Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Book Review: Songs of Blood and Sword by Fatima Bhutto

Fatima Bhutto’s younger half-brother Zulfi was born in Damascus on 1 August 1990. At that time, Fatima’s father, Mir Ghulam Murtaza Bhutto was in exile in Damascus, trying to organise resistance against the Zia-ul-Haq regime. Fatima tells us about a particular morning, a few weeks before Zulfi was born, sometime around early July 1990. Eight year old Fatima is being woken up by her father, Murtaza. ‘Hurry up, Get up. Get up!’ Murtaza yells and runs out of the bedroom. Fatima gets up and drags herself out of her room. As soon as she goes through the door, Murtaza dumps a bucket of water on her. Fatima bursts into giggles, as she stands in the doorway near her father who is holding the empty bucket. Many months later, on a lovely spring afternoon, Murtaza takes his family to lunch at the Elba Hotel. Fatima’s friend Nora goes along. Nine year old Fatima has been dressed by her Syrian stepmother Ghinwa and is wearing nice shoes and little earrings. As they walk past the Elba’s elegant swimming pool, Fatima notices a mischievous gleam in her father’s eye and warns him off with a sharp ‘don’t’. After lunch as Fatima walks back with her friend Nora, Murtaza distracts Fatima with a ‘Fati! Look!’, picks her up and hurls her into the water. Fatima is furious, but Murtaza laughs his trademark Khe Khe Khe laugh. An angry Fatima tries to extract a promise from Murtaza that he will not throw her into a pool till she is fourteen. ‘But Fatushki, what if I am not alive then?’ Murtaza asks. Fatima bursts into tears.

In between my tears, I shouted at my father. ‘Fourteen isn’t far. Of course you will be alive. You have to live till I am a hundred! I wiped my nose on his shoulder. Papa kissed me and continued to rock me. ‘I hope so,’ he said.

Fatima turned fourteen on 29 May 1996. A few months later, on 20 September 1996, Murtaza was killed in a police shootout in Karachi. The fatal shot was fired at point blank range into Murtaza’s jaw when Murtaza (nursing bullet wounds) was being driven to a hospital in a police vehicle. The vehicle was at that time very close to Murtaza’s house and Fatima tells us that she heard that fatal shot.

At the time of Murtaza’s murder, Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan and she was already married to Karachi playboy Asif Ali Zardari. Fatima firmly believes that Asif Zardari and to a lesser extent, her aunt Benazir were behind the pre-planned execution of her father. Songs of Blood and Sword runs to 470 pages (including its end notes, references and index) and the entire book, though it begins even before Grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time, is an attempt to explain how and why Murtaza was killed. The events on the evening of 20 September 1996 which led to Murtaza’s murder are covered at the beginning of the book and later towards the end in greater detail. On the whole, I would say that Fatima has built a reasonably plausible case to show that Murtaza’s killing was a pre-planned execution. A few of the men who were with Murtaza that night survived the shooting and their testimony sounds credible. There are a few odds and ends which don’t fit in. For example, we are told that two policemen, who were later rewarded with awards and honours and elevated to very high positions, shot themselves in the foot and leg to make it appear to be a shootout rather than a one-sided attack on Murtaza’s party. I find it difficult to believe that any policeman would shoot himself to make a false encounter look genuine. I also couldn’t understand why someone would fire into Murtaza’s jaw rather than his forehead or chest. Also, if the murder was well planned, the fatal shot should have been fired from a distance to make it appear as if it was a part of the shootout. Also, the fact that Murtaza was taken by the police to a hospital where he died on the operating table tilts the balance a little bit away from Fatima’s avowed belief, though Fatima tells us that due to road blocks in place at that time, prompt medical assistance was not likely.

