Pakistan, April 4, 1979 — Former Pakistani prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged before dawn today at the Rawalpindi jail, ending a long drama over his fate and opening the prospect of widespread unrest.
The government radio announced that the execution had taken place at 2 a.m. and that Bhutto’s body was handed over to his relatives for burial. Members of the family were informed of the death early in the day by a senior military official.
Bhutto, 51, was sentenced to die along with four others for conspiracy to kill a political foe, but the sentence was delayed for agonizing weeks and months as appeal after appeal was filed in the courts and world leaders petitioned Pakistan’s military leader and president, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, to show clemency.
Overthrown by the military almost two years ago following charges of election irregularities, Bhutto nevertheless retains a substantial following among the country’s peasantry as a result of his charismatic rule from 1971 to 1977. There are fears that widespread violence could break out following his death.
Should Pakistan be thrown into an intense period of unrest, it would add yet another country in upheaval to a zone that runs from the Arabian Peninsula, through Iran to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Despite the reports from official sources and family members that Bhutto had been hanged, the Pakistani government still had not made a formal announcement of his death.
The daily newspaper Nawaiwqt quoted the prison medical officer as saying, “Bhutto has breathed his last.”
The execution was carried out in a secret military operation and the only people to be told other than the executioners were Bhutto, his wife and daughter. The women have been held under house arrest for several weeks.
Bhutto’s wife and his daughter Benazir were allowed to visit at the jail for three hours yesterday, and diplomatic sources reported that they were told it was their last visit before the hanging.
Extraordinary precautions were taken in the capital and at airports yesterday, according to these sources.
Following the hangin, Bhutto’s body was flown from a nearby airbase to his home village in southern Sind Province for burial.
Evidence that the hanging was imminent began to build just after midnight when armed troops surrounded the Rawalpindi jail. At 1:15 a.m., two journalists found watching the jail were arrested and taken to a police station. They were held there until dawn when the troops had dispersed.
By Peter Niesewand
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 4, 1979