Family matters

In Business Standard, William Dalrymple reviews Fatima Bhutto’s Songs of Blood and Sword:

I first encountered the family in 1994 when, as a young foreign correspondent on assignment for the Sunday Times, I was sent to Pakistan to write a long magazine piece on the Bhutto dynasty. I met Benazir in the giddy pseudo-Mexican Prime Minister’s House that she had built in the middle of Islamabad.

It was the beginning of Benazir’s second term as Prime Minister, and she was at her most imperial. She both walked and talked in a deliberately measured and regal manner, and frequently used the royal “we”. During my interview, she took a full three minutes to float down the hundred yards of lawns separating the Prime Minister’s House from the chairs where I had been told to wait for her. There followed an interlude when Benazir found the sun was not shining in quite the way she wanted it to: “The sun is in the wrong direction,” she announced. Her hair was arranged in a sort of baroque beehive topped by white gauze dupatta like one of those Roman princesses in Caligula or Rome.

A couple of days later in Karachi, I met Benazir’s brother Murtaza in very different circumstances. Murtaza was on trial in Karachi for his alleged terrorist offences. A one hundred rupee bribe got me through the police cordon, and I soon found Murtaza with his mother — Begum Bhutto — in an annexe beside the courtroom. Murtaza looked strikingly like his father, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto. He was handsome, very tall — well over six feet — with a deep voice and, like his father, exuded an air of self-confidence, bonhomie and charisma. He invited me to sit down: “Benazir doesn’t care what the local press says about her,” he said, “but she’s very sensitive to what her friends in London and New York get to read about her.”

“Has your sister got in touch with you since you returned to Pakistan?” I asked.

“No. Nothing. Not one note.”

“Did you expect her to intervene and get you off the hook?” I asked. “What kind of reception did you hope she would lay on for you when you returned from Damascus?”

“I didn’t want any favours,” replied Murtaza. “I just wanted her to let justice take its course, and for her not to interfere in the legal process. As it is, she has instructed the prosecution to use delaying tactics to keep me in confinement as long as possible. This trial has been going on for three months now and they still haven’t finished examining the first witness. She’s become paranoid and is convinced I’m trying to topple her.” More:

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