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested, Benazir and Murtaza were both studying at Oxford, while Shanawaz was studying in Switzerland. Zia-ul-Haq released Zulfikar after a few weeks and Zulfikar launched a whirlwind campaign against the military regime, rallying crowds and garnering support. Murtaza and Shahnawaz returned to Karachi and helped their father in his campaign. When Zulfikar was re-arrested, the sons, at their father’s instruction, fled overseas and started to lobby for Zulfikar’s release, travelling to various countries and meeting many a Head of State. Fatima tells us that if the US wanted to, it could have saved Zulfikar Bhutto. A single word would have been enough. But the US didn’t. Many years ago when Zulfikar was in power, his socialism and non-alignment had irked Henry Kissinger so much that Kissinger had apparently promised to make a horrible example out of Zulfikar.

Murtaza met Della Roufogalis, a Greek beauty, in London sometime in May 1978. Della was also lobbying – for the release of her husband, General Michael Roufogalis who was serving a life sentence. General Roufogalis had been the head of the State Information Department, the most dreaded department in military ruler Papadopolous’s regime. A change of regime saw him being carted off to jail. The romance between Murtaza and Della is described in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mills and Boon novel, with numerous rendezvous and trysts in exclusive hotels and night clubs all over the world. I was reminded of Judith Krantz’s novel Princess Daisy where Stash Valensky, a rich Russian prince living in exile romances Francesca Vernon, an Italian actress. It goes without saying that neither Della nor Murataza was particularly successful in obtaining the release of their respective loved ones. Fatima makes Murtaza sound very earnest in love and in fighting for his father’s release, and I was sure he was all that, but to a neutral third party, he doesn’t appear to be doing the right thing as he chases the much married Della across the world, madly in love with her, as his father and General Roufogalis languish in jail.

On April 4, 1979, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged on the orders of Zia-ul-Haq. Was Zulfikar Bhutto really hanged until dead or was he tortured to death? Fatima would have us believe that it was the latter.

After Zulfikar’s death, his children reacted in different ways. Benazir and her mother Nusrat Bhutto shuttled between house arrest and jail for a few years. Zulfikar’s sons Murtaza and Shahnawaz started to organise resistance against Zia’s regime. Apparently Zulfikar had commanded his sons to avenge his impending murder. Fatima tells us that Della told her that she had read Zulfikar’s last letter to Murtaza ‘go to Afghanistan. Be close to your country. If you do not avenge my murder, you are not my sons.’ Murtaza and his younger brother Shahnawaz lived in Kabul for many years, under the protection of Soviet puppet Najibullah. Later, they moved to Damascus. It was while they lived in Kabul that Murtaza broke off his affair with Della. Very soon Murtaza and Shahnawaz got married to Afghan sisters Fowzia and Rehana. Fowzia is Fatima’s mother, but after Murtaza and Fowzia got divorced, Fatima chose to be with her father and even now considers her step-mother, Murtaza’s second wife Ghinwa, to be her mother. Murtaza’s resistance movement Al Zulfikar does not seem to have achieved much or at least Fatima does not tell us much about any successes it may have had. There is a mention of an attempt to shoot down Zia-ul-Haq’s plane, Pak One, with a shoulder to air missile, but that attempt failed.

Fatima keeps references to her biological mother Fowzia to a bare minimum. There are few details of Murtaza’s courtship of Fowzia, which happened at the same time as Shahnawaz’s courtship of Fowzia’s sister Raehana. We are told that Fowzia and Raehana came from a diplomatic family, that Raehana was a Mujahiddeen supporter, that Fowzia was pregnant with Fatima when she married Murtaza and that Najibullah tried to stop the weddings on account of the Mujahiddeen connection. The brothers had a joint wedding reception as they married the sister duo, dressed in khakhis and keffiyehs. Murtaza and Fowzia separated when Fatima was only three. We don’t really get to hear a coherent reason why Fatima doesn’t want to have anything to do with her biological mother, even after her father’s murder or why Fatima has to say that she is ‘scared, frightened even, of my biological mother’.

