators in attendance to take note. Bhutto was at his best one-on-one with the poor and hopeless, acting for all the world as if he was one of them.
Today, as he addressed the hundred thousand people assembled to hang on to his every word, he launched into a peroration on Pakistan's identity as an Islamic nation. He reminded the audience that his 1973 constitution declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic, and that he'd branded the Qadianis infidels, depriving them of their rights of citizenship under an Islamic state. Now he was going to outlaw alcohol, gambling, horse racing, nightclubs, discos, all forms of blight on the purity of Pakistan, and declare Friday, instead of Sunday, the weekly holiday. My mind became numb. This time Bhutto didn't tear open his shirt and invite assassins to shoot him.
Afterward, Bhutto asked Zia again and again at 70 Clifton, in the days leading up to the final collapse on July 5, 1977, if he'd gone far enough with his reforms.
"As far as you can go, sir," was Zia's enigmatic response. He was beginning to come into his own. I saw the man with new admiration and fear.
Pinkie, of course, was never at Bhutto's mass jalsas. She worried about sunstroke in the hundred and ten degree heat, and heart palpitations in the crush of the crowd. Begum Bhutto agreed.
* * *
Talib, the ISI man assigned to me, refuses tea, biscuits, and the leftover samosas from last night. I assume intelligence people are always suspicious of poisoning. Talib is accompanied by two men, one to take notes, the other a giant whose sole purpose must be to engage in hand-to-hand combat should it come to that. While Talib relaxes in my rattan chair, the wrestler pokes around in corners, without permission.
"I've never been inside your place," Talib says, blowing smoke rings. I don't believe it for a second. "You must have had nice rooms at 70 Clifton? I hear Bhutto had you in charge of some of the most secret dossiers compiled by the FSF. You had one on Zia, didn't you?"
I confirm it. "The file said Zia was the most loyal of generals. He had his finger on the pulse of the jawans, with whom he behaved conservatively. The chances of Zia calling on the army to take over, even under turbulent conditions, were said to be nil."
"Ah, what can you do! Intelligence people have their blind spots." Talib was being friendly. Perhaps he had a soft corner for someone in my position, not a principal, but a conveyor of information from one stubborn party to another. "For a while after the 1971 debacle, I continued to believe Bhutto had saved the country's honor, salvaged what little could be kept of Pakistan. I honored him for bringing back the POWs, for pressuring Mujib not to put those hundred and ninety-five soldiers on war crimes trials, for regaining five thousand square miles of lost territory from India. Then I realized. The bastard brought about the East Pakistan tragedy in the first place. I have my problems with democracy, but Mujib had won fair and square. Bhutto would rather break up the country than live with the results. Personal ambition, Asghar, my dear fellow, personal ambition run amok."
"Is Zia less motivated by personal ambition?"
Talib is surprised by my boldness. "Zia's motivation is the greater good of Pakistan. Never forget that."
"What do you think of jailing and stoning women for adultery if they bring forth complaints of rape? What do you think of cutting off the hands of people for petty theft?"
"Is that the sum of his reforms? Why do you PPP fellows always latch on to the most sensational actions, the weakest links? Zia is a humble man who cares for the downtrodden. No one's hands have been cut off yet."
"You'd rather have the Mughal darbar, the Raj kutchery, the arbitrary exercise of compassion, than the rule of law." I'm letting off steam before my final betrayal.
Talib understands this and lets me go on in this vein. The other two show no restlessness. Talib signals the note taker not to jot down the wild accusations I'm making about the martial law regime.
"We're suspicious of people who never get married," Talib says when I'm winding down my anger at Zia.
He glances over my sparse apartment. I've removed any remnants of Marxist literature, even literary theory by obscure Romanians and Hungarians translated into bad English. The bookshelves are empty of Faiz, the socialist poet who always suffers first when a martial law regime comes to power.
"You don't have any perversions, do you?" Talib is hinting at homosexuality.
"If I did, you'd already know."
"Be that as it may." Talib smiles. "Getting down to business, what's the big news you have to share?"
On my own initiative, I've taken Rahim sahib's hints about something big happening through the Al-Zulfiqar organization, to pry more information out of the other party bigwigs as well as the lesser lights. And something is indeed up. The Bhutto family isn't down and out yet.
