Saturday, February 23, 2008


Fatima Bhutto - She is as beautiful as her aunt, has similar tragic appeal and orphaned like most Bhuttos as a result of political assassination.” (Jemima Khan)

Fatima Bhutto is only 25 years old and she is outspoken - some might say brash - idealistic, refreshingly honest and a rare advocate for unconditional democracy in Pakistan.

She is a western-educated writer with two books to her credit. She also writes a weekly column for Pakistan's largest Urdu daily newspaper, Daily Jang and its English sister paper, The News International.

Fatima is the granddaughter of former Pakistani Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who was deposed in a 1977 military coup and executed two years later. She is the niece of former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto but a complex family feud rooted in broken bloodlines has kept this powerful clan divided among themselves, even after the untimely assassination of her aunt in December 2007.

Her father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto was the younger brother of Benazir Bhutto. After a 16 year absence, Murtaza returned to Pakistan in 1993 to work with Benazir who had been elected Prime Minister for the second time.

Her father had expected to assume a senior role or even leadership of Benazir's ruling People Progressive Party in keeping with the patriarchal rights of leadership practiced by the Bhutto landlord class for many generations. Benazir, influenced by her husband, refused to cooperate and Murtaza reacted by openly criticizing Benazir's policies. As the rift between the siblings intensified, Murtaza formed his own party which failed to attract popular support.

In 1996 he was killed by what appeared to be a carefully planned police assassination and to this day, there are still many unanswered questions about Benazir's role in his murder. Fatima who idolized her father, still holds Benazir and her husband Zardari “morally responsible” for Murtaza's death.

Like Benazir, Fatima's life was molded by the brutal murder of her father and she bears a striking physical resemblance to her aunt but that is where the similarity ends. According to Fatima, “The comparisons are largely cosmetic...In terms of political ideology, what we read, how we think, we are very different. I don't think that I am anything like her.”

Fatima had openly criticized her aunt's final return to the political stage in Pakistan in 2007. In her newspaper column, she referred to Benazir as a “puppet democrat” fearing that her aunt's deliberate duplicity to win public sympathy and her willingness to compromise with military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, would sabotage “an earnest grass roots movement for real democratic reform.”

She also expressed grave misgivings about the graft and corruption that tainted Benazir's two terms in office. Benazir's modern and US-friendly leadership style earned her favor in the outside world but many allege that she and her husband, Asif Zardari, known as “Mr 10 Percent” were responsible for stealing over one billion dollars from Pakistan's treasury.

There have been recent suggestions that Fatima or her brother Zulfikar Ali, as offsprings of the male Bhutto line, are the real heirs to Benazir's title. But they are unlikely successors, since Benazir's teenage son, Bilawal, has already been anointed for that position. His father will conveniently “act on his behalf” until he is ready to assume responsibility as leader of the PPP.

Fatima claims that she is not driven by a sense of entitlement and does not subscribe to birthright politics. Unlike some other members of her family clan, she does not believe that the Bhutto name qualifies her for automatic leadership of any political party in Pakistan. She would prefer to see an end to dynastic politics and has reiterated that she is not interested in becoming Benazir's successor.

In spite of her anti-Musharraf stand, she has refused to accept the final results of Monday's national elections which pointed to a victory for the opposing parties, led by the PPP, with the highest number of votes. Even as Benazir's husband , the ubiquitous Asif Zardari, prepares for a government of “national unity” with the other parties, Fatima has been critical of the PPP claiming that they committed fraud to win votes in Monday's elections.

It seems that for now she will make her contribution to Pakistan's politics through her writing, verbal candor and support for candidates who are genuinely committed to democratic principles and improving the lives of Pakistanis at all levels.

She is learning from experience as she invests herself with the power of an indomitable spirit and perhaps the purest form of patriotism that can be found among the offspring of the privileged classes in Pakistan.

Maybe one day, with her ideals and patriotism still intact, Fatima will stand as the beacon of light amidst the violence and corruption of her country's bleak political landscape. Given the history and character of the self-serving opportunists who will be playing key roles in the new government of “national unity,” it is unlikely that Pakistan will have much to celebrate after the post-election euphoria is over.

-Carol Ann Mohamed

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