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February 12, 2012 / khawjaimtiazalam

The Bhutto”s

  An excellent critique on the ‘Daughter of the beast’ written with the usual Dalrymple flair.
A great read.

*Family matters*

*William Dalrymple /  April 10, 2010, 0:01 IST*

The life and times of the Bhuttos is seen afresh in a passionately partisan
but well-constructed memoir. *William Dalrymple *reviews it in context.
The Bhuttos’ acrimonious family squabbles have long resembled one of the
bloody succession disputes that habitually plagued South Asia during the
time of the Great Mughals. In the case of the Bhuttos, they date back to the
moment when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was arrested on July 5, 1977.

Unsure how to defend their father and his legacy, his children had reacted
in different ways. Benazir believed the struggle should be peaceful and
political. Her brothers initially tried the same approach, forming
al-Nusrat, the Save Bhutto committee; but after two futile years they
decided in 1979 to turn to the armed struggle.

Murtaza was 23 and had just left Harvard where he got a top first, and where
he was taught by, among others, Samuel Huntington. Forbidden by his father
from returning to Zia’s Pakistan, he flew from the US first to London, then
on to Beirut, where he and his younger brother Shahnawaz were adopted by
Yasser Arafat. Under his guidance they received the arms and training
necessary to form the Pakistan Liberation Army, later renamed Al-Zulfiquar
or The Sword.

Just before his daughter Fatima was born, Murtaza and his brother had found
shelter in Kabul as guests of the pro-Soviet government. There the boys had
married a pair of Afghan sisters, Fauzia and Rehana Fasihudin, the beautiful
daughters of a senior Afghan official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Fatima’s mother was Fauzia.

For all its PLO training in camps in Syria, Afghanistan and Libya,
Al-Zulfiquar achieved little except for two failed assassination attempts on
Zia and the hijacking of a Pakistan International Airways flight in 1981.
This was diverted from Karachi to Kabul and secured the release of some 55
political prisoners; but it also resulted in the death of an innocent
passenger, a young army officer. Zia used the hijacking as a means of
cracking down on the Pakistan Peoples Party, and got the two boys placed on
the Federal Investigation Agency’s most-wanted list. Benazir was forced to
distance herself from her two brothers even though they subsequently denied
sanctioning the hijack, and claimed only to have acted as negotiators once
the plane landed in Kabul. While much about the details of the hijacking
remains mysterious, Murtaza was posthumously acquitted of hijacking in 2003.

I first encountered the family in 1994 when, as a young foreign
correspondent on assignment for the Sunday Times, I was sent to Pakistan to
write a long magazine piece on the Bhutto dynasty. I met Benazir in the
giddy pseudo-Mexican Prime Minister’s House that she had built in the middle
of Islamabad.

It was the beginning of Benazir’s second term as Prime Minister, and she was
at her most imperial. She both walked and talked in a deliberately measured
and regal manner, and frequently used the royal “we”. During my interview,
she took a full three minutes to float down the hundred yards of lawns
separating the Prime Minister’s House from the chairs where I had been told
to wait for her. There followed an interlude when Benazir found the sun was
not shining in quite the way she wanted it to: “The sun is in the wrong
direction,” she announced. Her hair was arranged in a sort of baroque
beehive topped by white gauze dupatta like one of those Roman princesses in
*Caligula or Rome.*

A couple of days later in Karachi, I met Benazir’s brother Murtaza in very
different circumstances. Murtaza was on trial in Karachi for his alleged
terrorist offences. A one hundred rupee bribe got me through the police
cordon, and I soon found Murtaza with his mother — Begum Bhutto — in an
annexe beside the courtroom. Murtaza looked strikingly like his father,
Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. He was handsome, very tall — well over six feet — with
a deep voice and, like his father, exuded an air of self-confidence,
bonhomie and charisma. He invited me to sit down: “Benazir doesn’t care what
the local press says about her,” he said, “but she’s very sensitive to what
her friends in London and New York get to read about her.”
“Has your sister got in touch with you since you returned to Pakistan?” I
“No. Nothing. Not one note.”

