Fatima Bhutto and 'Songs of Blood and Sword'

New Delhi
Fatima Bhutto and 'Songs of Blood and Sword'
Fatima Bhutto finds it "cruel" that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, after assuming office, wanted to keep a minute's silence in memory of his slain brother-in-law and her father Murtaza Bhutto.

"It felt cruel" when Zardari expressed such a desire, Fatima, the niece of assassinated Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said at a function here on Saturday evening in which her new book was released.

"And this is also the man who said to me on the phone when I was 14-years-old and trying to find out where my father was, 'Oh don't you know your father has been shot'...For someone who has not actually ever condoled my family and I on the murder of my father, it seems slightly absurd that as President he was using his platform to commit a minute of silence to him (Murtaza)," the 27-year-old said.

Murtaza, brother of Benazir, was shot dead with six other party activists in an alleged police encounter in September 1996, during the premiership of Benazir. His family has been alleging that Zardari may have a had a hand in the incident but no charges were proved against him. The policemen charged in the case have been acquitted.

The excerpts from Fatima's book detailed the anguish that the family of Ashiq Jatoi went through on the night of September 20, 1996 when he was shot dead along with Murtaza.

Dressed in a red sari with a red 'bindi' on her forehead, Fatima spoke her mind on the issue.

In her conversation with renowned author William Dalrymple, she shed light on the reason why she wrote the book Songs of Blood and Sword.

"It was a month after we (Fatima and Dalrymple) met in Jaipur, when you were in Larkana (a district of Sindh province of Pakistan) and the elections were wrapping up.

"There was a sense that this was an election that was going to bring this party (Pakistan Peoples Party), this people back to power and they were going to take advantage of the times back at the helm of the state. And that things were going to be lost, things were going to be erased, things were going to be removed and now is the time, maybe, to write this book," she said.

Fatima took on Zardari and said, "Several months later, Zardari, who is now the President, began to have himself acquitted in the four ongoing murder trials, one of which was of my father's and prepared himself for Presidency."

"Later on, in another year of time, the courts in Pakistan absolved all the police of any wrong-doings and said to us basically nobody killed those seven men that night. Nobody provided sniper cover for the police, nobody turned off the streets lights and seven men just died."

Dalrymple said one of the men was even promoted to which Fatima said all have been promoted "doubly, triply and quite uniformly".

"But on Zardari's first day as Pakistan's President, he awarded one of his co-accused in the case 'Hilal-e-Imtiaz'. He gave him a national medal for services to the Pakistani people. And one wondered if killing Murtaza is included in this service," Fatima said.

Talking about her relationship with Benazir, Fatima maintained that her aunt was a "different person" when she was a little girl. And had always wanted to be with Benazir with whom she had then shared an "intimate" relationship.

However, when asked if she thought her aunt was a better ruler than the military dictators in Pakistan, Fatima said, "Unfortunately, I don't think we can say that. When you have 3,000 men killed in one city under an operation called 'Operation Clean Up' which sounds as genocidal as it really was, why is that better than General Musharraf who allowed American forces to disappear people. It is not better."

She said there was a deliberate attempt to build a myth about the Bhutto family that "Benazir was a Gandhi, while her brothers were monsters."

Fatima during her interaction ruled out any plans of joining politics, saying that she was a writer and will continue to write.

Later, in her interactions with the media, she welcomed moves in Pakistan that might see cutting down the powers of Zardari, and said there should not be two different laws for the powerful and the common citizens.

"It is important that now we are talking about it but in the first place I don't think or believe that Presidents or those in power should be granted immunity. There should not be a law for the powerful and a law for the ordinary citizens. In fact those in power should be scrutinised even more closely and more severely than ordinary citizens," Fatima said.
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