Pinkie is in detention at Sukkur jail, in very bad shape from what I hear, having lost a lot of weight. Begum Bhutto is said to suffer from lung cancer, although Zia won't give her permission to travel abroad. He says there is "nothing the matter with Begum Bhutto," but he'd be glad to authorize her travel abroad if "she wants to do some sightseeing." But Bhutto's sons Mir and Shahnawaz, who've married a pair of Afghan sisters, Fauzia and Rehana, are free to do as they wish, out of the range of Zia's enforcers, organizing terrorist actions from Europe. Not a week goes by that Mir and Shahnawaz don't appear on European television, claiming responsibility for some terrorist act.
So far, their actions have been insignificant, barely registering with the exhausted Pakistani public. But now they plan to hijack a PIA airliner from Lahore airport, take it to Kabul, and demand the release of scores of political prisoners. I've learned this not from Khar and the other top PPP officials, but from some of Mir and Shahnawaz's most loyal lower-level followers, especially in the PPP stronghold of Lyari. It's being talked about freely in the backrooms of paan shops and restaurants, as though it were a gang action by ten-year-old kids. I'm taken to meet one Abdul Karim Baloch, who confirms the plan and wants me to convey a message of loyalty to Pinkie, believing I'm still in touch with her and loyal to the old PPP structure. He wants to know how Pinkie wants the party apparatus to proceed once the regime backs down after the hijacking.
Why is this plan being discussed so openly? Surely, the martial law regime already knows. The dreaded FSF, such a big cause of Bhutto's alienation from the party's stalwarts, has been absorbed by the ISI. The old renegades in the secret police are now working for the new regime's military intelligence. The ISI may have a tradition of being plodding, but I can vouch that the FSF people are damn good, on to things long before they happen.
Part of my reason for telling the ISI everything I've learned about the plot is my strong suspicion that the regime already knows and I won't be shifting the course of events. But there are more complex reasons as well.
If Al-Zulfiqar succeeds, they say the next step will be something catastrophic, so big that Zia will have to release Pinkie and Begum Bhutto, and be forced into exile in Saudi Arabia or the Gulf. Pinkie is ten times the feudal Bhutto ever was: she'll embark on a vendetta of cleansing everyone who had anything to do with her father's "judicial murder," as she always refers to the travesty of the trial and execution. No one will be spared. If her father didn't attempt anything remotely like the East Pakistan genocide to deal with the 1977 PNA agitation, she might well take the country down such a path. Bhutto never had that remorseless streak of brutality. His own power was earned through charisma and sincerity, as mixed-up and cruel as he could be. When he acted forcefully in Baluchistan and the NWFP, calling out the army in the early seventies, it was to put down secessionary movements. How could he have allowed a replay of Bangladesh?
"Can we trust you, Asghar?" Talib says when I've recited the details of the plot as far as I've been able to follow, and given him the names and locations of key PPP activists the ISI hasn't got wind of yet. "Why are you doing this?"
"I want all this to stop. I want the cycle of violence and counter-violence to come to an end. Anything to bring this viciousness to a stop."
"Anything? A few floggings here and there to put the fear of Allah in people's hearts?"
I look defeated. "I only meant the goondas."
Talib smiles. So do his two companions. Benevolence is at last in the air, and it feels good after four years of terror.
"I'll see what I can do about your petition to travel abroad," Talib says as he leaves. "Thank you, my friend. You've been of invaluable service to the state. You won't regret your actions. I'll pass the word about your loyalty to my superiors all the way up the chain."
"Loyalty. Come on, fellows."
The note taker clicks off his pen, and inserts his notes in a sealed envelope, which he busily licks.
"Los Angeles or London?" Talib asks.
"Excuse me?" I realize he's talking about where I'd prefer to be exiled—if he's serious about it. "Los Angeles," I mutter. Could it be possible? Bhutto's sunny California, where he first imbibed his radical ideas, even if Rahim sahib thinks he was the prime instigator of Bhutto's radicalism! London is a beehive of PPP activists. Whenever Mir and Shahnawaz declare a terrorist victory, the BBC and the Guardian treat them as heroes. Can't they be arrested and prosecuted for killing innocent people? And they pale in comparison to what I fear from Pinkie.
I've turned informant twice, to save my own skin. I hope this will be enough. I look around at my bare room, as though I'm already a stranger to the misery. Somewhere in the city—perhaps in Baldia or Korangi—a tiny rebellion is surely being put down by the guns of the regime. Lives are being lost in vain. Some are fighting for Bhutto, some for Mufti Mahmood and the other mullahs. We no longer know what we're fighting for.
