Family feud

Published : May 07, 2010 00:00 IST

FATIMA Bhutto is a woman dutiful to history. Her grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came from the largest land-owning family in Sindh. He was educated at Berkeley (United States) and Oxford (England) but had a socialist streak in him. He was Foreign Minister in General Ayub Khans government until the mid-1960s.

American expansionism in South Asia, during the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its allies in the 1950s and 1960s, found the fledgling democracy of Pakistan, a country carved out of India after an unspeakably bloody partition in 1947, a particularly fertile ground for planting its stooges in the form of the armed forces.

Songs of Blood and Swords is a remarkable, mature mix of memoir and history. Zulfiqar Ali became the second elected Prime Minister of Pakistan and a hugely popular one at that in December 1971, after Pakistan lost East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and the war it thrust upon, India thanks to a crore of refugees who crossed into Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, fleeing the crazed Pakistan Army under General Tikka Khan.

Zulfiqar Alis ideas about serving the people did not go down well with the U.S. government and the long arm of its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was deposed by General Zia-ul-Haq and his clique in 1973. Zulfiqar was imprisoned and later hanged. His two sons, Mir Murtaza (Fatimas father) and Shahnawaz, fled Pakistan to organise an armed struggle against the military rulers. Earlier, the brothers had spent two years travelling in the U.S., Europe and West Asia and lobbying the press and television networks, writing books and pamphlets and negotiating with various governments for their fathers release.

Shahnawaz died mysteriously in 1984 in Nice, France. His death, in retrospect, was not such a mystery: the diabolically ingenious CIA in collusion with the Pakistani generals had poisoned him. Benazir Bhutto, Zulfiqars first child, was already negotiating with the Army to come to power. Mir Murtaza, a charismatic leader, commanded tremendous loyalty in Pakistan, particularly among the dispossessed, and that riled Benazir and her conniving husband, Asif Ali Zardari, the current President of Pakistan, no end. Murtaza was determined to better the lot of the poor, an idea alien to the minuscule Pakistani elite.

On September 20, 1996, Mir Murtaza and six of his associates were shot dead outside 70 Clifton, the Karachi residence of the Bhuttos. The police, obviously acting under the instruction of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Zardari, had them killed. The street lights had gone off when the shooting took place and came on immediately after the job was over. Life became a nightmare for Fatima, her siblings and their mother, Ghinwa.

Benazir Bhutto was power-hungry from the beginning. Her fathers legacy was there to be milked for publicity, but privately she was convinced that it was the CIA, acting on behalf of the government in Washington and its puppet military government in Pakistan, that would keep her in power.

Mir Murtaza was an idealist like his father. Zulfiqar Ali wrote to him when he was studying in the U.S.:

Mir, my son, take things in their normal course, in their stride. Do not get depressed by a setback and do not get exalted by success. Have your feet always on the ground. Never lose heart. Always learn from a setback, always be humble in success. Speak with confidence, maintain your point of view courageously but not obstinately. Keep an open and objective mind, always be anxious to learn from others to acquire knowledge.... In upholding your rich heritage you do not have to be offensive. Be natural and normal. Do not lose the strength of your conviction either by prejudice or by complex. Do not get provoked. Good or bad, your roots are here in a history coming from a thousand years. I think they are good roots.

It is clear from this letter that Zulfiqar Ali saw Mir Murtaza as the inheritor of his mantle. Benazir, the oldest child and the most ruthlessly ambitious of his children, must have felt wildly jealous of her fathers faith in her younger brother. She was also envious of Murtazas ability to command and retain loyalty. In 1994, when she was Prime Minister, Ali Hingoro, one of the finest organisers in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was pulled out of the car of Nusrat, Zulfiqar Alis widow, when they were returning from the Karachi Special Courts after attending a hearing of one of the cases against Murtaza. He was tortured and imprisoned. Ali Hingoros endurance was tested to the limit and he was humiliated every day and asked to sign a confession denouncing Murtaza. He refused and paid for it with his life.

Benazir, through her minion Abdullah Shah, Chief Minister of Sindh, had Ali Hingoro killed the very man who had arranged for her security and organised the overwhelming reception for her at Jinnah Airport, Karachi, in 1986 when she returned to Sindh. Benazir Bhutto, dizzy with power, went from bad to worse. Corruption became her second nature. She and Asif Zardari became routinely involved in massive kickbacks in foreign business deals. To quote Fatima Bhutto:

As Benazirs former press secretary, Hussain Haqqani, said of his one-time boss, She no longer made the distinction between the Bhuttos and Pakistan. In her mind, she was Pakistan, so she could do as she pleased. Haqqani is now, in a typically ironic twist, Zardaris ambassador to Washington.

