Saturday, May 8, 2010

Songs, Blood and Sword... Untruths, Half-truths and Fiction (Part-III)

Author's Note: The 1st part of this series can be read: HERE.

The 2nd part can be read: HERE.

In India, dressed in a green Sari with a red tika painted on her forehead, she wowed the literatti of Delhi and Mumbai, as she sipped white wine and answered questions about her family and the 'evil' uncle who now runs the country. It has been pretty much the same in the UK, with lots of the British media also being won over by the writer and her tale. I wondered about this when it emerged that while Ms Bhutto was heavily promoting her book in India and elsewhere overseas, she had declined requests to speak to journalists in Pakistan. May be, 'coz they know their history and hence the truth... and therefore Ms Bhutto's presentation of events which is rather one-sided and skips certain inconvenient facts... will not be fawned over.

Continuing with 'fawned over'... infact there is an overdose of it... with Khushi Singh's article titled "When Fatima held everyone's gaze" taking the whole bakery with all the cakes with red cherries on top. Sample this: "She is as gutsy as she is beautiful. She did me the honour of calling on me before she took her flight to Karachi. I could not take my eyes off her. I kept gazing at the pin-head of a diamond sparkling on the left side of her nose and her long jet-black curly hair falling on her shoulders. I hope I see her at least once more before my time is up." This great and courageous writer, and journalist of unimpeachable integrity with a prolific pen must have been smoking a really long pipe indeed.

While in India (New Delhi) Fatima participated in a panel discussion: "Altered Histories: the Legacy of Political Assassinations in South Asia" along with political critic Ashis Nandy, Hindustan Times editorial director Vir Sanghvi and Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. She said leaders from political dynasties had been assassinated in South Asia for political gains and Pakistan remains the most suffered nation. "If we look at the assassinations in South Asia, it can be easily found that the leaders who became too dangerous for the establishment, had been killed. Benazir, who came to Pakistan in 2007 on a sympathy wave became inconvenient to some sections in the power. She was isolated. Her protection was removed. It became easy to assassinate her," said Fatima. She also observed that former Pakistan President Zia-ul-Haq was killed after jihad was over in Afghanistan.

Umm... interesting. It certainly indicates that she can rationalise things and events quite well. She is certainly no simpleton then. Is she just a sad and hurt child mourning her father? Is she just naïve and given to certain prejudices? Is she a hurt and angry young woman seeking justice? Is she the future of Pakistan's politics? Or is she part of fiction being written by hidden hands for the future of Pakistan, but made to look like fact? These questions and much more come to mind when observing 'the poet, journalist, author, political commentator, activist, philanthropist and Benazir's fiery and fearless niece'... Fatima Bhutto.

Through the book and her interviews... Fatima is certainly trying to create an alternative narrative... to give the impression that she is the future of the PPP - the party which Benazir lead for nearly 3 decades, despite every effort made by hidden forces to factionalize it. This is also Pakistan's only national party with grassroots support. But then Fatima denies having any desire for power. Murtaza Bhutto's daughter says she does not want to follow her aunt Benazir Bhutto and become a part of "dynastic and birthright politics"... even though her father - the "energetic and idealistic" Murtaza was outmaneuvered and cheated out of his "right" to inherit the 'Bhutto legacy' by his "scheming and ambitious" sister - Benazir. This is clearly designed to generate sympathy... in the minds and hearts of the readers/audience.

The question is, why was Fatima involved in a dirty campaign previously against her aunt Benazir Bhutto, and now against her uncle - the incumbent President... Asif Ali Zardari? Whose game is she playing? Whose interests is she serving? She is consciously part of the fiction which is being created around her: a young Bhutto who denounces dynastic politics and disagrees with all that her aunt stood for... and is one of the most vocal critics of the current regime. Her "must read" book/memoir "Songs of Blood and Sword" is being marketed as "a book of international significance by a young woman who has already established herself as a brave and passionate campaigner".

Fatima paints Zardari as "evil, corrupt and a murderer" and terms him "my aunt's oleaginous husband" while Benazir is portrayed as "cruel" and "power hungry". What distinguishes Benazir from other leaders including female political icons such as Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and even Aung San Suu Kyi is her ability to keep the woman in her alive... and she never shirked from smiling in public. More importantly, there are credible reports and suggestions that say she was a doting mother and a kind aunt who facilitated Sassui Bhutto's US citizenship, and her studies there.

