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'I am horrified to see these two nuclear countries entangled in this bizarre love story'

April 08, 2010 19:13 IST
History sits rather lightly on the slender shoulders of the petite and elegant 27 year old who has journeyed nearly 555 miles from across the border, with a bulky hardback to promote in India's book bazaars.

The title of her book -- Songs of Blood and Sword -- seems incongruous with the delicate, fashionably-dressed author, clad in a black embroidered jacket and slacks, facing you, just prior to the book's launch in Mumbai.

But you chide yourself for not remembering that this young woman has nerves of steel.

Fatima Bhutto: Daughter of the murdered Pakistani political leader Mir Murtaza Bhutto, niece of the slain former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, granddaughter of the former Pakistan leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by General Zia-ul Haq 31 years ago Monday.

Fatima made headlines in the Indian and Pakistani media as well as the international press in 2007, a few months before Benazir returned to Pakistan, when she accused her aunt of having had her father (Benazir's younger brother) killed.

Fatima was 14 when she virtually witnessed her father being killed in the street below her family home, 70 Clifton, in the posh, beach-bordering neighbourhood of Karachi.

Nearly 14 years after his death, from an even more violence-torn Pakistan, now ruled by her uncle Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir's husband, she followed up her accusations with a voluminous, intense book/memoir that focuses on her father, the Bhutto family feuds and the research (often conducted, out of fear, in the middle of parks and anonymous hotels) that backs her conviction that her father was murdered.

Fatima, who is part Afghan, born in Kabul and spent her childhood in Syria (where her exiled father lived for 16 years), had the book, which was written in her father's memory, launched in March, not without difficulties, in Clifton Gardens, Karachi, very close to the spot where he was killed, with, she says, 700 people in attendance.

She has now made a trip to India, obtaining a hard-to-get visa, to launch her book in three cities including Mumbai, where her grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once lived on Worli Seaface, central Mumbai.

Ironically and sadly, Fatima's boundless courage to find justice for her father -- now through a book, when legal redress was denied -- is quite similar to the stout bravery her twice-exiled aunt Benazir brandished in 2007 when she returned to a hostile Pakistan, averse to democracy, and was assassinated.

Like Benazir, and all the Bhuttos, Fatima's strange and fateful life path was punctuated and molded by tragedies witnessed first from the young age of three when her uncle Shahnawaz was murdered in Nice, France, and she lived through the abandonment of her mother.

Songs of Blood and Sword is not Fatima's first book. A journalist and poet, her maiden book was a volume of poems. Representing the Last of the Bhuttos, she writes angry columns, that intensify her vulnerability, on events in Pakistan for international publications like New Statesmen, The Daily Beast.

It is not surprising to realise that her destiny is entwined with this book, penned in her father's memory, and her writing. Hence, the urgency to see that Songs of Blood and Sword is widely read. Fatima Bhutto spoke to's Vaihayasi P Daniel:

The newspapers and television are full of interviews with you.

It is just an amazing opportunity to be here. So great to be able to bring the book and talk about it. This is my third time in Mumbai, my fifth trip to India.

My grandmother Nusrat (Bhutto) actually was based between Pune and Bombay. My grandfather's father had a post here, but did not live in Bombay but he came and went before Partition happened.

I haven't (had time to find out where they lived in Mumbai) because it's very hard to move around. On this trip I am just here for a day, whirlwind. I want to come when I am not doing anything and go to Pune and discover a bit more of Bombay.

Can you tell us a bit about your daily life in Karachi? Do you move around with security? What is everyday life like in Karachi for its citizens?

I think people are always highly disappointed with the view of what my day to day life looks like. They think it is going to be a James Bond movie or something.

It's frighteningly normal in that I write in the morning. I got a six-year-old (adopted) brother (Mir Ali) who is in school, so a lot of activity goes in taking him to school, picking him up, doing his homework. I also have friends, who I love to have over at home for dinner or we get together and watch a movie.

The danger/safety aspect is an issue now under this current government but for most of the time that I have lived in Pakistan it hasn't been. I have made a conscious choice to live normally and not to be prisoners in our own city.

What is a conscious choice to live normally?

That means if you sort want to go to the Sunday book bazaar, you go, you don't think 'Oh my goodness, do I need six, seven battalions of people with me?' You live as you want to live, which is freely.

Certainly there are always people who will say to you: 'Oh look, you musn't go and do this thing (or that) because it is dangerous.' Well, everything is dangerous nowadays. I just was researching a story on Afghan refugees in Karachi and for the piece I had to go to northern Karachi where a lot of the refugee camps are.

Most people tell you things like '(Gasp) you can't go and if you go imagine what will happen.' But you go. That makes these things normal.

