Bhutto Niece Tells Pakistan’s Tale Through Own Bloody Past

Her striking looks recall her famous aunt, slain Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto, but Fatima Bhutto, who has penned a memoir of her family’s blood-soaked history, says the resemblance ends there.

Fatima is a fierce critic of her charismatic aunt, who twice served as prime minister, claiming she was power hungry and “morally responsible” for the murder of her own brother — the writer’s father — in 1996.

The book, “Sons of Blood and Sword”, is an adulatory — critics say airbrushed — portrayal of Fatima’s father, Murtaza Bhutto, a rival to Benazir in Pakistan’s volatile, faction-ridden politics.

“It’s a book I always knew I would write” as a “journey of remembrance of my father,” Fatima said in New Delhi where she was promoting her book.

Pakistan’s most famous political dynasty has been dogged by bloodshed since Fatima’s grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the nation’s first democratically elected leader, was hanged by the dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1979.

In each decade, “the Bhuttos seemed to lose another member” of the family, says Fatima, 28, who studied at Columbia University in New York, then did an MA at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

She now lives at the longtime Bhutto family home in a plush suburb of Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub, with her adored stepmother Ghinwa Bhutto, who raised her after her parents split when she was a baby.

A precocious writer, she published a volume of poetry when she was just 15 — a year after her father was gunned down outside the same family home — and now is a newspaper columnist known for her outspokenness.

She recounts in the book how she hid in a windowless dressing room, clutching her young brother, when her father was shot dead in what she sees as a move to eliminate a rival to Benazir — who was then prime minister.

Benazir “certainly felt Pakistan was not big enough for two Bhuttos at that time,” said Fatima, who cites in her book a tribunal ruling that her father’s killing could not have happened without approval at the “highest level of government.”

Benazir blamed her brother’s death on a plot to destabilise her government.

She was herself killed in a suicide attack in 2007 after returning to Pakistan to contest elections following eight years of self-exile.

Fatima said she wrote the book as a “homage” to her father and also to redress what she sees as his distorted image in the public eye.

After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed, Murtaza and his younger brother Shahnawaz formed a guerrilla outfit to revenge his death and overthrow Zia.

The group was blamed for shootings, bombings and the 1981 hijacking of a Pakistan International Airways plane. Their activities earned Murtaza a “terrorist” tag that his daughter maintains is unwarranted.

The book aims to break through the “mythology built around him” by opponents, says Fatima, who took six years “playing private detective” and tracking down her father’s friends.

Death runs through the length of her story, from her grandfather’s execution, the shooting of her father, the mysterious death of Shahnawaz — the Bhutto family believed he was poisoned — and Benazir’s assassination.

Despite her anger toward Benazir, Fatima also recalls the good times when she was a child and Benazir was her “favourite aunt” who read her bedtime stories and recollects they shared a taste for “disgusting sticky sweets.”

But when Benazir came to office as prime minister, “power transformed her and not for the good,” she says.

Fatima said she has survived “all this madness” because she had a “lucky source of strength in my (step) mother to help me move past the violence.”

A poised speaker who some believe could emerge as a politician in her own right, Fatima insists she harbours no political ambitions and does not believe in “birthright” politics.

Her wish is to continue being a writer as she feels it allows her “a freer role to speak about issues from outside the system.”

But the feuds that have beset her family have percolated down into her own generation.

She and her two brothers have no contact with Benazir’s three children.

taken from: A Pakistan News

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