December 14, 2007
Pakistan: The "Other" Bhutto
BY Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Editor's Note: Despite all the talk of boycotting the January 8 parliamentary elections in Pakistan, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has returned to the campaign trail. So has President Musharraf's other main rival, Nawaz Sharif.
In her latest dispatch, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy visits the Bhutto ancestral home in the province of Sindh to interview former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's niece, Fatima, who has become a thorn in her aunt's side. Educated in the U.S. and fast becoming a prominent figure in her own right, the 25-year-old could turn out to be a serious political challenger to Benazir in the coming years. And there's no love lost between the two women. Fatima blames her aunt for the 1996 murder of her father, Benazir's brother, and calls her "one of the most corrupt leaders the world has ever seen." Watch excerpts from the interview and read more about Fatima below.
There are deep divisions within the Bhutto family. In 1996, Mir Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir's younger brother and her political opponent, was brutally gunned down just steps from his house in Karachi, while his sister was the prime minister.
The authorities claimed he died in a police shootout with his body guards, but the public -- depending on whom you talk to -- point fingers at Benazir and her husband Asif ali Zardari.
Benazir Bhutto has publicly denied any involvement in the death of her brother.
A graduate of Columbia University, the 25-year-old Fatima spends her days campaigning against her aunt [Benazir Bhutto], who, she says, is "one of the most corrupt leaders the world has seen."
Fatima is Murtaza's eldest daughter. A graduate of Columbia University, the 25-year-old spends her days writing and campaigning against her aunt, who, she says, is "one of the most corrupt leaders the world has seen."
Many Pakistanis see Fatima as an alternative to Benazir, a serious challenger in the coming years and the rightful heir to the country's most powerful political dynasty. She seems to have the pedigree required to contest and win elections, if she so chooses. In Pakistan, a Bhutto surname is almost enough to guarantee someone the job of a premier.
As I drove up to 70 Clifton, the house in which Benazir grew up and where Fatima now lives near the Arabian sea in Karachi, I thought of the similarities between the two: Both their lives were shaped by the death of their fathers at a young age, and both spent time at Ivy League universities in the United States and are articulate and educated. But the similarities end there.
The house and its adjoining office are steeped in history. The walls are covered with historical photographs and the library is filled with speeches and documents from the '60s and '70s, written by former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir and Murtaza's father.
Over the years, Benazir Bhutto has filed property cases against Fatima and her mother. The former prime minister believes that the house is rightfully hers and has made several attempts to evict the current occupants.
Fatima Bhutto (center) visiting her father's grave.
Without hesitation, Fatima tells me that politics is not a birth right. Sitting next to a life-size portrait of her father, she discusses the issues plaguing Pakistan.
"Part of the problem with Pakistani politics is that an entire nation has been held hostage to a very few, who treat politics like it's a family business. We need the field to open up so that is why I am not running."
But in the run up to the January elections, Fatima is busy campaigning for others in her family in Larkana, the Bhutto ancestral village in the province of Sindh. Her father founded an offshoot of the Pakistan People's Party in the early '90s, and her mother now is running for a place in the parliament against Benazir. "These elections are going to be tough," Fatima tells me. "But I am determined to keep my father's legacy alive."
It has been more than 10 years since Fatima last spoke to her aunt. She feels that Benazir was complicit in the murder of her father. The proof, she says, lies in the report issued by a tribunal convened after her father's death, which concluded that the assassination could not have taken place without approval from a "much higher" political authority.
Fatima's statements are starting to affect Benazir. Local Pakistani newspapers published a story last month in which sources close to Benazir revealed that they were trying to patch things up between the two women.
Fatima's statements and campaigning are starting to affect Benazir. Local Pakistani newspapers published a story last month in which sources close to the former prime minister revealed that they were trying to patch things up between the two women and to convince Fatima not to make statements against her aunt. Anwar Bhutto, who spoke on behalf of the Pakistan People's Party, told journalists, "Benazir really wants Fatima to join active politics and she never considers her a rival. She will be an asset for Benazir and the PPP if she enters politics."
The questions and accusations grow as elections draw closer. Before I leave she tells me that she is worried about what Benazir's return means for the country. "Her legacy as a two-time prime minister is a legacy of gross corruption. She is estimated to have stolen $1.5 to $3 billion from the Pakistani treasury. It's one of state violence..."
When I ask Fatima if a reconciliation is in the cards, her response is a vehement, "No."
"Benazir needs to be tried in court for the crimes that she has committed. We do not see eye to eye on anything and we do not subscribe to her distorted version of democracy."
Camera: Mahera Omar, Sohail Ahmed
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