“Did you expect her to intervene and get you off the hook?” I asked. “What
kind of reception did you hope she would lay on for you when you returned
from Damascus?”
“I didn’t want any favours,” replied Murtaza. “I just wanted her to let
justice take its course, and for her not to interfere in the legal process.
As it is, she has instructed the prosecution to use delaying tactics to keep
me in confinement as long as possible. This trial has been going on for
three months now and they still haven’t finished examining the first
witness. She’s become paranoid and is convinced I’m trying to topple her.”
Murtaza went on to describe an incident the previous week when the police
had opened fire on Begum Bhutto as she left her house to visit her husband’s
grave. When the Begum ordered the gates of the compound to be opened and
made ready to set off, the police opened fire. One person was killed
immediately and two others succumbed to their injuries after the police
refused to let the ambulances through. That night as three family retainers
lay bleeding to death, 15 kilometres away in her new farmhouse, Benazir
celebrated her father’s birthday with singing and dancing:

“After three deaths, she and her husband danced!” said the Begum now near to
tears. “They must have known the police were firing at Al-Murtaza. Would all
this have happened if she didn’t order it? But the worst crime was that they
refused to let the ambulances through. If only they had let the ambulances
through those two boys would be alive now: those two boys who used to love
Benazir, who used to run in front of her car.”
The Begum was weeping now. “I kept ringing Benazir saying ‘for God sake stop
the siege’, but her people just repeated: ‘Madam is not available’. She
wouldn’t even take my call. One call from her walkie-talkie would have got
the wounded through. Even General Zia…” The sentence trailed away. “What’s
that saying in England?” asked the Begum: “Power corrupts, more power
corrupts even more. Is that it?”

Two years later, to no one’s great surprise, Murtaza was himself shot dead
in similar and equally suspicious circumstances.
Murtaza had been campaigning with his bodyguards in a remote suburb of
Karachi. As his convoy neared his home at 70 Clifton, the street lights were
abruptly turned off.
It was September 20, 1996, and Murtaza’s decision to take on Benazir had put
him into direct conflict not only with his sister, but also with her husband
Asif Ali Zardari. Murtaza had an animus against Zardari, who he believed was
not just a nakedly and riotously corrupt polo-playing playboy, but had
pushed Benazir to abandon the PPP’s once-radical agenda — fighting for
social justice. Few believed the rivalry was likely to end peacefully. Both
men had reputations for being trigger-happy. Murtaza’s bodyguards were
notoriously rough, and Murtaza was alleged to have sentenced to death
several former associates, including his future biographer, Raja Anwar,
author of an unflattering portrait, *The Terrorist Prince. *Zardari’s
reputation was worse still.

So insistent had the rumours become that Zardari had ordered the killing of
Murtaza at 3 pm that afternoon, that Murtaza had given a press conference
saying he had learnt that an assassination attempt on him was being planned,
and he named some of the police officers he claimed were involved in the
plot. Several of the officers were among those now waiting, guns cocked,
outside his house. According to witnesses, when the leading car drew up at
the roadblock, there was a single shot from the police, followed by two more
shots, one of which hit the foremost of Murtaza’s armed bodyguards. Murtaza
immediately got out of his car and urged his men to hold their fire. As he
stood there with his hands raised above his head, urging calm, the police
opened fire on the whole party with automatic weapons. The firing went on
for nearly 10 minutes.

Two hundred yards down the road, inside the compound of 70 Clifton, the
house where Benazir Bhutto had spent her childhood, was Murtaza’s wife
Ghinwa, his daughter, the 12-year-old Fatima, and the couple’s young son
Zulfikar, then aged six. When the first shot rang out, Fatima was in
Zulfikar’s bedroom, helping put him to bed. She immediately ran with him
into his windowless dressing room, and threw him onto the floor, protecting
him by covering his body with her own.

After 45 minutes, Fatima called the Prime Minister’s House and asked to
speak to her aunt. Zardari took her call:
Fatima: “I wish to speak to my aunt, please.”
Zardari: “It’s not possible.”
Fatima: “Why?” [At this point, Fatima says, she heard loud, stagy-sounding
Zardari: “She’s hysterical, can’t you hear?”
Fatima: “Why?”
Zardari: “Don’t you know? Your father’s been shot.”
Fatima and Ghinwa immediately left the house and demanded to be taken to see
Murtaza. By now there were no bodies in the street. It had all been swept
and cleaned up: there was no blood, no glass, or indeed any sign of any
violence at all. Each of the seven wounded had been taken to a different
location, though none was taken to emergency units of any the different
Karachi hospitals. The street was completely empty.