The struggle between Benazir and Murtaza for the Bhutto legacy started when they were both very young. Both siblings were at Harvard and later Oxford at the same time. Benazir was the aloof, haughty and proud one, always conscious of being a Bhutto and wanting her two younger brothers and younger sister to toe her line. Obviously Murtaza too wanted to be Zulfikar’s heir, though Fatima doesn’t spell it out in as many words. Rather, she says that Murtaza deferred to his elder sister until their ideological differences became too great for them to work together, which happened after Zulfikar’s execution. In Murtaza’s eyes, Benazir was wrong to start participating in the democratic process, something she started doing even before Zia-ul-Haq died. Fatima remembers the conversation. ‘What do you mean, “take part”? Papa said, almost shouting. “You are willing to be Zia’s Prime Minister’. To an outsider, it seems obvious that Benazir did the right thing by taking part in the democratic process rather than fight to oust Zia-ul-Haq, but Fatima genuinely finds so much wrong with so many of Benazir’s actions that at times one gets the feeling that Fatima is nitpicking. Relations between Murtaza and Benazir worsened after Benazir married Asif Ali Zardari.

Nusrat Bhutto sided with Murtaza as he campaigned for a seat on his return from exile, fighting against his sister's PPP. Loyalty to the leader of the clan is one of the key attributes of a feudal society and Fatima celebrates the loyalty shown to Murtaza and his family by various die-hard Bhutto supporters. Was Benazir entitled to take over Zulfikar’s mantle? Fatima doesn’t think so, especially after Benazir reversed so many of Zulfikar’s policies, in particular his policies of non-alignment and socialism. Though Fatima doesn’t spell it out as such, one gets the distinct feeling that Fatima believes Zulfikar’s politicial lineage ought to have passed only through his eldest son and his descendants. In Fatima’s eyes, her Syrian stepmother Ghinwa who can’t speak Urdu has a greater right to the Bhutto lineage than Benazir! One of Fatima’s biggest grouses is the use of the Bhutto name by Benazir and Zardari. Also, there isn’t a single reference to Fatima’s cousin Bhilawal Zardari Bhutto in the entire 470 page book. I am sure that Fatima doesn’t consider him to be a Bhutto.

Fatima tries to keep her narration neutral and unbiased and she succeeds to a large extent. However, her descriptions of her grandfather Zulfikar Bhutto and father Mir Murtaza Bhutto are a wee bit too flattering. Neither man is shown to have a single blemish, though Fatima does concede that Zulfikar was wrong to have cracked down so hard on Balochi nationalists. Combined with Fatima’s anger towards Benazir and Asif Zardari, such a partisan account at times sounds like a diatribe.

Other than Murtaza’s murder, there are two other events detailed in Songs of Blood and Sword which fascinated me. One was the death and possible murder of Murtaza’s brother Shahnawaz. Fatima tells us that she grew up believing Shahnawaz’s wife Raehana was responsible for Shahnawaz’s death in France. However, Fatima suggests that now she thinks it is possible Shahnawaz was killed at Zia-ul-Haq’s behest. The second event which piqued my curiosity was the hijacking of a PIA aircraft by one Salamullah Tipu and two other hijackers. The hijackers demanded the release of 55 prisoners, most of them PPP activists. Since the hijacked plane ended up in Kabul where Murtaza was living at that time, Murtaza ended up interceding for the release of the passengers. Fatima rightly says that the hijacking turned out to be a good excuse for the military regime to clamp down on the opposition. Fatima tells us that ‘Salamullah Tipu, in time, began working openly for the Pakistan government. His role in leading the hijacking operation didn’t seem to stand in his way at all.’ I believe Fatima’s claim that Murtaza was not involved in this hijacking at all.

Fatima might have lived a substantial part of her life in Damascus, but doesn’t seem to have suffered much on account of it. We are told that the Sheraton in Damascus was almost a home and there never seems to have been a shortage of money. This is not very surprising since the Bhuttos have been for many generations one of the richest families in Pakistan, though I did find it interesting that even after Zulfikar’s execution, Murtaza and Shahnawaz never lacked for money.