Who looks after your personal safety, and how do you stay safe?

I look after my safety (laughs). We have people who have worked with my father and work with my mother -- they are political workers. So if I say I want to north Karachi to this piece they say 'Okay we want to come with you' and they come to protect me with themselves and they are like family. So we don't think of it in terms of guards and things like that. We have to be individually careful and mobility then gets restricted.

How should the world look at Pakistan? In the media it is portrayed as a country falling apart and a country in descent. But that is how people sometimes feel about India.

I think with all of these sub-continental countries -- Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan or India -- everybody has to remember that we are all new countries. We are all countries that really were occupied for hundreds of years by a brutal colonial power and so you are talking about countries that are independently 60 years old, 30 years old, 40 years old and that gets left out. That gets left out. Certainly, nowadays all we (hear) about the sub-continent is poverty, violence, edifices that are crumbling.

What people don't know about our countries is that they are full of these amazingly resourceful people. Somehow (even) with the poverty and the violence amazing things get done. It is really because of the strength of what's possible in a new country.

Pakistan -- now with the war on terror you get a (solitary) picture. You either get: 'Oh my goodness, isn't everything frightening?' Or you get the other side of Pakistan that is only shared by a few people: 'Oh look, there is a Pakistan fashion week happening.' Or: 'Oh Pakistan has just had...' something large and extravagant...

But there are great swathes of people who don't get their voices heard and that for me is a big issue. The fact that we are a country, in this day and age, that has problems getting water to most of its citizens is something that should be looked into and is common with a lot of South Asian countries.

And how is Pakistan frighteningly different from India?

If I wanted to go out, right now, in Bombay, I could probably walk out of the hotel, walk over to the (Colaba) Causeway. I could do that at any time of day and be fine. I probably couldn't do it in Delhi because Delhi is dangerous at night. But in Pakistan, because of this current government, you know, because of this book, I can't do that, in my own city.

But these are things that change. They don't last forever. When this government goes with its excessive and enthusiastic use of violence then I will be able to do that again.

Were you able to do that before your uncle's government came to power?

Ya! Ya! Karachi is a huge city, it's like Bombay, it's a mega city. But again it's what you make of it. If you want to sit at home and be frightened of it, you can, but if you want to get up and do what you like... my brother (her half-brother Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, 20) and I would always go -- there is a bookstore quite near our house and we would say okay we are going to walk to the bookstore today, we would go together, we would walk, we would take Mir Ali for a walk, get an ice cream and come home.

We used to do this sort of thing. Our friends don't do them. Our friends would say: 'Are you mad? It's dangerous!' But nothing has ever happened.

How should India look at Pakistan? Should we not fear Pakistan? But there is also warmth between the countries that does not get translated.

I think the most amazing thing when I come to India is that people want to know so much about Pakistan.

I remember the first time I came to Bombay I was with a friend who is this monstrous shopper and we were in a store bargaining. I hate bargaining, so I was sitting there waiting for her to finish and she said to the guy, 'Oh come on, don't do that! We are from Karachi.' I thought: 'What has she said? We are going to get lynched.'

But the minute the man heard we were from Karachi he said: 'Oh, why didn't you say that?!' He pulled up some chairs, we met his wife and he gave us chai and did all these things.

People in India should know that the Pakistanis feel the same way about them. We don't have access to you, to your news, to be able to travel and vice versa. But ultimately we share the same language, we share the same food, the same culture, the same history -- it is all these things. I feel we never talk about those things.

We always talk about: 'Oh, you are Hindu we are Muslims, you are blah blah and we are blah blah' and it never translates how you feel when you are in India as a Pakistani or how you feel when you are an Indian in Pakistan.

We are sort of like cousins, who should really get along, but sometimes don't.

Does India have a role to play in the future you would wish for Pakistan?

I think Pakistan's future has to be made by Pakistan, in the same way that it has to be done here.

I think the role that we have to play in each other's countries is that we clearly see that our governments have had 62 years of opportunity to make it easy for us to live as siblings or to make it easy for us to live in peace. And they have always failed, whether it's because of American interference, you know like in the pipeline issue, which would have been amazing for our countries. Or whether it's because -- like right now -- I am so horrified to sit in India and see Pakistan and India, these two nuclear countries get entangled in this bizarre love story of two athletes.

What about 26/11? I remember hearing voices on Pakistani television on YouTube ridiculing India and its assertion that the terrorists who masterminded the attack were Pakistani. Where does that come from?

I think the 26/11 thing has been so badly reported between these two countries because the government and media have their own agenda and the government and media are always going to portray their own stories.