After Benazirs government fell in 1996, following the murder of Mir Murtaza, there was another attempt at democracy in Pakistan. The author remembers it thus: After the PPP government fell in 1996, on the heels of more violence, we had a few years of calm in Karachi as Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the sometimes opposition, sometimes ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League, blundered through his own second term. It was quiet then. We went to school, took our tests, ate our watery lunch at the school cafeteria, and came home safely.

Not many writers would be able to describe the relief felt by a society whose patience has been tested by continuous political violence.

Benazirs lust for power was such that she happily supped with the devil, meaning the Army. On September 18, 1996, General Naseerullah Babar, Benazirs powerful Interior Minister who would proudly herald the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan as my boys, had taken to the floor of the National Assembly in Islamabad. General Babar announced that there were going to be, according to his top-level information, two bomb blasts in Karachi as a protest against the arrest of the terrorist Ali Sonara. He informed the Assembly members and the press that the perpetrators of the violence were going to be from the MQM [Muttahida Qaumi Movement] or the Shaheed Bhutto party.

In response, Mir Murtaza, the backbone of the movement for democracy and widely regarded as the authentic heir to the PPP because of his affinity with peoples causes but was now both a dissident and an independent political figure, said this at a press conference on September 20:

There is a plot against me, formulated by the most criminal elements within the police force, such as Wajid Durrani and Shahbaig Suddle. (Murtaza got the second officers name wrong. He was Shoaib Suddle.) It was precisely these two officers who engineered his murder soon after. In a stroke of irony Shoaib Suddle was decorated with Hilal-e-Imtiaz, a national medal in recognition of his services to the people of Pakistan. The award was given on the first Pakistan Day after Zardari assumed office as President. For the record, Ali Sonara was released soon after his arrest in 1996 but was rearrested and kept a prisoner of the Karachi police for the next seven years. A year after his release in 2004, he was killed in Lyari. Pakistans chequered history has always been tainted by a repressive police force and an even worse army.

Fatima Bhutto remembers Zardari, a man not famous for his courage or elan, almost sardonically after Benazir was shot dead and her body was brought to Garhi Khuda Bux from Rawalpindi, where the shooting had happened. Zardari was shorter than I remembered. Barely taller than me and Im not tall. And he was shaking. Someone brushed past him and he jerked, his whole body was quivering. Hes scared, I thought. He cant wait to get out of here. It gave me no solace.

Pakistan, a nation considerably smaller in size than India, has never been able to function successfully as a democracy because of its feudal past, its tribal loyalties, and strategic location. The U.S. was keen to have Pakistan as its ally during the Cold War and wanted to curb the growing influence of communists in the subcontinent. In order to achieve its goal, the U.S. government, through the CIA, went about subverting any possibility of a democratic movement in Pakistan by repeatedly encouraging the Army to seize power. These exercises have resulted in the crippling of the nations economy because of rampant institutionalised corruption.

Today, the U.S. has its own man, Asif Zardari, at the helm in Pakistan. Of course, he reports back to the generals lurking in the shadows. But America is in dire straits: It is fighting a losing battle along with its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies against the Taliban, an organisation it had created to fight the occupying army of the erstwhile Soviet Union in Afghanistan until 1989. The Taliban, the Muslim militant, fundamentalist outfit, is gaining strength in Pakistan because of the abysmal poverty there. Pakistans manufacturing industry is negligible and there is rampant unemployment. Often young men from impoverished backgrounds join the Taliban, generously funded by the Saudis. At least, some financial security for the family is guaranteed.

Zardari knows his days are numbered, but that might not prevent him from taking a swipe at Zulfi, Fatimas younger brother and the only surviving male member of the Bhutto family. Fatima and her mother have decided to send him abroad, far away from the eyes of the enemies of her family. It is a matter of time before the U.S. formally loses the war in Afghanistan. Zardari, given his duplicitous nature, might try to strike a deal with the Taliban. But no one can tell for sure.

Fatima Bhutto has written a deeply perceptive book. Much is to be expected from her in the future.

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