As expected, Songs of Blood and Sword comes with so many anecdotes about the Bhuttos and the rest of Pakistan. The best (and most hilarious) story is how when Zulfikar Bhutto decided to marry the Persian (and Shiite) Nusrat against the wishes of his Sunni family, he managed to find a Maulvi after so much trouble, only to have to turn him away because he was a Sunni Maulvi and Nusrat’s family wanted a Shiite Maulvi and they had so much trouble getting hold of a Shiite Maulvi. There is another story of how just after Murtaza landed at Harvard, he dumped his suits and shoes into the washing machine, expecting them to come out neatly pressed. Period! I will say no more.

Fatima’s Songs of Blood and Sword are the songs of Pakistan. There is unbelievable arrogance, pride, anger, extreme pain and suffering, excruciating agony and fear for the future. Hope is also in short supply. Despite the numerous and obvious flaws in Fatima’s personality, this reader ended up with a huge amount of sympathy for this brave lady who suffered so much at so young an age.


Roshmi Sinha said...

Good review.

And here is my longish two pence: Fatima’s grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s (ZAB) economic and education policies were detrimental for Pak and so were his pandering to the Mullah brigade – e.g., declaring the Ahmediyya sect as non-Muslims.

Benazir had broken away from several of her father’s policies and posturing. But she had done all that in his name – it is she who has made him shine like he does now. He was not all that great or brilliant as he is made out to be, but full of hubris, tactless, one who opened too many fronts simultaneously and made too many enemies.

ZAB was unseated in a coup that led to one of the most brutal and regressive regimes to come into power. After his passing (hanging) – his party collapsed. People were imprisoned, tortured, went into hiding or exile and a large chunk – that of the leaders - changed loyalties. Several became ‘snakes in the grass’. It was in such a scenario that Benazir – a complete novice then - stepped into the murky waters of Pak politics, and was able to outwit and outmaneuver all these much older and experienced leaders and politicians – and succeeded in becoming the leader herself. She was also able to gain the support and acceptance of the people – and millions of them – irrespective of their gender, language, caste or creed.

She rebuilt the party. Wonder how Fatima or her family can lay claim to Benazir’s party!!!

ZAB used the ‘sword’ as his election symbol and that is the same symbol used by Fatima’s stepmother who heads a marginal political party called Pakistan Peoples Party (Shaheed Bhutto) – PPP (SB). ‘Shaheed Bhutto’ refers to ZAB. Yet they cannot even win their own family seat and are a complete washout for two decades now!

Benazir used the ‘arrow’ – as her election symbol. Though all these have never deterred Fatima and her family of accusing Benazir of ‘stealing the Bhutto legacy’, ‘perpetuating dynastic rule’ and taunting her as ‘Mrs. Zardari’ – during her lifetime; but after her assassination they have been singing a very different tune. Strange indeed!

A lot of smoke and mirrors somewhere?

Roshmi Sinha said...

And who is the architect of the Bhutto legacy that Fatima is talking about? And the architect of the philosophy – now called ‘Bhuttoism’? It is not ZAB but Benazir. ‘Bhuttoism’ is modeled on the lines of ‘Thatcherism’ and reflects Benazir’s thoughts, ideas, philosophy, vision, etc. She was a known admirer of Mrs. Thatcher.

Benazir had not inherited anything from her father and her rise to power too is erroneously (?) equated with the Gandhis, etc and dubbed as ‘dynastic succession’ or as ‘having inherited her father’s legacy’.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has taken a lot of years to be accepted outside his party – after his passing. Benazir’s acceptance – has been immediate.

I think she has used her father’s name around her as a shield – in order to offset a lot of stuffs that would have arose in a deeply, tribal and ‘green’ society given her gender and youth, and built a legacy and an ‘ism’ around that name. Opening unwanted fronts wouldn’t have been prudent.

