Last Moments of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

*This article is an abridged translation of one of the chapters from Col Rafi ud Din’s Urdu book “Bhutto kay akhri 323 din” (The last 323 days of Mr. Bhutto). Col. Rafi ud Din was the Special Security Superintendent of the Rawalpindi Jail*

 Official Notification of Mr. Bhutto’s Execution

According to the orders of the SMLA, the following officials were to inform Mr. Bhutto of his execution on the night of 3-4 April 1979:

1) – Jail Superintendent, Mr. Yar Mohammad
2) – Security Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Rafi-ud-Din
3) – Magistrate First Class, Mr. Bashir Ahmad Khan
4) – Jail Doctor, Mr. Sagheer Hussain Shah

This party entered the jail cell at 6:05 p.m. in the evening on April 3rd and found Mr. Bhutto lying on the mattress on the floor.

Jail Superintendent, Yar Mohammad, read the execution order to Mr. Bhutto, “According to the 18th March 1978 order of the Lahore High Court, You, Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto are to be hanged for the murder of Nawab Mohammad Ahmad Khan. Your appeal in the Supreme Court was rejected on 6th February 1979 and the review petition was turned down on 24th March 1979. The president of Pakistan has decided not to interfere in this matter. So it has been decided to hang you.”

I did not see any signs of panic on Mr. Bhutto’s face while the Jail Superintendent was reading out the orders. Instead, I could see that he was quite calm & relaxed and had a smile on his face. I was really surprised at the way Mr. Bhutto had handled the news. I was thinking that we were about to hang a leader who had listened to the orders of his execution with such calm and serenity. I could hear a voice inside me that the death of this person would be disastrous for our nation & our country. Probably for the first time in my life I felt that I was losing control over myself.

Bhutto Sahib looked the Jail Superintendent in his eyes and said to him (these words are Mr. Bhutto’s own) “I should have been informed by the competent authority 24 hours prior to the execution, but it has not been done. On the contrary when my daughter and wife met me today at 11:30 hours, they were not sure about it. I called Jail Superintendent and asked him for necessary clarification. He told me vaguely that the required order for the execution has been passed and it was with him. He also told me that my relations: my sister Monawar ul Islam and my cousin, Mr. Mumtaz Ali Bhutto would be seeing me after my daughter and wife left me. He also told me that after the visitors, he would come himself to get my ‘will’ etc. at 13:50 hours. No written order of my execution has been shown to me so far. I want to see my counsels as soon as possible. My other relatives should have been allowed to see me. My teeth are very bad and I would like to see my dentist, Mr. Zafar Niazi, immediately”.

After these words from Mr. Bhutto, Magistrate First Class, Mr. Bashir Ahmad Khan introduced himself and told Mr. Bhutto that he could write his will if he wanted to. He would be provided with paper etc. for this. After this, the official message read by the government party was over and the officials started to leave. I was still in a state of confusion at that time. I felt as if I was petrified. Bhutto Sahib tried to get up but stumbled. I helped him by supporting him with my arm. He said that he was feeling sick in his stomach.

Bhutto Sahib called out for his helper, Abdur Rehman, and asked him to bring some warm water for his shave. He then turned to me and asked me, “Rafi! What is this drama that is being staged?”

I remained silent for a while so he repeated his question.

I answered, “Sir, have I ever tried to joke with you?”

He said at once, “What do you mean?’ and then repeated the question again.”

I answered, “Sir, the order has been given. You will be executed today.”

For the first saw I saw a bewildered look on Mr. Bhutto’s face. He waved his hand and said in a loud voice “OK… It’s finished… OK… It’s finished.” I said, “Yes Sir.”

It seemed like Bhutto Sahib’s eyes had exploded because of fear. His face turned yellow and dry. I cannot accurately describe the condition he was in
at that time.

Then he said, “At what time? Today?”

I showed him 7 fingers of my hand just like a jump master tells the time before the jump.

He said, “After 7 days?”

I went near him and told him, “Sir, hours.”

He said, “Tonight, after 7 hours?”

I answered by nodding my head in affirmation.

When Bhutto Sahib was brought to the Pindi Jail he seemed as hard as a rock, but now he seemed to be evaporating. At that time I felt the reality of life.