Benazir even reached out to Fatima several times... despite the latter's anger and extra vitriolic outbursts in the media - both foreign and domestic. There are credible reports that say... Fatima went to Benazir's residence in Karachi (with the media in tow) and threw down a cake and a birthday card... that her aunt had sent her. This is the same aunt who inspite of extreme provocation maintained a dignified silence... and did not wash her family linen (fictitious or otherwise) in public. Else where would Fatima... the daughter of Murtaza Bhutto - the terrorist and don responsible for shootings, bombings and the 1981 hijacking of a Pakistan International Airways plane... and Sassui... the daughter of Shahnawaz - the terrorist be??? Who would want to associate with them?

Sassui is Benazir's youngest brother Shahnawaz Bhutto's only child. She finally set foot in Pakistan in 2008, visited her father's grave there... and broke down in tears. Why did she come to Pakistan after all these years? 'coz Fatima traveled overseas and convinced her to come back so that the "real Bhuttos" could get back their "right" from the "usurpers" who were in her opinion "murderers and thieves". Fatima's mother Fowzia and Sassui's mother Rehana are sisters... of Afghan descent. Today Fatima says... she is "frightened" of her "biological mother" and insists she has found love and happiness with her adored step-mother Ghinwa (a lebanese ballet dancer) who she affectionately calls "Mummy".

Fowzia is on record... that Murtaza (Fatima's father) kidnapped their daughter when she was all of three... and forcibly kept her away. That all her efforts to contact Fatima after Murtaza's death were thwarted by Ghinwa... who was more keen on the inheritance (read: Bhutto legacy, wealth, party, power, etc). What kind of a father separates a three year old child from her mother? Ghinwa claims that Murtaza had divorced Fowzia after Shahnawaz's death. On being asked Benazir's response (according to reports) had been: Murtaza had said the same thing to her... but she had not seen any papers. Today, Fatima and Sassui are quite close and Sassui attended the launch of "Songs of Blood and Sword" in Karachi. Fatima now pins a new rap-sheet on her aunt's now silent shoulders... that of keeping her away from her cousin. But of course!

For the uninitiated, Fatima's deceased Uncle - Shahnawaz Bhutto - was mysteriously found dead (due to poisoning) in his apartment in Nice in France (in 1985) - an event in which erstwhile dictator Zia-ul-Haq's/Pakistani intelligence setup's involvement has long been suspected. (There were some suspicion regarding the role of his wife and Sassui's mother Rehana in this event as well). Benazir herself had pointed a finger towards the SeeIA apart from the Pakistani intelligence agencies. Twenty five years down the line... Fatima now sees the hand of her (murdered) aunt behind her Uncle's "suicide". Infact, she sees the work of some combination of the Zia regime, the SeeIA and Benazir behind this event. Both Fatima and Sassui were about three years old then.

Maj. Gen. (retd) Naseerullah Baber... Benazir's Interior Minister was in the centre of investigations when both her brothers were killed. This is what he had to say and I quote: "I went to South of France when Shahnawaz died in July 1985. I know exactly what happened and who killed him." Why, then, has he not revealed the identity of Shahnawaz's killers? "Because I was advised not to go beyond the drawn line," he says. "The substance that killed Shahnawaz was used by very few countries. The FBEye and the French authorities investigated independently but kept their findings secret because of certain international sensitivities."

From what we can gather, Maj. Gen. Babar's integrity and competence is unimpeachable. He was a true soldier (who won the highest award in courage) and a real war hero... unlike the legions of militarywallahs (Mushy included) in that blighted country who proudly display a chestful of medals and colourful ribbons... for 'unmatched bravery and services rendered'. What they were/are... nobody knows. In his long career in the Army, Babar served in the Artillery Corps and Aviation. During the 1965 war with India, he single handedly captured an entire Indian company of soldiers (over 70 POWs) and was awarded the third highest military award of Pakistan - the Sitara-e-Jurat (Star of Courage) - for this action. In the 1971 war, he commanded an artillery brigade in support of 23 Division and later commanded an infantry division until he was wounded and evacuated from the battlefield. He also has the distinction of being awarded SJ & Bar. In 1972, he was appointed Inspector General Frontier Corps. He retired from the Army in 1974 and was appointed Governor of NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). He joined the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in 1977 after the arrest of Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and famously threw away his Hilal-i-Jurat (with bar) and other army medals at the presiding officer of a military tribunal, when Mr. Bhutto was hanged by the military regime of Gen. Zia-ul-Haq.

