A Daughter Speaks Out: Fatima Bhutto on Pakistan

Fatima Bhutto discusses her early childhood in exile on Sept. 24, 2010. (1 min., 30 sec.)

NEW YORK, September 24, 2010 - "Oh you don't know?...Your father has been shot," read Fatima Bhutto from her new book Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter's Memoir. Bhutto's reading opened an evening of discussion with journalist and historian Steve Coll which explored how the Bhutto legacy and her family history is intricately entwined with the history of Pakistan itself.

As the granddaughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former President (1971-73) and Prime Minister (1973-1977) of Pakistan; the daughter of politician and political activist Murtaza Bhutto; and the niece of Benazir Bhutto, twice Prime Minister of Pakistan, Fatima Bhutto has an unparalleled position to speak candidly of Pakistan's past and present situation.

An established journalist and author in her own right, Bhutto spoke eloquently of her quest to uncover the truth behind her father's murder and her family's political history. Her book attempts to put to rest the ghosts of her family members' deaths and separate the myths from realities. She also explained her complex relationship with the southern city of Karachi, which embodies much that is grimmest about life in present-day Pakistan (and where both her father and aunt were murdered). Asked why she planned to remain there, she responded, "Karachi is a survivor city... it shouldn't thrive, it shouldn't live, it shouldn't survive but it does," adding that she would not leave because "it's very clear in whose hands we leave the country, and I'm not willing to make their [the government's] job easier."

Commenting on her accusation that Benazir was responsible for Murtaza's murder, Bhutto said, "The order to assassinate Murtaza Bhutto could only have come from the highest level of government, and there was no one higher than Benazir and her husband at the time." Asked to speculate on Benazir's motives, Bhutto responded, "A lot of the family changed when power came back into the equation."

She conceded, however, that, "In the four murder cases that the family has suffered there has never been any justice; there have never been any culprits apprehended... or held to account for their crimes." After her father was shot, Bhutto noted, "The police clean up the roads... the blood and the glass has been washed up... and 11 years later, at the scene of her [Benazir's] assassination, the streets were washed up and the glass was removed."

As for current-day Pakistan, Bhutto spoke about the flood, the Zardari regime's use of US unmanned drones in the troubled frontier region, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (which she abhors), and the general corruption of the government today. However, when asked about the country's future, Bhutto explained that while the political situation there was a "nightmarish sort of merry-go-round," what the current prevailing narrative doesn't capture are the many grassroots activists and community leaders working for change, and the help for flood victims and refugees that has come from the people, not the state. She expressed her commitment to her home country by her continued residence in Clifton, Karachi.

Reported by Elizabeth Reynolds

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