After silence of a few moments he said; “Rafi, that’s all?” I said yes by nodding again.

After a brief silence I told Mr. Bhutto that Begum Bhutto and Benazir met me after their last meeting with him and the part I had played in conveying their mercy appeal to Gen. Zia. At that time I saw that Mr. Bhutto was feeling very nervous and weak. I helped him sit on the chair inside the cell. I told him that by now Begum Sahiba probably would have met Gen. Zia and I hoped that Allah would be merciful and would create a way out of this situation. Mr. Bhutto stood up from his chair and embraced me. He said, “You are a brave man. I wish I had met you earlier.” At that point I felt a slight bit of trembling in his body, but I could see that his nervousness had faded away to a great extent and he looked almost normal.

After a short pause, he said, as if talking to himself, “My lawyers have messed up this case. Yahya* is responsible for my hanging. He kept on telling me all the wrong things. He has screwed everything up.” Then he said that his party needed a dead- not an alive- Bhutto.

He held my hand when I exclaimed that I was sorry to hear all that. He said that he was sorry that his lawyers had not treated me (Col. Rafi) properly. I told him that I had no ill feelings about it. Bhutto Sahib said that Pirzada** & Yahya had given statements against me in the press. I told him that I had not been questioned by the authorities and that he should not worry about these things.

He then thanked me for my kindness and how I had treated him with honor & dignity. I also thanked him & reminded him that he should start writing his will. He wanted me to sit beside him but I had strict instructions not to be with him alone. It would have been very useful to spend some more time with him and he could have shared a lot of personal feelings with me at that particular time. But just that moment a warder came in to deliver some writing material and I had to leave the cell.

As I have written before, Bhutto Sahib had never seriously thought that he would one day be taken to the gallows. He always thought that the case was cooked up against him, was politically motivated and was without any substance. On the 3rd of April, his wife and daughter had realized that the government had decided to hang him.But Bhutto Sahib still thought that to be a hoax because the jail authorities had not shown him the execution orders 7 days before the hanging as they were legally supposed to do.

After that, even after the government officials had informed him at 6 p.m. of his imminent execution, he was still in doubt. But I believe all his doubts were washed away when he asked me what all this drama was and I had answered plainly that he was to be executed that day. I believe that was the time when he realized that he was face to face with death. He was human after all and it was but natural to panic and be afraid when facing death.

After I left his cell, Mr. Bhutto shaved in the presence of Deputy Superintendent of Police, Khawaja Ghulam Rasul at 7:05 p.m. During the shave he had the following conversation with the Deputy Superintendent: “Deputy Sahib, where will you find a leader like me? But why would you need a leader like me in the first place? I am needed by the poor, not by the likes of you. I used to make speeches to mochis (cobblers) at Mochi Gate because I am a mochi myself. You people are taking away the leader of the poor from them. I am a revolutionary. I am a supporter of the poor. Yaar, if you had to kill me, why didn’t you kill me 2 years back? Why didn’t you respect me like the whole world does? I could have been kept in a rest house and could have been killed with dignity. Today, the Chairman of the Islamic Council, who was selected by Muslims all over the world, cannot even shave on his own. You are standing near me so that I don’t hurt myself with the blade. Yes, another thing, yaar… I have troubled you a lot… please forgive me. You have forced the other accused in this case to lie about me so that I can be hanged and they can go scot free.”

Then he called the sentry who was on duty outside his cell and told the Deputy Superintendent to give his wrist watch to the sentry after his death.

Tears came into Bhutto Sahib’s eyes when at 8:05 p.m. his helper, Abdur Rehman, brought a cup of coffee at Bhutto Sahib’s request. Bhutto Sahib said to him, “Rehman, please forgive me if I’ve ever treated you badly. I will be hanged anyway and tonight is my last night with you. I am your guest for just a few more hours.”

Mr. Bhutto worked on his will from 8:45 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. After that, for about 10 minutes, he tried to organize his mirror, comb, hair brush, prayer mat etc. on his table.

Then, till 9:55 p.m., he brushed his teeth, washed his face and combed his hair.

After that, for about 5 minutes, he cleaned the ashes of his cigar and some burnt papers.