Babar's harshest barbs are reserved for Gen. (retd) Musharraf. "I have seen Gen. Musharraf in 'action' during the 1965 and 1971 wars. I watched him from close quarters. To me he came across as a coward; corrupt; and a man of mediocre intelligence."

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 street lights switched off. Babar (who was then the interior minister) says, "I know the people who had him bumped off. They dismissed the sister two weeks later because they wanted to seize power and heap all the blame on her for his death."

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 (and according to reports, 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), her 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... and includes the army, intelligence and security apparatus. Certain forces/powers from across the seven seas are also part of it].

Notably, there is no mention in this "must read" 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 JFK assassination. (Note: The interim government [formed by 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. Perhaps we can also add that... anyone with a little knowledge of Pakistan would know... who controls the Karachi police. Surprisingly, Fatima quotes Farooq Leghari... in order to buttress her claim regarding her father's killers!

In the same vein, Benazir's return to Pakistan in 1986 (when she was given an unprecedented reception at the Lahore airport... as over a million people gathered to welcome her) is said to have succeeded a term in "self-imposed exile," something that will surprise those familiar with her years of solitary confinement in Sukkur jail under very trying circumstances. By contrast, Fatima is sympathetic to others' decision to flee, leave alone her father's understandable absence from Pakistan.

From what we gather: Benazir showed respect when addressing her interior minister. She and Gen. Babar liked to engage in intellectual dialogue. Unlike other cabinet ministers, one never saw Gen. Babar cringe before his young prime minister. Nor is Naseerullah Babar anything like Ghulam Mustafa Khar, the unctuous fast-talking opportunist. "On July 5, 1977 (the day Gen. Zia overthrew ZAB's government in a coup d'état), Khar changed camps and went over to Gen. Chisti for his reprieve while Mr. Bhutto was arrested and taken to Murree"... remembers Babar.

Recently, Khar - the self-styled 'lion of Punjab' turned 'circus lion' - came out with a 'startling disclosure'... that a group of military generals had made an offer to save ZAB from getting hanged. However, Benazir Bhutto had rejected the offer at that time (read it). The date of this stunning disclosure... 4th April 2010... exactly 31 years after Zulfiqar was hanged and nearly 2.5 years after Benazir's own murder. Fatima had launced her book barely a week before this... in which she squarely puts the blame for the death of her father and uncle on Benazir herself. According to her... Benazir did this so that she could be the sole inheritor of the 'Bhutto legacy'. As for her own death... why that was 'accidental'. Didn't Gen. Musharraf say along with his cronies... that "she was responsible for her own death"... ??? Wonderful na? Jigsaw puzzle solved... even Sherlock Holmes would be put to shame. Nobody was/is responsible... the army, intelligence agencies, SeeIA, rival politicians, other forces... none at all. It was Benazir herself. Period.

In her "must read" memoir Fatima quotes PPP old-timers (the disgruntled lot that did not find a place in Benazir's party) who insinuate that Benazir had harboured every intention of doing away with her own mother, Begum Nusrat, as well. My! My!

In Mar '09 an attempt was made through a self-styled celebrity journalist (close to Immy K/ Jemmy Goldylocks and Musharraf) to 'prove' that Benazir and Zardari were not on the best of terms... through a fictitious interview of Benazir's sister Sanam. That did not work... and Sanam forcefully denounced it. Then in Aug '09 a British biographer - Christopher Sandford - came out with a biography of the former cricketer and failed politician Immy K... and suggested that Benazir and Imran had a "roaring affair" while they were students at Oxford. He went on to claim... that Benazir was "completely infatuated" with Imran and that for a few months they had a relationship which was also "sexual" in nature... 'coz "Imran slept with everyone". This fell flat as well. Now, tell me how many folks are keen to read a biography of Immy K of all people?? Next came Fatima Bhutto and her "must read" memoir "Songs of Blood and Sword" followed by Ghulam Mustafa Khar's 'startling revelations'. [*Tarang* *Tarang*... that is the suspense music... still playing in the background... my friend]

