In late 1975 George Hutchinson, my first English friend of note, arrived at my office in Wellington Court, Knightsbridge with a proposition.
He wanted me to accompany him to Pakistan, having received an invitation to visit the country from President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto through his secretary of information Nassim Ahmed. Some years before, Mr Ahmed had been a political correspondent for a Pakistani newspaper reporting on the British House of Commons at the same time as George was fulfilling a similar role for the Evening Standard. It was a trip George very much wanted to undertake, but his fear of flying held him back. If I agreed to travel with him, he said, it would go a long way towards helping him overcome his phobia, adding that there would be no problem with securing an additional invitation for me.
It was a proposal hard to turn down. Two weeks later the journey began. We were accorded full VIP treatment and taken on a grand tour of the country as far up the Khyber Pass as the Afghan border. We met President Bhutto twice and were impressed by the breadth of his intellect and his shrewd analysis of world affairs. He dressed immaculately and oozed charm. His presidential environment was as finely tuned as his wardrobe, with opulence much in evidence wherever he went.
A banquet was held in our honour to mark the occasion, and as his feted guests we enjoyed every aspect of his generous hospitality. Bhutto was without doubt a man of outstanding charisma. I soon warmed to him as formalities were pushed gently aside and a natural rapport seemed to develop between us.
A few weeks after my return to London I was pleasantly surprised to receive a telephone call from Bhutto. He spoke about a manuscript he had just completed which summed up his political philosophy, and he said he would like to see it appear in book form. Would I be prepared to pass it on to Quartet Books?
Overwhelmed by his telephone call, I said of course I would. Bhutto then added that his friend, Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper, later Lord Dacre, had encouraged him to take that route and would be willing to help if needed.
The manuscript arrived by way of the diplomatic bag. I read it closely, and it seemed worth publishing for two specific reasons, even though it might have a limited appeal in the United Kingdom. First, the sale of the book in Pakistan would be substantial – the Pakistani authorities would ensure it. They would distribute copies to visiting heads of state and other notables, which would have a knock-on effect in promoting Quartet Books. Second, it would give the imprint a foothold in a country whose cultured elite would recognise the list as being both trendy and readable. In the wake of The Arab Experience, The Last Corner of Arabia and the book on Ras al-Khaimeh, the Bhutto book fell into place and was published in January 1977 under the title The Third World: New Directions.
A few months later I returned to Pakistan with Michael Deakin of Yorkshire Television. We were again the guests of President Bhutto, who, having heard of my association with David Frost, wished to sound me out on the possibility of an interview to be conducted by David and produced for television by Paradine Co-Productions Ltd., our joint company. David was then at the zenith of his career and an interview with him was likely to be given international coverage. Michael, who had to his credit the hugely successful trilogy on Japan and the Arab world, came along as both adviser and friend.
We flew to Karachi and were taken on a tour of Pakistan that included such highlights as lunch with the Khyber Rifles in their mess, with all the regimental silver on display, and an excursion to Lahore to visit the famous Red Mosque. As soon as I was back in London the filming arrangements were put in place. A camera and sound crew were dispatched to Pakistan, with David Frost in his customary role of interviewer and John Birt, the future director-general of the BBC, heading the outfit as producer.
The programme had been completed as planned without a hiccup when the unfortunate fact emerged that not a single network would be willing to show it. Their grounds for turning it down were that because the finance for it came from the Pakistani government it would look suspiciously like a promotional exercise. Barely two years later, Bhutto was unceremoniously deposed by a coup led by the army chief of staff he had himself appointed, General Zia ul-Haq, and suffered the indignity of being incarcerated like a common criminal in the worst possible conditions.
He was accused of having conspired to murder one of his political opponents by an ambush in which the opponent’s father died. Many commentators insisted that the charge was a frame-up and remained convinced that after his trial his eventual execution by hanging was a shameful and cruel act of expediency and revenge.
Bhutto had been in many ways ahead of his time, and I felt sure that at his death Pakistan lost a leader of exceptional ability and flair. There can be no limits to the savagery meted out to fallen leaders in the often dirty game of politics. In 1980, a year after Bhutto’s judicial murder, Quartet reissued The Third World with a foreword by Hugh Trevor-Roper.
Trevor-Roper was clear in his opinion that Bhutto, the first civilian to rule Pakistan, had been in his day ‘the ablest statesman in Asia’ next to Chou En-lai, but that he had also harboured ‘vast ambition, acute personal sensitivity, great pride, even vanity’, and herein lay the seeds of his downfall. ‘My vision,’ Bhutto had stated, ‘is that of a Pakistan whose social standards are comparable with
those in parts of Europe. This means a war against illiteracy and ignorance. It means fighting prejudice and obscurantism. It involves the equality of men and women.’
Better education, better health, a better environment and the restoration of human dignity were all part of his programme. He founded the instantly popular Pakistan People’s Party to realise these goals and foster his concept of a ‘middle way’, called bilateralism, for the unaligned nations, to enable them to work towards economic independence in the context of world trade and development.
Professor Trevor-Roper saw Bhutto as a tragic figure in the classical sense, brought down by hubris, and his death as a disaster for his country, which, after his repudiation, ‘stood in greater need than ever of his political ability’.
From the moment of General Zia’s usurpation, it was clear that the new regime would never take root as long as Bhutto was alive. If elections were held, the People’s Party would undoubtedly win them, for Bhutto was still the hero of the people. If elections were not held, Bhutto would be a formidable opponent who would never leave the usurper in peace.
Therein lay the reasons for his death. The spirit of the martyrs may live on, commented Trevor-Roper, but unfortunately ‘the intelligence . . . is buried with their bones’.