He again started to write from 10:10 p.m. to 11:05 p.m. He then burnt all the papers on which he had written. The ashes spread all over in his cell. He called Abdur Rehman and asked him to clean his cell. He asked the sentry how much time was left. The sentry replied that there’s enough time left. Bhutto Sahib again asked how much time was left but the sentry remained quiet. Bhutto Sahib then said to himself that he could probably sleep for 1-2 hours.

The cell was opened at 11:10 p.m. and helper Abdur Rehman came in and cleaned the ashes from the floor. The cell was then closed and Bhutto Sahib lay down quietly.

At 11:25 p.m. he said that he’ll try to sleep for a while because he was not able to sleep properly last night but you people should wake me up at 12a.m. He called out Sanam’s (Bhutto Sahib’s daughter) name a few times while he was sleeping.

At 11:55 p.m., Assistant Superintendents Majeed Ahmad Qureshi & Kazim Hussain Baluch arrived. They tried to wake Mr. Bhutto from outside, but he did not respond. Mr. Qureshi telephoned the jail office and asked what he should do. He was told to enter the cell and try to wake up Mr. Bhutto. He went inside but Bhutto Sahib still didn’t wake up. Mr. Qureshi informed over the phone that Mr. Bhutto was not answering, as if he was unconscious. I got worried at that state of affairs, as it was my responsibility to ensure that under no circumstances should Bhutto Sahib commit suicide.

One minute before the clock struck midnight, I entered the security ward along with the jail superintendent, the jail doctor and the magistrate. Bhutto Sahib was lying on the mattress inside the cell and his face was towards the cell. Chaudhry Yar Mohammad & the jail doctor saw that Bhutto Sahib had opened one eye and after seeing all of us he closed it at once.

Chaudhry Yar Mohammad and I called Mr. Bhutto’s name a few times but to no avail. I asked the jail doctor to check Mr. Bhutto. The doctor checked his pulse and then listened to his heartbeat with a stethoscope and whispered to me that Bhutto Sahib was fine. I again called Mr. Bhutto’s name but didn’t get a reply. I asked the jail doctor to check Mr. Bhutto again. The doctor checked him again and told me that he was fine. I asked the doctor to come outside with me and enquired why Bhutto Sahib was not answering. The doctor assured me that Mr. Bhutto was perfectly fine and that I need not worry. He told me that Mr. Bhutto was only faking. I told the doctor that he’ld be responsible if anything happened to Mr. Bhutto and told him to check Mr. Bhutto again. The doctor checked for the third time and told me that he was fine and was just faking.

At 1:10 a.m. in the night, Mr. Bhutto got up himself. Mr. Qureshi told him that warm water was available for his shower but Mr. Bhutto answered that he did not want to shower anymore.

The Execution

According to the orders, Bhutto Sahib was to be executed on the night of 3-4 April, 1979, in the presence of Inspector of Jails. Chaudhry Nazeer Akhtar – who was present at the Rawalpindi Jail since morning on April 3rd. A stretcher had been arranged keeping in view Mr. Bhutto’s physical condition because of the hunger strike that he had been on. Arrangements had been made for a few petromax lamps as the night was extremely dark and there were thick clouds on the horizon.

The following officials entered the security ward at 1:35 a.m:

1) – Jail Superintendent, Mr. Yar Mohammad
2) – Security Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Rafi-ud-Din
3) – Magistrate First Class, Mr. Bashir Ahmad Khan
4) – Jail Doctor, Mr. Sagheer Hussain Shah
5) – Deputy Superintendent Jail, Khawaja Ghulam Rasool

Assistant Superintendents of Jail Majeed Ahmed Qureshi, Kazim Hussain Baluch, Mahabat Khan and warders selected by the Jail Superintendent also followed the above mentioned officials up to the security ward. Inspector of Jails Chaudhry Nazeer Akhtar went straight to the gallows from his office. Additional army personnel had been deployed on the route from the security ward to the gallows.

The officials entered Mr. Bhutto’s cell. Bhutto Sahib was awake and was resting on the mattress. Magistrate Mr. Bashir Ahmad Khan asked him whether he wanted to leave any will. Bhutto Sahib remained quiet. He had turned yellow and pale and seemed very weak physically. His voice was barely audible because of weakness. He said something to the effect:

“I…had…tried…but…my… thoughts…were…so…upset…that…I…could…not…do…it…I…have….burnt…it.”