* * *
The last evening of our freedom, Bhutto's Bengali lover Husna paced like a tigress in her room at the annex to 70 Clifton. Begum Bhutto never acknowledged Husna's presence in the annex to me or anyone else.
Whenever the crisis of the moment became too tense, Husna would move into the annex from the house Bhutto had bought for her across the street, and there was nothing Begum Bhutto could do about it. The reason Bhutto had been so attracted to Husna, apart from her seductive dark looks, was her versatility in discussing politics with him for hours at a time and holding her end well. Begum Bhutto would never be able to match that. At best, Begum Bhutto could offer desultory yes and no responses to the Quaid-e-Awam's serious inquiries.
While Husna pranced hotly at the annex, 70 Clifton was in an uproar. Zia was due to arrive any minute. If the deal with the PNA had been concluded the night before, canceling the results of the previous elections and calling for a fresh round to satisfy the opposition, why was my heart still so heavy? Where did the feeling of doom come from? Rao Rashid, Bhutto's most trusted intelligence and security aide, with his finger in every pie, had assured him that the opposition would soon fracture. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was the only national leader. I'd lately begun to mistrust Rao Rashid's perennial optimism.
Husna called me into her room at nine in the evening. She wore a silk slip, her heavy breasts exposed, her thighs shifting in the flimsy cover like pillars of solace. She caught me staring, and only became more daring. She wanted to make sure we got a replacement for one of Zulfi's favorite pairs of black wingtips, the next time we were in London.
I told Husna I hated being dragged away from Bhutto's side at crucial moments for such trivial distractions.
She patted me on the cheek. "Asghar, you're such a child."
Abruptly, she went into the bathroom. I could hear her crying. I no longer wanted any part of this insanity, so I walked next door to the living room at 70 Clifton.
What they said about Husna's preternatural calm wasn't true. When her husband, a leading intellectual, was killed by the Pakistan Army in 1971 in Dacca, while she was already living in Karachi to be near Bhutto, she was said not to have shed a tear. A lie.
Bhutto was in solitary conference with Zia. Zia turned out to be a chain-smoker. I hadn't known that. He'd never touched a cigarette when cooling his heels for a meeting with Bhutto. Tonight he was smoking away with abandon.
"Sir, the army will do its duty by the government, follow the constitution in all respects," I heard him claim in his squeaky, blatantly modest voice. "The jawans expect no less. You elevated me above six officers more senior than me. I'll forever be grateful for your generosity, sir."
Bhutto looked alarmed. He slipped a note to me with instructions to get one of his new suits ready for a press conference at 70 Clifton as soon as Zia was gone, and to make sure that the press secretary called the television, radio, and newspaper reporters to be on the scene by 11.30 p.m.
Bhutto had been telling Zia how he needed martial law retained in Karachi, Lahore, and Hyderabad, not to mention the army holding on to its tight grip in Baluchistan and the NWFP, all through the campaign and elections, possibly in November. But now Bhutto clamped up with Zia about his plans for new elections.
They talked about the Shah of Iran, Bhutto's fair-weather friend who'd pitched in with American planes and arms to help suppress the Baluch insurgency, but refused him three hundred million dollars to bail him out of the economic crisis the same year.
"The Shah exaggerates the fundamentalist threat to squeeze more aid out of the Americans," Zia said. "Iran's is a sophisticated civilization. The Shi'ite clerics have not an enlightened arrow in their quiver. The proud Persian civilization would never go for clerics who propagate senseless rebellion from the holy shrines."
"That's not what my intelligence reports," Bhutto said. "Khomeini is a real threat. He's a star in exile."
"The Shi'ite clerics are so rigid that if my daughter Zain violated some Islamic injunction, they wouldn't show her any mercy." Zain was Zia's twenty-year-old mentally retarded daughter, his youngest, whose every whim Zia catered to. He'd proudly shown me pictures of her, during an interminable wait for Bhutto. By all appearances, she looked completely normal.
"If anything happens to me, I expect Pinkie to continue my legacy. I've groomed her well. I don't expect to live more than ten years anyway. Ten years, maximum. My heart, my liver, they'll give out before then."
"Children are the pride of dutiful parents, sir." Zia rubbed his long hands as though performing wudu before prayer.
