Why I'm a Public Enemy in Pakistan; Fatima Bhutto, Who Addresses the Hay Festival on Monday, Says Corruption and Assassination Have Stalked Her Family and Dominate Her Country's Politics. Her Crime Was to Write about It

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 28, 2010 | Go to article overview

Why I'm a Public Enemy in Pakistan; Fatima Bhutto, Who Addresses the Hay Festival on Monday, Says Corruption and Assassination Have Stalked Her Family and Dominate Her Country's Politics. Her Crime Was to Write about It


Byline: Fatima Bhutto

FOURTEEN years ago, on the street where my family and I live in Karachi -- on Clifton Road -- seven men were murdered.

The banyan trees provided sniper cover for the Karachi police. The street lights were shut. The roads were cordoned off.

More than 100 policemen had stood waiting for my father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, their guns loaded and their orders undeniable. I was 14 years old, my brother Zulfikar six years old, when our father was murdered on the streets outside our home.

My father, an elected member of parliament and a strong critic of the government of his elder sister, Benazir Bhutto -- infamous for its corruption, human rights abuses, support for the nascent Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan and inept leadership -- was shot several times. But he was killed with a point blank execution shot to his jaw.

My father and the six other men, all party workers who accompanied him that night as he returned home from a rally in the suburbs of Karachi, were left to bleed on leafy and expansive Clifton Road, a road that faced the British High Commission, the Italian consulate and other high-profile diplomatic enclaves. They died outside the beautifully decorated Clifton Gardens.

My aunt Benazir's government, in power at the time that her younger brother was murdered, stopped our family from filing a police report, a right we had to have returned to us by the Sindh High Courts. Her government arrested all the survivors and witnesses -- keeping them in jail for the remainder of her term without access to lawyers, their families, or to us.

The police officers who had carried out the killings were internally cleared in a police review and put back on their beats. All promoted, to this day they remain powerful members of the Pakistani government and of police forces across the country.

Since Benazir's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan's first democratically elected head of state, had been overthrown and killed by a military coup in the late 1970s, my aunt had presided over a fractured family dynasty. Her youngest brother, Shahnawaz, was killed in mysterious circumstances in France in 1985. A year later Benazir entered into power-sharing negotiations with the military junta that had killed her father, jailed her and her mother, exiled her brothers and -- she believed -- had ordered Shahnawaz's killing, in order to take her place in the dirty pantheon of Pakistani politics.

For 14 years my family and I fought for justice in the Pakistani courts, and six years ago I set out to fulfil the last promise I made to my father, hours before he was killed outside our home, that I would tell his story.

I was in the middle of studying for my Masters degree here in London, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and I was 22 years old. I began the process of writing Songs of Blood and Sword and looking into my family's often tragic and violent histories by cold calling strangers. "Hello, you don't know me, but ..."

I travelled across Pakistan to the northern frontiers of the country and across the southern shores of Sindh. I flew to London and Massachusetts and across Europe seeking out lost acquaintances and old lovers.

In 2007 my aunt Benazir was killed in Rawalpindi. In the aftermath, the streets were immediately cleaned up by the authorities, as they were after my father's murder. No police report was filed by the government led by her widower, Asif Zardari, and no criminal cases were launched against her assassins.

I hadn't seen or spoken to my aunt for 10 years before her death and the questions I asked of her government's role in my father's murder went unan-swered. Meanwhile the Zardari family keeps my grandmother -- my father's mother -- incommunicado in Dubai. We have not been able to see or speak to her for the past 13 years.

Two months ago, I launched my book in Karachi. …

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