I went near him and said as I bent over him, “Sir, are you able to walk or shall we pick you up?” He did not answer me, but kept looking into my eyes. I again repeated my question after a while. He kept on looking at me like that and then said, “I pity.” (He said something else also but we could not understand what it was).

I again leaned forward and told him that I could not understand what he said. He repeated the same sentence again but I could not comprehend the last one or two words. I bent fully upon him and said, “Excuse me Sir, but I did not understand what you said.”

After a pause and with a lot of effort he said, “I…pity…my…wife…left.”

He was in a very sad state at that time. May be what he wanted to say was that he could not walk but he also did not want to be carried. May be he was thinking that his wife could have given him support, had she been present.

The magistrate again came forward and asked him if he wanted to write a will. Bhutto Sahib remained quiet. The magistrate repeated his question. Bhutto Sahib replied, “Yes…I…would…like…to…dictate.”

At that moment, the time was up and the jail superintendent ordered the head warder to call his men inside and to lift up Mr. Bhutto. Four warders entered the ward. Two of them grabbed Mr. Bhutto’s feet and two his arms, and lifted him up.

While he was being lifted, Mr. Bhutto said, “Leave me.”

Mr. Bhutto’s back was almost touching the floor while he was being brought out of the cell. The lower part of his shirt got entangled in the warder’s shoes and I heard the sound of the shirt being torn. He was put on the stretcher in the lawn. His hands were placed on his stomach and he was handcuffed. In the meanwhile, helper Abdur Rehman came with the cup of tea that Bhutto Sahib had ordered before we had entered his cell. I wondered: “on the other side of the Jail house’s wall, in the Prime Minister House, Mr. Bhutto used to get anything that he wished for, from anywhere in the world. And today he could not even fulfill his simple wish of having a cup of tea.”

The four warders lifted the stretcher from each corner. Bhutto Sahib lifted his head but remained motionless otherwise. His feet were yellow as if all the blood had been sucked out of him. He remained motionless till we reached near the gallows. The warders put the stretcher down on the ground near the gallows. Two of the warders put their arms under Mr. Bhutto’s arm pits and helped him stand up on the plank of the gallows. I was the one closest to Mr. Bhutto. I was just keeping my feet away from the wooden plank of the gallows, but my ears were only a few feet away from his face. His handcuffs were removed, his hands and arms pushed to his back with a forceful jerk, and he was handcuffed again.

In the meanwhile Tara Masih (the executioner) came and placed a mask over his face. He was either having trouble breathing because of the mask or he was feeling pain because of the way his arms were twisted when he was handcuffed. He said, “These”. May be he wanted to say: ” these are hurting me.” I was very close to him. I had come so close to him, while avoiding the plank, that the distance between his face and my ears was not more than 1 or 2 feet. But I could not hear his last sentence.

At exactly 2:04 a.m. on 4th April, 1979, the executioner pressed the lever and Bhutto Sahib was executed. I climbed down the stairs to reach one level below to where Mr. Bhutto’s body was hanging. I saw that Mr. Bhutto’s body was moving slightly but that was because of the momentum of the body falling down. He was certainly dead at that time. I went and sat down near the Inspector of Jails on one of the chairs that had been placed near Mr. Bhutto’s hanging body.

The scene of Bhutto Sahib’s hanging body is something that I have never been able to forget. I shiver even now when I think of that moment again.

After a few minutes I saw someone moving Mr. Bhutto’s body. I asked Chaudhry Yar Mohammad who it was. Instead of him, IG Prisons spoke up and told me that it was Tara Masih and he was straightening the arms & the legs so that the body would not get twisted due to spasms.

Mr. Bhutto’s Burial

Half an hour after the hanging, and after the jail doctor had issued the death certificate, Bhutto Sahib’s hanging body was taken down at 2:35 a.m. His dead body was given a bath, the arrangements for which had already been made at the spot. A photographer, who had been sent by an intelligence agency, took some photographs of Mr. Bhutto (of Mr. Bhutto’s private parts, which the author also mentioned in an earlier chapter). The authorities wanted to confirm whether Mr. Bhutto had been circumcised in Islamic manner or not. After the photographs were taken, it was confirmed that he was circumcised in the Islamic way.