Incidentally, Khar's former wife (one of seven I believe) Tehmina Durrani (close to the desii and foreign establishments) is now married to Mian Shahbaz Sharif... and is his 3rd wife. Shahbaz is the incumbent Chief Minister of Punjab and the younger brother of the two-time former PM and life-long Benazir rival Mian Nawaz Sharif. Shahbaz is known to be ambitious... and has been eyeing the PM's post for quite sometime. He is also known to be the establishment's favourite. Nawaz too was a creation of the Pakistan army and intelligence setup (ISI especially) in the eighties... to counter Benazir in Punjab - Pakistan's most populous and influential province. After Musharraf's coup d'état in 1999... which overthrew his government... Nawaz was rumoured to have taken a strong stand vis-a-vis the 'establishment'. Off late... after some 'tutoring' from the 'true survivors' - the east Punjabis and Kashmiris around him... he is said to have 'matured'. Now Khar is attempting to enter the National Assembly (Pakistan's version of the Parliament) after spending several years in the political wilderness (whiling away his time: dog fighting, pig hunting and of course marrying)... through a by-election, as an independent candidate. Reports suggest that the PML - Nawaz/Nawaz league and the Punjab administation of the 'Chote Mian' Shahbaz Sharif will back him fully.

There were times when Fatima and her step-mother named Benazir and accused her (and her husband) for being part of the conspiracy to murder her own brother. Nay for being his murderers. And went on and on about... how she tried to cut up the carpets (from her ancestral residence) and take away one half of them (!) Fatima and her step-mother spread rumours in Pakistan that her paternal grandmother (Begum Nusrat) was being drugged in captivity. As per reports, Begum Nusrat was suffering from dementia - a type of Alzheimer's disease... and was losing her memory (perhaps as a result of a head injury received in the 80's when she was baton-charged in a political rally along with her daughter). We also saw how Murtaza's widow - Ghinwa - said: "Nooo, I did not accuse her directly. I only held her morally responsible"... after Benazir's death. Mind you, it was Benazir who was chucked out of her father's (ancestral) homes... the full control of which was given to Murtaza's family... by the powers-that-be. Benazir and her sister's petition for their legitimate shares in their ancestral property have not moved an inch in the Pakistani courts... even under the 'independent judiciary'. Not under Pakistani laws not even under Islamic laws. Strange! And Benazir was no ordinary person... she was a two-time former prime minister and a towering personality in her own right. Fatima and her immediate family has been saying all kind of things about her sole surviving aunt - Sanam Bhutto as well.

Btw... when her husband was in jail for several years (... during Nawaz Sharif II and much of Musharraf's regime) without a conviction, Musharraf had been sending messages to Benazir that all court cases against them would disappear and her husband would be set free... but there was a big IF. And what was that? If only she agreed to quit politics and hand over the party to someone who was more worthy and truly deserving. Now... who was that person? Ghinwa Bhutto of course - Fatima's step-mother and Musharraf's choice for taking over from Benazir. Ha!

Incidentally, the faction of the PPP run by Ghinwa is called the PPP (SB). SB stands for 'Shaheed Bhutto'... a reference to ZAB and they also use the same party symbol - the sword - used by ZAB for his PPP. Benazir has always used the arrow as her party symbol. Yet... this has not stopped Fatima, her step-mother and a disgruntled uncle of Benazir (Mumtaz Bhutto - the self-styled Head/Chief/Sardar of the Bhutto clan)... from accusing her of "stealing the Bhutto legacy"!!!

(More later...)


Fatima Bhutto, niece of slain former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Pic courtesy: link.


  1. Wow. I intended to read this post later since it is on the longer side. But I am glad that I read it. This was captivating and informative. I had never heard of Ghinwa Bhutto before this.

    I knew sketchy obvious details about Pak politics. So I have learnt a lot more from your post. Nah. Article! Well written Roshmi. And insightful as always! :)

  2. oleaginous ... where do you find such words...variety word....learnt a new one today...

    liked these lines on Kushwant Singh(am his regular reader)..
    "..This great and courageous writer, and journalist of unimpeachable integrity with a prolific pen must have been smoking a really long pipe indeed. "

    so, still more to come abt the frogs of pakistan.....but yes, this series did let me to know some interesting and curios aspects of the stinking well next to us....

    How about taking up some happening social issue like 'Farmers suicides' in india as your next topic?

    Hey , why dont you write for "The Hindu"- Open page on sundays?