Though her ascension to power is thought to have been: “dynastic succession” or “inheritance of her father’s mantle” – it is not so. ‘Coz she had to overcome stringent social, cultural and religious dogmas and barriers in order to do it. Not even Mrs G I or the original “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher - had to face anything akin to that; neither did Aung Sung Suu Kyi.

And as for the “first female prime minister of the Muslim world,” – which the media everywhere tries its best to paper over as “having inherited her father’s mantle” and “dynastic succession” again, I for one clearly remember the immense debate those elections (and even the times prior to those elections) triggered. Everywhere in general, and amongst the faithful in particular: about the role of women in Islam, and leadership roles for women - in Islam. Finally it came through that there was no clash. Someone who managed to do this, not after decades or centuries but probably a millennium, is no ordinary person, no?

Roshmi Sinha said...

However, she is clubbed with the Gandhis and even compared to the feuding Begums of Bangladesh – when there are no similarities. And she was the one who opened the door for those feuding Begums! Hers has definitely not been a “dynastic succession” – by any stretch of imagination. It is she who is the architect of that legacy, ‘ism’ and brand.

Even her now well known “will” – cocked a snook at patriarchy apart from well-entrenched tribal and caste interests and traditions.

Benazir is an upper caste: Brahmin, though some accounts suggest that she is from Brahmin-Rajput stock.

Asif Ali Zardari – the incumbent President – is neither Syed or Brahmin or Kshatriya/Rajput - nor Jat. And in a fiercely clannish, castiest and tribal society, he hails from a tribe that is derided as a “lesser” tribe; and in a heavily masculine society, he derives his power from a woman. Much of the derision to him – stems from these factors.

About her children taking on their mother’s name: The appendation of the upper caste Bhutto to the non-upper caste Zardari - has several ramification – both from caste, tribal and religious points of view. Also she had chosen to be buried in her family graveyard and not in her husband’s. Similarly her husband’s declaration that he too would like to be buried beside her – after his death, has several ramifications too.

However, her actions have been largely accepted by the people – that too in a severely casteist, tribal society – one that is also ‘green’.

Benazir is a very fascinating character of modern history and one of the foremost women in Islam. But can there ever be a proper study of her life and works or a thorough biography – I am not so sure. I had tried to read up on Razia Sultan, Chand Sultana and even Nur Jahan – but there isn’t much info available, while tons of books are written on the Mughal Emperors. Pattern?

Winnowed said...

Roshmi, thank you for your extensive comments.

I agree with most of what you say, except the following. I think Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was one of the best politicians Pakistan has ever had. He did pander to the Mullah brigade and made a few mistakes, but he was Pakistan’s equivalent of Nehru – who also made his share of mistakes. Benazir did inherit her father’s legacy, though he mother sided with her brother Murtaza, but I wouldn’t say she was good for Pakistan. She was corrupt and her husband is a lot more corrupt. Fatima Bhutto is wrong to belittle her aunt, but Fatima is right is claiming that Zardari played a role in the murder of her father Murtaza.

Bennazir did more to fight Zia ul-Haq than her brother Murtaza. Fatima is wrong in claiming Benazir’s Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was not effective at all. It was to some extent. Murtaza and Shahnawaz tried to unseat Zia through violence. They were totally ineffective.

The Bhuttos are of Rajput stock. Benazir’s mother is Persian. That makes her half-Rajput, half- Persian. Fatima Bhutto’s biological mother was an Afghan. So, Fatima is only one-fourth Pakistani.

Roshmi Sinha said...

Thanks you for your response.

Here is my longish two pence again: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s economic and education policies (wholesale nationalization) were detrimental for Pak and so were his pandering to the Mullah brigade – e.g., declaring the Ahmediyya sect as non-Muslims. It has sowed the seeds for much worse.

His handling of the Baloch and Baluchistan – well, less said the better. His treatment of Mujib-ur-Rehman – who went on to be the President of BD - is also well known. The way he treated his own cabinet members, or colleagues not to speak of opponents – disdainfully, insultingly, even going to the extent of getting them physically thrashed – is well documented.

