(Based upon a conversation, and facts from his Urdu book, Bhutto’s Last 323 Days, with Col (retd) Rafiuddin, Special Security Superintendent of Z A Bhutto in Rawalpindi Central Jail, May 17, 1978 to April 4, 1979. Rafi’s battalion, then part of 111 Brigade, was assigned the responsibility for his overall security)
During the hearing of the appeal in the Supreme Court, Rafi used to sit in on the hearings. Occasionally, Bhutto would personally address the court, speaking eloquently and forcefully while defending himself. Rafi, in his conversations with Bhutto, felt that he was convinced that he would be acquitted honourably on the charges of having abetted the murder of Sardar Ahmad Raza Kasuri, although Rafi wasn’t too sure of the court’s impartiality. He found Bhutto to be a highly intelligent man, with a great vision for Pakistan, a complete grasp over world events and geopolitics, etc. Also, like most great men, he seemed to have certain character and flaws, best left unmentioned, some of which he divulged to Rafi.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Bhutto and four other accused of the murder on February 6, 1979; the judges were split four to three in Bhutto’s case but were unanimous in the case of the other four appellants. The Jail Superintendent conveyed the court’s decision to Bhutto later that morning. He heard it with equanimity, and stated that he had expected to be convicted by the court, but Rafi could sense a deep inner anguish in Bhutto’s face. His appeal for review of the decision was rejected by the Supreme Court on March 24, 1979, after which very stringent security measures were put in place. Bhutto then went on a complete hunger strike for nine long days. PPP’s Acting General Secretary, filed a mercy petition in the Supreme Court, which too was rejected. Neither Bhutto nor his family members filed a mercy petition with the president.
The Punjab Governor signed Bhutto’s execution order on April 1, 1979, which was confirmed by the President of Pakistan the same day. It was decided that Bhutto, along with the other four accused, all of the Federal Security Force, would all be hanged to death at 5 am, April 2. Later it was decided that initially only Bhutto would be hanged to death and a new death warrant delivered, after signature by the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, security in Bhutto’s cellblock was further tightened. Mrs Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, who were under protective custody in Sihala, were called for a final meeting with Z A Bhutto before the execution. They came on April 3, and stayed with him from 11:30 am to 2 pm, Mrs Bhutto was rather quiet throughout the meeting, but the young Benazir wept profusely. After the meeting, Mrs Bhutto made a last minute mercy appeal to General Zia, but it too was rejected.
At 6:05 pm April 3 the Jail Superintendent officially read out the execution order to Bhutto. He heard the order with equanimity, even resignation. Afterwards, Rafi was left alone with Bhutto who remarked, “Rafi, what’s going on?” And later, “Rafi, what is this drama being played?” to which Rafi replied, “Sir, have I ever tried to be funny with you?” Then, his eyes and face showed that it had finally sunk in on him. He asked, “When”, and Rafi indicated seven with my fingers, meaning seven hours from now. He then asked for hot water so that he could shave, saying, “I do not want meet my Maker looking like a bloody mullah!” Shortly before 2 am the jail staff came to Bhutto’s cellblock to take him on his final journey. He was helped on to a stretcher, being unable to walk because of weakness brought on by his prolonged hunger strike. He was helped up by two warders on arrival at the site of the hanging, his hands handcuffed behind his back, a hood placed over his head and a noose placed around his neck by the hangman Tara Masih. At 2:04 am Tara Masih pulled the handle, and Pakistan’s former commerce minister, then foreign minister, then president, and later prime minister, fell to his death in the presence of the Inspector of Jails, Punjab, the necessary jail officials, and Col Rafi.
After being bathed, enshrouded and put in a wooden casket, his remains was quickly taken to Chaklala under tight security in the wee hours of the morning where a waiting C-130 took off for Jacobabad, with Col Rafi on board. The Bhutto ladies, who had been assured that they would be allowed to accompany the body to its final resting place, were nowhere to be seen. A waiting army helicopter made the short final flight to Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. Rafi handed over the casket to the civil administration for burial, and flew back in the helicopter to Jacobabad and then by the C-130 to Chaklala. To his knowledge, then only relative who was allowed to attend the last rites was Bhutto’s first wife, Amir Begum.
” It is not for me to say whether Bhutto’s trials were judicial murder, or whether he qualifies to be called a shaheed or not.
” Although many foreign heads of government, especially the then Ruler of UAE, pleaded with Zia to commute the death sentence, Zia seemed determined to hang Bhutto for his own survival. Bhutto was thoroughly disillusioned by his party stalwarts, who made little or no attempt to get him released from jail or mobilise public support.
” Asked whether any one had tried to subvert his loyalty, Rafi said that Bhutto once told him that he could have any amount of money delivered anywhere in the world, while a serving general once said, “Rafi, name your price,” whatever that implied.
The writer is a retired brigadier