“They had taken my father to the Mideast, a dispensary,” says Fatima. “It
wasn’t an emergency facility and had no facilities for treating a wounded
man. We climbed the stairs, and there was my father lying hooked up to a
drip. He was covered in blood and unconscious. You could see he had been
shot several times. One of those shots had blown away part of his face. I
kissed him and moved aside. He never recovered consciousness. We lost him
just after midnight.”
The two bereaved women went straight to a police station to register a
report, but the police refused to take it down. Benazir Bhutto was then the
Prime Minister, and one might have expected the assassins would have faced
the most extreme measures of the state for killing the Prime Minister’s
brother. Instead, it was the witnesses and survivors who were arrested. They
were kept incommunicado and intimidated. Two died soon afterwards in police
“There were never any criminal proceedings,” says Fatima. “Benazir claimed
in the West to be the queen of democracy, but at that time there were so
many like us who had lost family to premeditated police killings. We were
just one among thousands.”

Benazir always protested her innocence in the death of Murtaza, and claimed
that the killing was an attempt to frame her by the army’s intelligence
services: “Kill a Bhutto to get a Bhutto,” as she used to put it. But
Murtaza was, after all, clearly a direct threat to Benazir’s future, and she
gained the most from the murder. For this reason her complicity was widely
suspected well beyond the immediate family: when Benazir and Zardari
attempted to attend Murtaza’s funeral, their car was stoned by villagers who
believed them responsible.
The judiciary took the same view, and the tribunal set up to investigate the
killing concluded that Benazir’s administration was “probably complicit” in
the assassination. Six weeks later, when Benazir fell from power, partly as
a result of public outrage at the killings, Zardari was charged with
Murtaza’s murder.

Fourteen years on, however, the situation is rather different. Benazir is
dead, assassinated, maybe by the military, but equally possibly by some
splinter group of the Taliban. Fatima is now a strikingly beautiful
28-year-old, fresh from a university education in New York and London. She
has a razor-sharp mind and a forceful, determined personality. Meanwhile,
the man Fatima Bhutto holds responsible for her father’s death is not only
out of prison, but President of the country. The bravery of writing a memoir
taking on such a man is self-evident, but Fatima seems remarkably calm about
the dangers she has taken on.
As for the book itself, *Songs of Blood and Sword *is moving, witty and
well-written. It is also passionately partisan: this is not, and does not
pretend to be, an objective account of Murtaza Bhutto so much as a love
letter from a grieving daughter and an act of literary vengeance and
account-settling by a niece who believed her aunt had her father murdered.

Future historians will decide whether Murtaza really does deserve to be
vindicated for the hijacking in Kabul and will weigh up whether or not
Murtaza, who even Fatima describes as “impulsive” and “honourable and
foolish”, would have made a better leader than his deeply flawed sister; or
indeed whether the equally inconsistent Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto deserves the
adulation heaped on him by his granddaughter. But where the book is
unquestionably important is the reminder it gives the world as to Benazir’s
flaws. Since her death, Benazir has come to be regarded, especially in the
US, as something of a martyr for democracy. Yet the brutality of Benazir’s
untimely end should not blind anyone to her as astonishingly weak record as
a politician. Benazir was no Aung San Suu Kyi, and it is misleading as well
as simplistic to depict her as having died for freedom; in reality,
Benazir’s instincts were not so much democratic as highly autocratic.

Within her own party, she declared herself the lifetime president of the
PPP, and refused to let her brother Murtaza challenge her for its
leadership; his death was an extreme version of the fate of many who opposed
her. Benazir also colluded in wider human rights abuses and extra-judicial
killings, and during her tenure government death squads murdered hundreds of
her opponents. Amnesty International accused her government of having one of
the world’s worst records of custodial deaths, abductions, killings and

Far from reforming herself in exile, Benazir kept a studied distance from
the pioneering lawyers’ movement which led the civil protests against
President Musharraf’s unconstitutional attempts to manipulate the Supreme
Court. She also sidelined those in her party who did support the lawyers.
Later she said nothing to stop President Musharraf ordering the US-brokered
“rendition” of her rival Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, so removing from the
election her most formidable democratic opponent. Many of her supporters
regarded her deal with Musharraf as a betrayal of all that her party stood
for. Her final act in her will was to hand the inappropriately named
Pakistan People’s Party over to her teenage son as if it were her personal
family fiefdom.

