Remembering Shahnawaz Bhutto -by Bashir Riaz

Bashir Riaz The writer is a former journalist, senior advisor to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the author of The Bhutto Family: A Constant Struggle.
Bashir Riaz
The writer is a former journalist, senior advisor to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the author of The Bhutto Family: A Constant Struggle.

After the judicial murder of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on April 4th, 1979, the Bhutto family suffered another great tragedy on July 18th, 1985, in the form of Shahnawaz Bhutto’s mysterious death. This was a particularly difficult time for the family, especially due to the close relationship Shahnawaz had with his mother and his sister. In July of 1985, Begum Bhutto went to the south of France to enjoy holidays with her family. There, she waited for Benazir Bhutto’s (BB) arrival with Murtaza, Shanawaz, and their wives and children. She was scheduled to arrive on July 11th, but important engagements in London held her back until July 16th. Upon arriving in France, Benazir spent two happy days with her brothers and their daughters, unaware that soon tragedy would be upon them.

Shahnawaz returned to his apartment at the end of these two days after wishing his family good night. He was found dead there under mysterious circumstances on July 18th, and his wife Rehana, present there at the time, was arrested in accordance with French law for failing to assist a dying man. The Bhutto family believed that Rehana was responsible for Shahnawaz’s death. In response to his belief that the two sisters had plotted to kill his brother, Murtaza divorced his wife, Rehana’s sister Fauzia. Thus, a family holiday turned into a great tragedy. The next day, with the news of the death of Shahnawaz Bhutto spreading like wildfire, people from all corners of the world attempted to reach out to Benazir to express their condolences and regrets. As these messages of compassion poured in, BB made a day trip to London to receive condolences from party leaders. Throughout the day, from eleven in the morning to the evening, Benazir met with ordinary party workers as well as leaders to receive their regrets regarding Shahnawaz’s death. The very next morning, she returned to France. The most traumatising aspect of the time that followed was the four-week custody the French police took of Shahnawaz’s body. A long investigation was conducted since foul play was suspected, leading to an agonising period for members of the Bhutto family.

Some leaders turned Shahnawaz’s tragic death into an excuse for gossip. One particular leader began hypothesising on a daily basis when Shahnawaz’s body was to arrive in Karachi. In Karachi, two English newspapers caused close relatives and well-wishers of the Bhutto family uncertainty and anxiety, releasing unreliable and contradictory reports regularly. It was due to this confusion that BB asked me to make a statement to the press stating that I would be the only one to make an announcement regarding the arrival of Shahnawaz’s body in Karachi; this quieted the presses for the time being.

Finally, on August 20th, 1985, French authorities released the body of Shahnwaz Bhutto to his sister, and on August 22nd, BB brought her brother back to Larkana. Shahnawaz was bathed at Al-Murtaza and buried near his father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in their ancestral graveyard at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. Sanam and Benazir Bhutto were there, mourning their young brother who was an example of great courage and discipline. I was a witness and a part of this grief. Mr Makhdoom Amin Fahim and Mr Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi came to pay their respects together on the same plane. Larkana became incredibly crowded during this time, even as General Zia placed blockades on routes to the town. It was astounding to see the Pakistani people come from all corners of our nation, breaking barriers to participate in the last rites of their great leader’s son.

Shahnawaz Bhutto was a very handsome young man. Like his father before him, Shahnawaz had a romance with the democratic rights of the people. His struggle was against General Zia’s martial law. In his efforts on this front, Shahnawaz had trained for three months in Beirut. Benazir loved Shahnawaz, but the shock of his death sparked a new enthusiasm and strength within her. When Bhutto sahib was arrested after the implementation of martial law, Begum sahiba sent Benazir and Shahnawaz to Lahore for the specific reason of raising worker morale and courage. This was the early beginning to both siblings’ involvement in politics.

Shahnawaz had many strengths as well as countless days of disciplined schooling.

Mr Rao Mazhar Hayat writes the following about Bhutto sahib: “In 1977, the world changed. In my view, the view of a student, Bhutto was a fairytale character in our world of politics. He was a great man, an amazing person, and the most unique man of our era.”

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto loved his son Shahnawaz immensely. Before his death, he willed that his historic and invaluable watch be given to his youngest son. Thus, this last symbol of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was delivered to Shahnawaz in London. During her long exile in London, Benazir arranged for the Quran to be read in honour of her brother. After the death of Benazir Bhutto, workers for the Pakistan Peoples Party continued readings of the Quran in honour of Shahnawaz. To this day, the people have a strong connection to the Bhutto family – and this connection is everlasting.

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