I've been staring at the Peshawar High Court’s judgment in Asfandyar Wali v the State for about 8 months. This case, like several in Pakistan's history, is deeply intertwined with both national and international politics. As part of the backdrop to Bhutto’s dismissal and ultimately his execution, I would assume that it has been addressed at some length in print literature. However, having looked a fair bit, I've yet to find anything and there is certainly nothing on the Internet about the case.
I will therefore, attempt to ‘blog’ the entire case as I read it. I am however mindful that the post is likely to be quite long, and so to ensure that it doesn't go completely unread by all of Five Rupees’ ADD suffering readership, I will break up the post into several segments and post on consecutive days.
Note: This is therefore the first of a four part series of posts about the murder of Hayat Khan Sherpao.
Click here for the 2nd part.
Click here for the 3rd part.
Click here for the 4th part.
This case is about a political assassination committed in 1975. The links to the circumstances surrounding Benazir’s assassination and Pakistan's current situation are numerous, and I shall do my best to identify them as I blog the case. But I will say at the outset that it is remarkable to see just how much of Pakistan’s politics 'runs in the families’, and how structural and geopolitical issues play out on such personal levels within those families.
Succession and Autonomy
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto dismissed the NAP - JUI coalition government in Baluchistan in February of 1973. A declassified intelligence dispatch from the American Embassy in Islamabad explained that particular incident in the 'great game' and described how Iraq was involved.The NAP was obviously less than pleased and resigned its N.W.F.P ministry in protest.
By July of 1973 Wali Khan was becoming increasingly vitriolic. Regarding Bhutto's sacking of the NAP-JUI government in Baluchistan, he announced publicly that the time for appeals had passed and his followers would now meet force with force.
How things have(nt) changed. To state the obvious, even if the current problems in N.W.F.P and Baluchistan are not simply continuations of the previous conflicts, they do follow a pattern wherein:
a) An ethnic or sub-ethnic group angrily aires a legitimate grievance,
b) which is unsatisfactorily addressed by the Federal Government,
c) and which is then expressed again but this time with violence and force,
d) and that violence is met with more force from the Government,
e) and the issue morphs into a debate about the use of force against the state's own citizens and vice-versa,
f) and what began as a grievance evolves into a situation somewhere between outright succession and militant ethno- nationalism.
I digress. By 1974, the Baluchi insurgency was well and truly underway with an estimated 135'000 soldiers and militants thrashing it out in the province. The pro-Soviet Sardar Daoud regime in Kabul was backing the insurgents. The Shah of Iran, who also had his own ethnic Baluch to deal with, was equally wary of Kabul, and was backing Bhutto. Which brings us nicely to the date in question; the 8th of February 1975.
It's a Saturday, and the Assembly Hall at Peshawar University is crowded with students and professors. The office bearers of the History Department are due to take oath in the afternoon. The Chief Guest is to administer the oaths, and he’s running late. He eventually arrives and is received warmly by the President and Secretary of the History Society.
The Holy Quran is read aloud at 4:00 pm, and the assembly hall sits quietly.
One by one, the Chief Guest administers the oaths. The series of handshakes are punctuated by camera flashes from an attending photographer. During the oath taking, an employee of Radio Pakistan gets up and places a tape recorder on a table near the entrance to the hall. The Chief Guest finishes administering the oaths, and there are smiles and a few speeches, including one from the Chief Guest himself. The Chairman of the History Society then calls the Chief Guest away from the rostrum, to have some tea on the verandah.
The Chief Guest walks towards that direction, but is called back when Sardar Muhammad Khan, Joint Secretary of the society, demands a donation from the Chief Guest and starts asking why it wasn’t announced during his earlier speech.
Hayat Khan Sherpao is the Chief Guest. He returns to the rostrum to explain why the donation had not been announced. He speaks a few words, but his speech is ended by the force of the blast. From under his feet, a huge explosion tears through his legs, breaks his jaws and rips through his skull, causing his brain to protrude.
Hayat Khan Sherpao was a founding member of the PPP and one of Bhutto's closest lieutenants. He was said to have been an orator on par with Bhutto himself, an outspoken nationalist and a decent man. He was tasked with developing grass roots support for the party in the frontier during the PPP's formative years. After the PPP's win in the 1970 election, he became known as Bhutto's "lion of the Frontier", synonymous with the "lion of the Punjab" Ghulam Mustafa Khar.
According to a tribute from the Daily Times:
"People who could not rival him in terms of performance and charisma turned against him and were baying for his blood. Sensing danger, his well-wishers advised him to avoid public meetings but he ignored them because he did not want to stay away from his people"
And therein lies another parallel.