I remember watching 26/11 in Karachi and seeing a hotel that I had stayed in, that I had driven past (attacked). I heard friends of mine say, 'Well, you know, I was in the Mariott in Islamabad when it was attacked' or 'My cousin lost a relative in the Mariott.' So in fact they have not just an understanding but a solidarity.

That said, I think you are never going to hear that side of what is going on in Pakistan through the Indian media. And we are never going to hear your solidarity through our media. It is only going to come through people. For my part I never heard anyone ridicule what happened.

Any violence anywhere is frightening. Pakistanis very much feel that when we talk of things like 26/11, there are 26/11s happening every day -- you know whether you are talking about the Maoists, whether you are talking about Chhattisgarh, Karachi, riots... Both of us share these things and it is in nobody's interest to create gaps over these (issues).

What do you make of the moves by your uncle, President Zardari, to reduce the powers of the Pakistan presidency?

The fact that the president had an immunity in the first place is ridiculous! These moves of Zardari now to say: 'Oh well, as president I am graciously giving up my immunity is like someone saying: "Oh I broke your leg but now I am going to put a cast on it."'

The president, or no one in power, should ever have that kind of immunity. We have only heard this being brought up as an option for parliament (to pass). It has not yet passed, so I think we need to keep in mind that there is a big gap between doing and saying.

Also, if the president's immunity is removed, but the prime minister retains it -- is that much of a difference?

The issue of Washington is a very upsetting one for most Pakistanis. Pakistanis, like many people around the world, don't really feel this is a just war, don't believe that America should have the right to fly planes over our country.

Every time an American plane kills a Pakistani citizen it creates more anger and more hatred of the American government and it makes more people feel that this is a country that hates us as Muslims and Pakistanis. Absolutely... Violence begets more violence. I definitely believe that.

And what creates these militants and fundamentalists? (It) is that they feel that they do not have a government that represents them. When they have a government that does not give them schools and water and hospitals they will turn elsewhere) to fill the vacuum. Anybody who offers an alternative has a place.

What is the future of Pakistan? Do you think there could be military rule in the future?

I think democracy always has to be the option. But democracy has to be more than just about holding elections. Zardari was elected to the presidency the same way (General Pervez) Musharraf was -- by his own party. So what's the difference?

When we talk about democracy it has to be a participatory system and it has to be democracy from the lowest level. For example, Karachi is a city like Bombay -- a city of 16 million people cannot have two representatives. It needs hundreds of representatives for every neighbourhood and every district, so I hope that's the option, because we have seen other things, we have given everyone their chance and it hasn't changed the state of things.

Isn't it better to have benign military rule than a democracy gone wrong?

You are definitely asking the wrong person here (laughs). A democracy gone wrong can be as harmful as military rule. But military rule still says 'You don't know what's good for you so I will tell you.' That should always make it not an option.

And it should make failed democracy (not an option) -- if you have a real sense of democracy you can boot out the failures and you can still say we are going to push a no confidence motion because you as a failed democratic system or a so-called democratic system have lost our confidence.

Is there much difference between a man who puts himself up for president when he is not truly elected and a general who puts himself in charge?

Certainly in this current case we have seen them come to the presidency in the same way. So it is not even a matter of my opinion, but it is a matter of fact that they were both voted in by their own parliament and that makes it problematic.

But I am always hopeful for Pakistan. I am never hopeful for governments because governments are pretty much uniformly deserving of this vision that people have of them. But people I am always hopeful of.

I think we have to again remember it is a young country. We have to give them time. Also, things like America funding these bad governments with billions of dollars makes it much harder for people to have a voice.

You recently spoke about how you are against dynastic politics. Dynastic politics is not something any of us countries wish for. But in India's case, at present, it is the best that India has. And probably the same goes for Pakistan?

I wouldn't speak on India's case because I don't know. I obviously can only speak on Pakistan's (case). Ultimately, if you have a participatory system then it shouldn't matter what someone's last name is.

Unfortunately in South Asia, one of the things that the British legacy left for us, because they were so divisive, they did divide and rule so well, we still have countries where if you don't belong to one of two parties, you are not really going to make it. If you don't belong to one of two universities, if you don't belong to one of two families.

In Pakistan we have had our dynasties been marked by corruption and bad governance. We don't have the option to say to them to get out and go away because they are the ones that get billions of dollars in aid. I really do think that maybe in 20 years? Maybe in 30 years? Maybe in a 100 years? It won't matter what your last name is, but right now it certainly does.

Why is that you don't have a relationship with your cousin Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (Benazir's son)?

I am not going to answer that question, come on (she says emphatically with mock anger). That is a question I have answered a hundred times. I don't have a relationship with them.

Is that something you have chosen or he has?

That's how it is! We come from very different backgrounds, we have very different trajectories and very different parents!

Photograph: Dominic Xavier