When he was hanged, a large segment of the population rejoiced. Frankly, I do not think he actually thought that Gen. Zia would hang him, given his self-image: Himalayas would weep and the river sindhu would turn red, etc.

His era was a totally different era – one that would never come back. The geo-political scenario was different, the situation inside Pak was different, factor in the impact of ’71 on the military apparatus, and he did not have to deal with the drug cartels or lashkars.

His faults, mistakes, misjudgments, whatever we may call them – far outweigh his achievements.

He was part of the establishment, and had held various ministerial positions: science & technology, commerce, foreign, etc before becoming the Chief Marshal Law Administrator, then President and finally PM. And he possessed and wielded a lot of power – by virtue of his position and influence.

Benazir’s trajectory has been different. Pakistan was different, the geo-political scenario was different, and the power equations were different. The establishment and the military apparatus were at their strongest. The PM was the weakest – amongst all the stakeholders.

Roshmi Sinha said...

During her first term that lasted barely 20 months, she had to contend with a very hostile President, opposition, military, intelligence, media, bureaucrats, business and trader community and Senate (their upper house, where her party had no members since they had boycotted the 1985 elections held under Zia’s watch, and which the wily Zia then turned into a ‘partyless’ election’ – and then proceeded to pack it with his supporters.)

In 1990, Ghulam Ishaq Khan (GIK) – the then President – accused her of massive corruption, and cited her inability to pass any bills (the hostile opposition in the Senate never co-operated). But what was most touted was a "letter" purportedly written by her, and which enabled them to dub her as a “security risk” and dismiss her govt. under the garb of “supreme national interest.”

So, a "letter" purportedly written by Benazir and dated 24th September 1990 was used to dismiss the 1st govt. of Benazir Bhutto - on 6th August 1990. (Just look at the dates and the months). It was a patent forgery – but that cut no ice.

All her protestations and appeal to the highest courts came to naught, and the impartial courts dismissed her pleas and petitions with uncharacteristic speed and alacrity.

That her 1st govt. had lasted barely 20 months and had succeeded the brutal Gen. Zia regime that ruled with as an iron fist, for nearly a dozen years: leaving Pak a more than bankrupt nation that was also teeming with drug addicts, criminals, Afghan refugees, a thriving Kalashnikov culture and various "warriors" apart from being a hotbed for sectarian strife - cut no ice.

But, all the media sound and fury notwithstanding, those who have followed the events then, will remember that the real reason of that elaborate "letter" saga was - Iraq. Whoever it was were unsure that she would play ball vis-à-vis their grand plans in the then Saddam-ed Iraq.

Now after Benazir declared in 2007 that she would return to Pakistan, no matter what, that old "letter" now resembling a yellowed-out, fossilized, Dead Sea scroll made its grand re-appearance.
Meaning: it was back from the dead and was reprinted in huge ads in several newspapers.

This so-called “memo-gate” is nothing but a D-grade attempt to copy that, no?

Also, the then President GIK along with the then military and intelligence chiefs and other bureaucrats tried everything to prevent her and her party – from coming to power – several times. That episode is now known as “Mehrangate”.

They even built up certain politicians, political parties and ethnic parties – to undercut Benazir and her party.

Roshmi Sinha said...

It was Benazir’s govt., which added iodine to salt and undertook a massive polio vaccination campaign – something for which she earned fatwas.

Any good policy or system should be allowed to run uninterrupted - for it to self-correct, but that has not happened in Pak. Subsequent govts. have neglected her healthcare policies. And Nawaz Sharif summarily scrapped her energy policy. Today, he claims to be the real inheritor of her legacy. How times have changed!

Also thanks to Zia they have a draconian law – the Hudud Law – that is brutal towards women. If one were to study the genesis of this law … the original targets were a mother-daughter duo, and no prizes for guessing. The poison has since spread – far and wide.

