HistoryPakistan Studies

Reasons for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Coming to Power

This post discusses the reasons for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s coming to power in Pakistan in December 1971. 


Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to power in Pakistan in the wake of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War which had left the country devastated and broken into two. With the surrender of the troops in the war, East Pakistan emerged as an independent nation on the world map.

Bhutto replaced Yahya Khan as Chief Martial Law Administrator and the President in the remaining part of Pakistan. He acted as president and first Civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator from 1971 to 1973. With the promulgation of the 1973 constitution, he assumed the role of the Prime Minister of Pakistan till 1977. Bhutto was deposed as prime minister in 1977 and later persecuted by his owned appointed chief of armed forces General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.

Following were the reasons for Bhutto’s coming to power in Pakistan:

Public anger towards the military regime

The Military ruled Pakistan when war broke out between Pakistan and India in December 1971. General Yahya Khan had failed to deal with the political situation created in East Pakistan after the general election of 1971. He was unable to contain the Indian-supported rebels, the Mukti Bahini, operating in East Pakistan.

People did not know what was going on as the government had imposed strict censorship on newspapers. Consequently, they had to rely on what the military regime fed into the newspapers and the only Television Channel, Pakistan Television (PTV). Thus throughout the troubling months of 1971, the people of Pakistan believed in the government’s claims to have successfully controlled the rebels and countered Indian aggression on Pakistan.

Later on, people were shocked to hear the news about the surrender of forces and the emergence of East Pakistan. They were disappointed with the military regime for its role in the aggravation of the political crisis in the country, failure in the war, and the subsequent events.

People no longer wanted Yahya to stay in power as his regime had lost all moral and political rationale to stick to power any further. Consequently, General Yahya had to step down and hand over the reign of the country to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.  

Public Support and popularity of Bhutto

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was a young and popular politician in West Pakistan. His Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had won majority seats in West Pakistan in the General elections of 1970. Out of 148 national assembly seats, PPP managed to win 80 seats in the elections. Thus, he enjoyed the huge support of the people. 

Moreover, people considered Bhutto as the only leader having the ability to steer the country out of this crucial juncture of its history. No other leader and the political party matched the public support Bhutto and PPP enjoyed at that time.

Charisma and statesmanship qualities 

Political analysts consider Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as one of the few charismatic leaders Pakistan has seen since its establishment.  After the 1971 war, 90 thousand soldiers were languishing in Indian jails as prisoners of war. In addition to that, a vast area of West Pakistan was under Indian occupation.

Similarly, the morale of the armed forces had dwindled after their surrender in East Pakistan. It seemed very difficult for Pakistan to stand up as an independent and sovereign state again.  In the remaining part of Pakistan, the situation demanded leadership to rescue the nation out of this difficult time. 

Bhutto had statesmanship qualities, political charisma, and public support. Only he could accept the challenges and rescue the nation from this troubled phase in its history. Having lost all moral and political justification, the military finally handed over the power to Bhutto. He replaced General Yahya Khan to become the First Civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator and President of the country in 1971.

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