The black mark on Zia's forehead, acquired by diligent namazis after years of persistent head-banging while performing sajda, shone brighter than ever. Positioned like an ugly beacon on his head, it called forth medieval demons, the legendary churayls and bhoots of the rural imagination. I felt like grabbing a heavy brass ornament from the mantelpiece, one of those gifted by the Shah of Iran to his "brother" Bhutto, and smashing it with all my power on Zia's skull, killing him in front of the master, even if I had to spend the rest of my life in jail.
"Anyway, it's all over now," Bhutto said to Zia. "We've resolved all our differences, the opposition and I. You can go home and rest."
"The army, I can assure you, sir, will follow the constitution to the letter," Zia repeated. "It will never do anything to destabilize the country. The jawans are one hundred percent behind me, sir."
Bhutto had dragged out the accord with the PNA for four months after the disputed March 7 elections. At first he'd refused to negotiate. The opposition had no ideology of its own, save for one point: oust Bhutto at any price. Secularists like Asghar Khan shamelessly cohabited with hotheaded mullahs like Shah Ahmad Noorani, united in their hatred of Bhutto, resentful of the sway he retained over the awam. Bhutto tried to have his friends in Saudi Arabia and the Emirates intervene on behalf of sanity and order. He gave the army a freer hand to quell protests. A month ago, he'd announced a deal with the PNA to hold new elections, but then disappeared for yet another tour of the Middle East, leaving the opposition wondering about his intentions. Only the night before, he'd finally agreed with Pirzada, Rao Rashid, and his other deputies that he would go along with each and every one of the opposition's demands. Until six in the morning, the PPP leaders had been drinking in celebration. Husna joined them toward the end, while Begum Bhutto was nowhere to be seen. Only Rahim sahib, back in Bhutto's good graces, had been grumpy. "You've left it till too late, I'm afraid," he admonished Bhutto. "The army is emboldened. Dangerous precedents have been set. They think the constitution is a piece of paper they can toy with."
Bhutto looked enraged. I thought of the time the FSF had paid Rahim sahib an unwelcome visit in the middle of the night. I shuddered to imagine what poor Rahim sahib, in his seventies, must have been through. I hoped I never fell on Bhutto's wrong side.
Pirzada tried to defuse the situation. "Rahim ji, as law minister I cannot allow any downer tonight. That would be a crime against the state punishable by five years' rigorous imprisonment."
Bhutto's advisers laughed, but Rahim sahib didn't find it funny. Neither did I.
Bhutto hadn't announced his intention to seal the deal to the PNA or the public as of the morning of July 4. He wanted to drag the desperate opposition over the coals some more, let them stew in their own juices, imagine worst-case scenarios. It was only the meeting with Zia that settled the case—something about Zia's manner must have alerted Bhutto that time was running out. It had to be now or never.
As soon as Zia left, Bhutto had the PNA leaders called, telling them he agreed to each of their demands.
The press conference began at 11.30 p.m. at 70 Clifton. "We've concluded a historic deal with the opposition," Bhutto said. "We'll have a public ceremony tomorrow to sign the accord. This is unprecedented in Pakistan's history. Politics is the art of give-and-take. If I play hardball, the other side is free to do so as well. The interest of the country, the legitimacy of the constitution, its preservation, comes first. I apologize to my brothers and sisters who've had to be dragged through the nightmare of the last four months. We hope the return of stability will attract much-needed investment to the country. Pakistan is open for business again. Let there be an end to the strikes, the riots. Let politics, the supreme human art, take center stage again. My thanks to the Shah of Iran, King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, and all those who lent their good offices to resolve these sticky matters."
Bhutto didn't stay around to answer the press's questions. No doubt some were thinking, How many times have we heard this before? Is this deal real? Pakistan had been caught in too much politics since 1967, when Bhutto started the first populist movement. Siyasat, siyasat, every step of the way. Bhutto loved it, it gave him life. Husna claimed to love it. I let it push aside any thoughts of a private life. But did the people love it too? Or were they like Begum Bhutto, tolerating it as a necessity, but not pleased?
At 2 a.m., 70 Clifton was surrounded by the army. Bhutto was transported in a military helicopter to the Murree rest house, and I went with him, part of the retinue of aides he was allowed to keep for three weeks, as Zia, the new ruler, at first allowed him comfortable conditions of detention. The soldiers who had come to wake me up were amused that the detained prime minister would want to take his loyal servants with him. The colonel who glanced briefly at the papers I collected from my file cabinets said, "You'll be needing these, I suppose, to mount your defense. Fine, take all the papers you want. Documentation is always good." I thanked him for his generosity.
* * *
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