New Delhi, April 03: AT 27, Fatima Bhutto isn’t busy typing out status updates on Facebook, which she insists she loathes. Instead, she has spent the last six years writing a “ love letter” to her father in which she has resurrected him, 14 years after his assassination, and held her aunt and uncle responsible for his tragic end.
In the Capital for the launch of her third book, Songs of Blood and Sword ( Penguin), Fatima made it clear that she has no love lost for her aunt, Pakistan’s slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, the country’s President.
On a day when a constitutional reforms package striking at Zardari’s powers was tabled in Pakistan’s National Assembly, Fatima said, “ We don’t need a President like Zardari. We need someone who is clean and honest, committed to public service, whose qualifications for ruling 180 million people is more than the fact that his wife was once the Prime Minister.” Fatima’s father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, brother of Benazir Bhutto, who was then Prime Minister of Pakistan, was killed by the police in a burst of gunfire just outside his Karachi home on September 20, 1996. Mir Murtaza, who was then a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly, died along with six others.
“ The moral responsibility for my father’s death lies with my aunt’s government.
She presided over the security forces which killed 3,000 men in Karachi in extrajudicial ways in a year and a half,” said Fatima, who has studied at Columbia University, New York, and the School of Oriental and African Studies ( SOAS), London, and was once rumoured to be George Clooney’s love interest. “ It was Benazir’s government that foiled the FIR on my father’s assassination, arrested and tortured witnesses, and gave them no access to lawyers,” she said.
The book, Fatima said, is the start of a search for justice. “ You can’t kill seven persons and stop us from talking about it and erasing it from public memory,” said the articulate young woman from an illustrious family that has lost one member in each of the last four decades to a violent death.
As she met this correspondent in a hotel room, a stone’s throw away from Khan Market, which reminded her of Zamzama Market in her beloved Karachi, Fatima seemed unaware of the ripples her statement against her relatives was making on Indian television. Reiterating that it was the police that pulled the trigger on her father, she asked, “ Who ordered them?”
The irony of it all is that Zardari took oath as Pakistan’s President on the 12th anniversary of Mir Murtaza’s death. And then he honoured Shoaib Suddle, one of the senior- most police officers present at Murtaza’s death scene, with the Hilal- e- Imtiaz, a national medal.
W HAT WERE her best memories of her wadi , as she once used to call Benazir? “ There are good and bad memories.
She had two very distinct personalities,” said the niece. On being prodded to say more, Fatima said, “ She had a larger than life persona. Before she entered the PM’s office, she was an ordinary woman, brave and strong. Once in power, she was frightening. As PM, she presided over a lot of violence.” And in the end, it was Benazir’s callous approach to investigations into her brother’s assassination that hindered the probe into her own assassination, Fatima said. “ When I complained about the scene of the
crime against my father being washed, she said this is not the movies. Eleven years later, her scene of crime was washed up. If she had put up a genuine fight, she could have set an important precedent and helped us get justice in her case,” she added.
Her father, Fatima and many others in Pakistan believe, came as a breath of fresh air in the country’s turbulent politics. “ He had a clean record and wasn’t beleaguered by corruption charges,” Fatima said. “ He was open, funny, didn’t do political speak and was outspoken. People responded to him when he spoke of corruption and human rights abuses.” She added grimly, “ We know from history that those who challenge power become a threat.” But isn’t Fatima exposing herself to threats by taking on the most powerful man in her country? The option of staying silent, Fatima said, was worse. “ Speaking the truth and the pursuit of justice is much stronger than fear,” she said, though she admitted that her mobility in Pakistan was “ restricted by virtue of who is President”. But that didn’t stop her from releasing her book in Karachi next to the spot where her father was gunned down. “ Seven hundred people turned up, despite the security threat,” she said.
A FORMER columnist for Jang and a contributor to The Daily Beast , Fatima said she was “ slightly obsessed by Twitter”. But no, she wasn’t going to leverage the microblogging site or her books to launch herself into a political career. “ I am a writer. My heroes have always been authors and journalists,” she said.
For this young Bhutto, wielding the pen is the way to drive the changes her father wanted to bring about — when his life was cut tragically short. This is just one of the things she wants to change about her country: “ India has launched a moon mission and we can’t even light up the streets. We are a nuclear- armed state that cannot run refrigerators.” President is set to lose