THIS is the story of the Bhutto clan which at one time owned land that stretched 50 to 80 miles from Naudero near Larkhana to the Sind-Baloch border in Jacobabad. It is the bloody story of a feudal clan, feudal to the point that death by murder or other means was common among clansmen.
Fatima writes that “Bhuttos very rarely died natural deaths. Many of them died violently and before reaching middle age”. Fatima Bhutto is the daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto who was assassinated in 1996. Mir Murtaza’s father, Zulfikar Ali was executed in 1979. His sister Benazir was assassinated in 2007. The Bhuttos lived as if there was no tomorrow in an uncivilised society where murdering opponents or enemies was par for the course. Men married and divorced wives at random.
Zulfikar had two brothers older to him who were “noted Lotharios”. Zulfikar, at the age of thirteen, was married to a girl ten years older to him, as part of a land deal whereby he got a whole lot of land probably by way of dowry. After he grew up Zulfikar married for a second time deserting his first wife. Like all landed gentry the Bhuttos either got into politics or into the Army. It was either for fun or for power. Business was for the birds; it was considered below one’s dignity, something meant for Hindu money-lenders and traders. So, they all went into politics, as Zulfikar did, even if he had been trained in law. Arrogant, contemptuous of people lower in social standing, he had to pay for it when the army general, Zia ul Haq, the very man he had promoted to be Chief of Army Staff over the heads of five senior Generals, later captured power (following the lost war in East Pakistan) and got Zulfikar hanged.
East Pakistan had revolted against the terrorism practised by the Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Army. Fatima notes almost with a sense of detachment that three million Bengalis were killed and 4,00,000 women were raped by the Pakistani Armed Forces. Zulfikar himself showed no sense of remorse either. When the then Pakistan President Yayha Khan sent Zulfikar to the United Nations to fight his country’s case in the Security Council, he told Council members: “So what if Dhaka falls? So what if the whole of East Pakistan falls? So what if the whole of West Pakistan falls? We will build a new Pakistan!” The man was haughty, unprincipled, a typical feudal lord. At the Security Council (which I covered as a PTI correspondent) no one had any respect for him.
Fatima treats him distantly, not as grandpa, but as Zulfikar. She even treats her father whom she adored, not as daddy, but as Mir Murtaza, obviously to treat them as historical figures to be treated objectively. Zulfikar was emotionally unstable. At Algiers once, the entire press walked out on him for making some unkind remarks. When he himself became head of state, he withdrew Pakistan from the Commonwealth and even from SEATO to show his sense of independence. It didn’t help Pakistan. He tried nationalisation of industries. That only hurt Pakistan’s economy badly.
No section of society was safe from the Army’s interference in the early 1980s. The cruelty exercised by Zia is unbelievable. He died in an air crash. Fatima does not speculate on how an Army plane can crash. He was being accompanied by five Generals, also by the US Ambassador Arnold Rapheel and General Herbert M. Wassom, the head of the US Military Mission to Pakistan. All were to die. A thorough investigation was never carried out. Many have expressed their belief that the plane crash was not an accident but was inspired by the CIA to get rid of Zia even at the cost of losing an Ambassador. Hard to believe but in Pakistan nothing can be counted untrue.
According to Fatima, the US National Archives has some 250 pages of documents on the incident but they remain classified to this day. This book is recounting Pakistan’s post-1980 history, history in the raw, though the focus is primarily on the Bhutto family. Fatima greatly distrusts Asif Zardari, who was accused of being responsible for her father’s killing, news of which was carried to her almost casually. So many incidents, personal, political and familial are recounted, of brutality exercised beyond one’s imagination.
Fatima’s father, Murtaza would often call Zardari a chor, a thief. He had coined the term Asif Baba and the chalees chor. Within the Bhutto family there was no peace. Fatima once told a friend of her: “I don’t understand my family”. Fatima even distanced herself from her aunt Benazir. As she put it: “The more I write, the more time that passes, the more my aunt becomes unrecognizable to me”. What a life!
The book also deals briefly with Benazir’s own assassination. No admirer of her aunt, according to Fatima, Benazir thrived on saprophytic (“that which live on decaying matter”) culture she created. The book was written before a UN agency put the blame of Benazir’s killing on General Musharraf, entirely believable. Musharraf is not better than Zia or any other General. But that is what Pakistani society is all about. What needs to be noted is that here is a first hand account of Pakistani politics post-1980 in all its dirty shades, enlivened with personal-stories about family members that are as enthralling and sometimes sickening. To understand Fatima’s agony is to understand Pakistan for what it is: a nation unfit to exist.
(Penguin Books, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017, email: [email protected])