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Family squabbles embitter memories of slain Benazir

Asif Ali Zardari sounds a bit rude when he rules out a merger between the PPP and its Shaheed Bhutto faction. Vinod Sharma reports.

world Updated: Jan 04, 2008 05:21 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times

The extended Bhutto clan was never a picture of cordiality. But even the sceptics feel the surviving members have begun squabbling too close to the tragedy that forced them under one roof.

Asif Ali Zardari sounded a bit rude when he ruled out a merger between the PPP and its Shaheed Bhutto faction run by Ghinwa, the widow of Benazir Bhutto’s estranged brother Murtaza. “She has always put up candidates against us. Unko apni party mubarak ho,” he told journalists after a PPP conclave that endorsed his leadership at Larkana on Wednesday.

Perhaps Zardari spoke in reaction to the salvo fired by the septuagenarian Mumtaz Bhutto, whom Zulfikar Ali Bhutto described as his “talented cousin” while anointing him chief minister of Sindh in the 1970s. His rather shrill disapproval — of Zardari’s elevation as the PPP co-chairman and Bilawal’s decision to use the Bhutto name — is perceived as premature and against popular sentiment.

Mumtaz’s blatantly patriarchal line can at worst deepen the chasm between Benazir’s family and that of Murtaza. For the teeming millions, however, the slain PPP leader epitomised the Bhutto charisma and was best equipped to carry forward his legend. “She outgrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in her lifetime. In death, her appeal travels way beyond her father’s,” argued television anchor Anjum Rashid. “So, what’s this fuss about where and to whom the Bhutto name belongs?” he asked.

A little over a month before Benazir fell to an assassin, Murtaza’s daughter Fatima had lampooned her in a signed article in the Los Angeles Times. “Perhaps the most bizarre part of the circus has been the hijacking of the democratic process by my aunt, the twice disgraced former Prime Minister,” she wrote. “Her (Benazir’s) political posturing is sheer pantomime. Her negotiations with the military are a signal that democracy is just a guise for dictatorship.”

Strong words these from a 25-year-old who has since bared her soul in a requiem piece for wadi bua (elder aunt). “My aunt and I had a complicated relationship…the last fifteen years were not one we spent as friends or relatives…But this week, I too want to remember her differently...I must offer a farewell that comes from a realm of memory and forgiving.”

Fatima isn’t alone in revising her views on wadi bua. “Benazir will forever remain an icon for democratic struggle in Pakistan. The pain for her extends far beyond those who supported her politics,” wrote Nasim Zehra, a columnist never counted among her admirers.

The truce between Benazir’s heirs and those of Murtaza could end sooner than later. Much will depend on Zardari’s ability to prove wrong the like of Mumtaz Bhutto, who, short of raining expletives, called him all kinds of names. “He is an illiterate man with no political background or experience,” he said, sneering as much at Benazir’s son: “He’s a Zardari. The title should have passed to a real Bhutto.”

Who’s the real Bhutto? From Mumtaz’s standpoint, Fatima and her brother Zulfikar junior. Zardari can defang such attacks through humility, not misplaced aggression. Or else, ZAB’s heirs will destroy the very legacy over which they have always fought.