It was Benazir’s govt. again that chipped away at this law, but whatever her govt. did was overturned by another PM who replaced her – Nawaz Sharif. And in 2006 – despite warnings issued by right-wingers, it was she and her party again that supported certain positive amendments to this law – when Mushy’s own party backed out. And those amendments carried through, while the harbinger of ‘tsunami’ bitterly opposed any changes.

And no matter what the press says, in my humble opinion, Zardari is a reasonably competent administrator (given the circumstances) and a man of sound judgment. Pak is a very difficult nation with many conflicting forces acting upon it – internally and externally. It cannot be compared to India.

Roshmi Sinha said...

I do not think Benazir or Zardari had any role in Murtaza’s murder. Fatima has fudged facts in her book.

In September 1996, Murtaza was shot dead by the police (during Benazir's 2nd term as PM) outside his home in Karachi (70 Clifton) - with the streetlights switched off.

Fatima has for long pointed a finger of blame at her aunt Benazir and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, the current President of Pakistan, for his killing. At the time of his death, Murtaza was estranged from Benazir. Within weeks of Murtaza's murder, Benazir's government was sacked by the then President Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari - on charges of corruption, lawlessness and extra judicial killings (with Murtaza's death figuring prominently in it). It is widely believed that the 'establishment forces' acted through him.

Zardari was thrown behind bars for the murder (humiliated, beaten and tortured by the Punjab police while in custody). A welter of corruption charges was piled on - against the couple, and after a fresh election (that was heavily rigged), Benazir’s party (the PPP) was reduced to just over a dozen seats. Her opponent (Nawaz Sharif) secured an unprecedented two-thirds majority (known as the "heavy mandate"). In 1999, she went into exile, never to taste political power again. If there was a beneficiary of Murtaza's murder, events demonstrate that it wasn't Benazir or Zardari.

Note: The non-elected forces that have exercised power over Pakistan's destiny are today known as the 'establishment' in their political parlance.

Roshmi Sinha said...

Notably, there is no mention in Fatima’s book of the former Scotland Yard team that investigated Murtaza's murder. Enlisted by Benazir's government, the team found there was at least another shooter on the other side of the road to the police. Before being paid off and kicked out of the country by the new interim government, it drew comparisons with the "grass knoll syndrome" of the John F Kennedy assassination.

(Note: The interim government [formed by President Leghari] was headed by caretaker PM Malik Meraj Khalid - a PPP old-timer and part of the disgruntled lot who did not find a place in Benazir's party. The caretaker Chief Minister of Sindh - Benazir's home province - was Mumtaz Ali Bhutto - a long time bitter rival of Benazir and the self-styled chief of the Bhutto clan).

Citing a tribunal report, Fatima concludes that Murtaza's murder could not have taken place without approval from "the highest" authority. But that, as observers of Pakistan's anemic and abbreviated periods of civilian democracy know, has never meant the prime minister's office.

About her caste: some reports suggest that she was a Brahmin. ‘Bhutto’ is actually a corruption of ‘Bhat’, and Bhat, Bhatt, Bhatti, Butt, Bhutto are essentially from the same stock. Though some accounts even suggest that she is from Brahmin-Rajput stock. I am aware that her mother is Persian.

PS: I have done quite a bit of reading on South Asian politics, and in my humble opinion again (some of it I have articulated here and earlier too) - Benazir was Pak’s best leader.

Winnowed said...

Roshmi, aren't you judging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) by today's values? Nationalisation was a brave thing to do in the Pakistan of those days, dependent as it was on US aid. What’s more, ZAB withdrew Pakistan from SEATO. ZAB was not in charge when the 1971 debacle happened. He took over in 1972. Also ZAB wasn’t corrupt.

Benazir Bhutto (BB) was. Both ZAB and BB pandered to the religious right. BB had to work harder to survive, but then she faced a lot more enemies and the religious right wasn’t half as strong in ZAB’s time.