    I always feel as if i am reading a professional and amateur journalist's writings...
    Keep them reporting with your rational analysis and synthesis with loads of comprehensiveness and tonnes of relevant data ...

    I guess i should seriously give a thought abt making your posts as subjects in my documentaries in future.....
    BTW, how much do you charge for copyrights?
    Any concession for Blogger friends, especially dumbos?

    Note: I am coming to ur home tonight to steal all the documents from which you copy to write such good posts..... then you have to write small dumb posts like me....Hey, dont tell to anyone. ok buddy.

  3. I have just gone through. Not read it fully.
    I will soon

  4. Hola..
    me ha encantado tu blog, me ha parecido muy interesante y muy original.
    Porfavor pasate por mi blog,mi blog lo creé ayer y me gustaria que me pusieras un comentario.

  5. Hola, me ha parecido muy interesante tu blog.

  6. There is so much of history the nations have together, that there are so many interpretations, by so many people , that it becomes quite confusing to follow any single school of thought...I wish there was a book like a single source of truth....

  7. Hmm..Interesting! That was well written, as usual! :)
    Kya family hai! A similar post could be written on the Nehru-Gandhi family too..Lots of skeletons will tumble out of that closet!

  8. so much about the bhutto family and politics of Pakistan ... looking forward for the next installment.....

  9. Roshmi Madam, Reading the whole was good lesson of history. Too much inclination towards his own father is making Fatima partial in the judgement...

  10. Hey Roshmi

    Listen friend , i absolutely love ur comments. I want you to comment on all my posts if possible.

    But i must admit....hmmmm.....and apologize for not visiting ur blog regularly.

    I love ur writing.....but....only one problem......guess what?...i am struck by guilt.


  11. OMG!! How do you write such interesting, insightful posts always!!??!! You must share your secret recipe!!
    Learnt some new thoughts, history today!
    Thanks for sharing! :)

  12. nice blog.. have a view of my blog when free.. .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog...

  13. thanks for sharing
    like the flow of words
    good read

  14. @ Choco: Thanks Choco! Great to know you found this post... captivating and informative :)

    But this is not just about pak politics... or a simple book review or a discussion regarding a family, personality or country.

    There are several undercurrants there... some reading between the lines may be necessary.

    This series is infact the prism through which I am discussing about the political goings-on in this part of the world. The real powers-that-be who remain behind the curtains yet control the destinies of billions of people. The role played by 'respected' authors, journalists, commentators, publishers, experts, analysts, media/press, think tanks, lobbies/special interest groups... et al.

  15. @ Mahesh: Thanks Mahesh... for the pat! And that was quite an entertaining comment :)

  16. @ BK Chowla: Sure Chowlaji!

    I would be keen to read your views... on my latest post as well... which deals majorly with the Indian scenario...

  17. @ Albba Eldeseo Detenerte: Hola! Thanks and welcome to my blog! Hope you'll have a great time here...

  18. @ Gyanban: One person's 'truth' can be another person's 'untruth'. Isn't it???

    Therefore... it is difficult nay impossible to have a single source of truth :)

    We have to do a lot of reading and observing plus joining the dots... to get the 'big picture'... so to speak...

  19. @ Dhiman: Sure thing!

    But this is not just about pak politics... or a simple book review or a discussion regarding a family, personality or country. There are several undercurrents there... some reading between the lines may be necessary.

    This series is infact the prism through which I am discussing about the political goings-on in this part of the world. The real powers-that-be who remain behind the curtains yet control the destinies of billions of people. The role played by 'respected' authors, journalists, commentators, publishers, experts, analysts, media/press, think tanks, lobbies/special interest groups... et al.

  20. @ Yayaver: I beg to differ. I think there is more to it than meets the eye.

    If you observe the events... their genesis as well as history and read between the lines... then this 'must read' book/memoir and its twisted contents will become more clearer. As for the much fawned over author... if you join the dots... it shouldn't be too difficult to understand whose game she is playing.

    Talk about puppets and puppeteers!

  21. @ Indian Pundit: "i absolutely love ur comments. I want you to comment on all my posts if possible."

    I do... I generally do that. In the not too distant past however... I was 'irregularly regular' due to some health concerns.

    "I love ur writing.....but....only one problem......guess what?...i am struck by guilt."

    "Guilt"??? What guilt... ???

  22. @ Shilpa: Thanks for the pat, girl!!! :)

  23. @ sm: Thanks... am glad you liked it :)