Tariq Ali wrote this as a play for BBC. The execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by Military dictator Zia Ul Haque’s administration would have made a great story. In the last minute BBC backed off citing concerns about libel suits (after Tariq Ali declined to remove sections alleging US involvement in green lighting Bhutto’s hanging).
The book begins like a volcano and ends like the effervescence of a pop soda (quite the opposite of a good O’Henry story).
It is not easy staging a coup. Zia has to slowly build consensus while playing a polite general to the arrogant Prime Minister. In the end Zia takes over as an interim administrator "only until" an elected government takes over. Zia advises Bhutto to retire abroad. Bhutto does not listen. Bhutto thinks he would come back.
Zia administration slaps a murder charge against Bhutto. Nawab Mohammed Ahmed Khan, the father of a local politician Ahmed Raza Qasuri (who was openly threatened by Bhutto in Pakistan parliament) died in a shoot out in Nov 1974. Bhutto was named as a conspirator by Qasuri.
Trials at lower court, at high court and at the Supreme Court were more about form than substance. The Supreme court awarded death sentence to Z A Bhutto. Zia declined to invoke his power to show mercy.
Until this part the play appears authentic.
The very last act alleges that Bhutto died in the cell and he was “hanged” again for form. Author Tariq Ali confesses that this was a rumor that lost credence with the passage of years. However, Tariq Ali ought to have used the intervening years to correct the anomaly. History should record that Bhutto was “executed” by Zia administration.
The book lacks the powerful narrative one has come to expect from Tariq Ali and appears to be a mediocre play covering an important incident.
Perhaps a different and excellent article covering the same subject spoils me: “Judicial murder of aPrime Minister”
Guess who wrote that? Tariq Ali!