Worse still, Benazir was a notably inept administrator. During her first
20-month-long premiership, she failed to pass a single piece of major
legislation, and during her two periods in power she did almost nothing to
help the liberal causes she espoused so enthusiastically to the Western
media. Instead, it was under her watch that Pakistan’s secret service, the
Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), helped install the Taliban in Pakistan,
and she did nothing to rein in the agency’s disastrous policy of training up
Islamist jihadis from the country’s madrasas to do the ISI’s dirty work in
Kashmir and Afghanistan. As a young correspondent covering the conflict in
Kashmir in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I saw how during her premiership,
Pakistan sidelined the Kashmiris’ own secular resistance movement, the Jammu
and Kashmir Liberation Front, and instead gave aid and training to the
brutal Islamist outfits it created and controlled, such as Lashkar-e-Toiba
and Harkat ul-Mujahedin. Benazir’s administration, in other words, helped
train the very assassins who are most likely to have shot her.

Benazir was, above all, a feudal landowner, whose family owned great tracts
of Sindh, and with the sense of entitlement this produced. Democracy has
never thrived in Pakistan in part because landowning remains the base from
which politicians emerge. In this sense, Pakistani democracy in Pakistan is
really a form of “elective feudalism”: the Bhuttos’ feudal friends and
allies were nominated for seats by Benazir, and these landowners made sure
their peasants voted them in.

Behind Pakistan’s swings between military government and democracy lies a
surprising continuity of elitist interests: to some extent, Pakistan’s
industrial, military and landowning classes are all interrelated, and they
look after each other. They do not, however, do much to look after the poor.
The government education system barely functions in Pakistan, and for the
poor, justice is almost impossible to come by. According to the political
scientist Ayesha Siddiqa, “Both the military and the political parties have
all failed to create an environment where the poor can get what they need
from the state. So the poor have begun to look for alternatives. In the long
term, these flaws in the system will create more room for the
Many right-wing commentators on the Islamic world tend to see political
Islam as an anti-liberal and irrational form of “Islamo-fascism”. Yet much
of the success of the Islamists in countries such as Pakistan comes from the
Islamists’ ability to portray themselves as champions of social justice,
fighting people like Benazir Bhutto from the corrupt Westernised elite that
rules most of the Muslim world from Karachi to Riyadh, Ramallah and Algiers.

Benazir’s reputation for massive corruption was gold dust to these Islamic
revolutionaries, just as the excesses of the Shah were to their counterparts
in Iran 30 years earlier: during her government, Pakistan was declared one
of the three most corrupt countries in the world, and Bhutto and her
husband, Asif Zardari — widely known as “Mr 10%” — faced allegations of
plundering the country; charges were filed in Pakistan, Spain, Switzerland,
the United Kingdom and the United States to investigate their various bank
accounts, and they stood accused of jointly looting no less than $1.4
billion from the state.

When I interviewed Abdul Rashid Ghazi in the Islamabad Red Mosque shortly
before his death in Musharraf’s July attack on the complex, he returned time
and again to these issues: “We want our rulers to be honest people,” he
repeated. “But now the rulers are living a life of luxury while thousands of
innocent children have empty stomachs and can’t even get basic necessities.”

This is the principal reason for the rise of the Islamists in Pakistan, and
why so many people support them: they are the only force capable of taking
on the country’s landowners and their military cousins. Benazir Bhutto may
have been a brave, gutsy, secular and liberal woman. But sadness at the
demise of this courageous fighter should not mask the fact that as a corrupt
feudal who did nothing for the poor, she was a central part of Pakistan’s
problems, rather than any solution to them. Songs of Blood and Sword is a
timely and forceful reminder of this.
Certainly, readers of Fatima’s book have ahead of them a wonderfully
close-focussed and well-constructed memoir from the heart of the most
violent and Borgia-like of the South Asian dynasties to savour. They also,
most likely, have further instalments to come. During a recent interview, I
asked Fatima whether she would consider entering politics herself: “I am
political,” she replied, “but there are many ways to be political. I don’t
think that becoming an MP is necessarily the best way to influence people.
For the time being, I want to be a writer. But who knows? If in the future
there was a way I could serve my country, one that did not involve becoming
yet another part of dynastic birthright politics, maybe I could envisage
putting my name forward.” Watch this space.

*William Dalrymple**’s most recent book is Nine Lives: In Search of the
Sacred in Modern India*


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