His body was then placed in a wooden casket and was sent towards Chaklala Airport. I also had to accompany Mr. Bhutto on this journey. I conducted this caravan to PAF Chaklala where a VIP C-130 was waiting for us. Bhutto Sahib’s casket was loaded on to the plane along with a few other boxes and the plane started its journey towards Jacobabad. While the plane was over Sakesar (which is near Mianwali), I was told that there was some technical fault and the plane had to be taken back to Rawalpindi where another plane would take us to Jacobabad.

Another C-130 was waiting for us at Chaklala. Bhutto Sahib’s casket was loaded onto the plane and we again started our journey towards Jacobabad. We landed at Jacobabad Airport on the morning of 4th April, a few minutes before 7 a.m. A helicopter was waiting for us. Commanding Officer of 7 Punjab Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Sadiq, received Bhutto Sahib’s casket from me, had it placed in the helicopter and then took off for Nau Dero. Mr. Bhutto was buried in a grave already dug for him in Garhi Khuda Baksh.

* Yahya Bakhtiar, was one of Mr. Bhutto’s lawyers
** Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, another of Mr. Bhutto’s lawyers.



Filed under Army, History, human rights, Pakistan

10 responses to “Last Moments of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

  1. AZW

    I do not consider Mr. Bhutto as an exemplary leader for Pakistan. He was a flawed leader, who could have done a lot but spent his life following practising petty politics to further his career.

    Yet there was a knot in my throat as I read the final moments of a person who was a victim of a brazen act of judicial murder. What Zia-ul-Haq did 30 years ago to Mr. Bhutto probably saved Zia for a few years, yet will forever associate Zia as being the worst and meanest of the leaders that Pakistan has the misfortune of having for the past 60 years.

    It also tells me how life comes at the mightiest among us swiftly and mercilessly. A lesson for all of us I hope.

    Thanks for sharing BC.

  2. Bin Ismail

    The pro-theocracy elements, the very forces Mr. Bhutto endeavoured to please and tame by drawing religion into politics, were the ones who ultimately ensured his walk to the gallows.

  3. Imran

    A very sad read. “Today, the Chairman of the Islamic Council, who was selected by Muslims all over the world, cannot even shave on his own.” It echoes. What went wrong with this ‘warrior of Islam’.

  4. Maryanne Khan

    This reads like Shakespeare’s King Lear. A tragic end to a life spent in the public domain.

  5. Malahat

    @ Bin Ismail (May 3, 2010 at 5:33 pm)

    Your words: “The pro-theocracy elements, the very forces Mr. Bhutto endeavoured to please and tame by drawing religion into politics, were the ones who ultimately ensured his walk to the gallows.”

    Moral of the story: Never trust the mullah.

  6. Bin Ismail

    @ Imran (May 4, 2010 at 8:36 am)

    “…..A very sad read. “Today, the Chairman of the Islamic Council, who was selected by Muslims all over the world, cannot even shave on his own.” It echoes. What went wrong with this ‘warrior of Islam’…..”

    The true tragedy lies not in the fact that the Islamic world did not come to the rescue of the Chairman of the Islamic Council. The true tragedy lies in the fact that Mr. Bhutto, inspite of his prudence, failed to appreciate that by dragging Islam into politics and politics into Islam, he had only strengthened the hands of his would be assailants. The best service he could have done to both Islam and Pakistan was the he could have helped in separating State from Religion.

    Undoubtedly, a true tragedy.

  7. Pingback: Last Moments of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto - Pakistan Defence Forum

  8. Confused Muslim


    ‘moral of the story: Never trust the Mullah’

    Every fraction of the society needs to repeat that a 100 times daily! Mullahs are the worst pests ever… God save Pakistan from being eaten up by these vicious paracites.

  9. nasir jan

    ZAB used the Mullahs for his own purposes – in the end they did not come to his rescue and ended up killing his daughter – Confused muslim has got it spot on – never trust the mullah for he is the worst beast on Gods earth

  10. their is a problem inside the 1st spot.