Roshmi Sinha said...

Well, it’s true that ZAB was not in charge when the ’71 debacle happened, the war I mean. But there was an election before … which Mujib-ur-Rehman won convincingly. ZAB’s party won in West Pak but Mujib won overwhelmingly in East Pak (now BD) – but the number of seats Mujib won was far more than ZAB and he should have been allowed to form the govt. But ZAB was intransigent and refused to accept Mujib’s victory and even dubbed the Bengalis as “suwar ke bachchon”; we all know what happened thereafter. Btw, ZAB’s party was a complete washout in East Pak.

And no I am not judging ZAB by today’s values. A lot of his policies were ill thought out. They have done irrevocable damage. His wholesale nationalization policy made people lose all they had overnight, and after coming under govt. control these entities became money guzzlers instead. His education policy destroyed the institutes and quality of education. I do not think he or his team thought things through and all that has sowed the seeds for much worse. They were perhaps more keen on their socialist rhetoric and wearing the red cap and band master’s uniform – which Bhutto may have thought paid tribute to the great Communist leaders of China.

He was not known to have been open-minded or accepting of suggestions that went contrary to his own thinking. He was not tolerant of divergent viewpoints ... and ‘fixed’ people who dared to contradict him, even if they were his close colleagues. He rigged the 1977 elections in his party’s favour and that proved to be his undoing. Earlier he had set up a political cell - to be monitored by the intelligence agencies - or rather gave it more teeth ... to go after his opponents.

The coup that overthrew him and his subsequent hanging redeemed him – to a large extent.

Roshmi Sinha said...

As far as “corruption” is concerned, in Pak’s society if the elite are involved there is a collective silence. If someone who is not part of that society, meaning from the elite, is involved – tongues wag.

About Benazir’s “corruption” - well it should be proven first. But if it were used as a bargaining chip, e.g., all cases would disappear if you quit politics, etc – then I’m not sure what these “corruption” cases were all about.

And “corruption” is the perfect “Brahmastra” to undermine someone’s credibility – when that person is very well known all over the globe. But nobody will ever file cases in Swiss courts against say our Aloo Yadav – since it won’t get the required mileage!

Umm, btw the ones who had made those cases (against Benazir) were themselves children of lathi wielding policemen, scrap dealers, or humble village patwaris. How they have made their fortunes have never been asked. Gen. Zia’s father was a humble mu’azzan in a mosque (who called the faithful for prayers) but Zia and his children are multi-billionaires! Musharraf’s father was dismissed from service - for corruption – by ZAB, but Musharraf and his progeny have fortunes beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. And no questions asked!

Btw, Mushy had even got Benazir declared a ‘non-graduate’ and therefore ‘ineligible to stand for elections or lead a party’ in 2001/2002. This despite Harvard and Oxford degrees! While the harbinger of ‘tsunami’ with a 3rd class degree from Oxford was allowed to contest. Pak politics is very murky waters, and there are wheels within wheels within wheels.

Benazir’s 2nd term lasted just 3 years. So, totally in a career spanning 30.5 years she has been in power for about 4.5 years and that two in two terms.

In her first term, she was able to undo (to some extent) the immense masculinization that happened under Zia. There was freedom of press and all political prisoners were set free – most of them had even been given up for dead - by their own families. It was under her that cultural programs began to be held after nearly a dozen brutal years, e.g., Music ’89, though several politicians and right wing groups roundly trashed her.

And her govt. has delivered – in healthcare, energy, for women and minorities, culture, and defense too - since Pak’s Missile Technology happened under her govt’s watch.

For her healthcare and/or energy policies, I guess even the UN awarded her a gold medal. And Mushy exported the surplus energy – to India! But he never added even a single megawatt. Zia conducted experiments about extracting electricity from djinns (meaning: spirits, as in ghosts). I kid you not!

PS: I guess we will have to continue to agree to disagree on ZAB :)