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The literary gladiator

Blood ties: Fatima Bhutto says Pakistan’s president had a hand in her father’s death. Samrat reports.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2010 00:24 IST
Hindustan Times

She’s the scion of a great legacy, a potential political heir — despite her protestations — to the blood-soaked mantle of the Bhuttos of Pakistan. Daughter of a murdered father, niece of an assassinated aunt, granddaughter of a hanged grandfather. Yet when I walk into her room at the Taj hotel in Delhi, Fatima Bhutto seems unbelievably girl next door. She’s prettier than her pictures, and petite. She smiles and says hi and complains a little about the Delhi heat. It’s only her second visit to the city. “I was here on a school trip once,” she says.

This time she’s here on a tour to promote her book Songs of Blood and Sword. In the book, Fatima, 27, writes about her father Murtaza Bhutto, elder son of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who was sent to the gallows by his favourite general Zia ul Haq. Murtaza, who was in a battle for Zulfikar’s political legacy with his sister Benazir, was himself shot dead outside his house in Karachi in 1996. Fatima heard the shots. In her book, she accuses Asif Ali Zardari, the current president of Pakistan, of being behind her father’s murder.

The mood changes, as it must, when I ask her about this. I’ve substantiated my allegations in the book, she says. Beyond that, she will only say that “In his own presidency, Zardari has cleared himself of four ongoing murder charges.” Her father’s was one of those.

On Pakistan Day in 2009, Zardari awarded a medal to one of the policemen he was co-accused with, she says. “He awarded one of the policemen we hold responsible the national award for services to the Pakistani people. What services is he talking about? Did that include the murder of Murtaza Bhutto?”

In the book, Fatima has written that the Karachi police carried out the hit that killed Murtaza. “The street lights had been turned off and Clifton was cloaked in a quiet darkness. The guards of the nearby embassies that lined Clifton road, including the Italian, Iranian and British high commissions, had been visited by the Rangers and police and told to go indoors…Murtaza opened the car door and got out. As he did so, a policeman — reports vary on who it was — yelled ‘Fire!’ and a burst of gunfire rang out in the night”.

Benazir was prime minister at the time Murtaza was killed. In December 2009, a Karachi court acquitted 20 policemen charged for the crime.

Fatima writes that “There is a peculiar sense of déjà vu as I write about the death of my father. There is a similar danger, a tangible feeling that we are not safe”.

I ask her where she sees herself living. In Pakistan, she says. And will she join politics? “No. “I always wanted to be a writer. I followed journalists and writers, they were my heroes”.

Like who, I ask. The first writer she names, strangely enough, is Malcolm X. “I liked his autobiography very much”. And Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. “They were prolific writers but undeniably political”.

“Is there anything in Pakistani politics you think is right?” I ask.

“Currently?” she asks. I nod, yes.

There’s a long pause. Finally, getting no response, I say “I take it there isn’t”.

The good work is done by ordinary people, not the government, she responds. “Like the people who brought attention to the disappeared during the War on Terror. They’re ordinary people, family members and local reporters … They are the backbone of the country. “.

In the government itself, she sees no hope. Or in the international community for that matter. “America is fighting this highly unjust war. It needs unjust rulers to help it. They will allow someone like this to remain in power so long as he follows their orders. And he is. We have drone attacks on an almost daily basis”, she says.

Who is in charge in Pakistan, I ask. “It seems America is”. And America is in charge in Afghanistan as well. And in charge of Pakistan’s relations with India, she adds.

I prod her with the scene of the Taliban taking over Pakistan. That scenario is an American bogey, she says.

“Anywhere America goes, the rise of extremism follows. Iraq was a secular country. And Afghanistan was communist. Who were the Americans allies there? The Taliban! They were made by the Americans.”

The world has changed a lot since 9/11, says Fatima. “The fact that this war is so unjust means a lot of people are opposed to it. It doesn’t make them fundamentalists. What do the majority of Pakistanis want? To live their lives, to move freely, to put their children in school … what people everywhere want.”

It’s been an intense interview. I finally ask her the question that any internet search on her will prompt: Is it true that she’s seeing Hollywood star George Clooney?

“I never answer questions like that. When you are living in Pakistan like I am and writing about corruption and violence, it seems those rumours are put out to make you look frivolous. It seems a waste of what I do.”

Judging by what she does, she’s braver and tougher than her gentle looks would initially suggest.

First Published: Apr 04, 2010 00:23 IST