By Caroline Curran
Fatima Bhutto is the self-proclaimed black sheep of Pakistan’s foremost political family. Although little known compared to some of her more famous relatives, Bhutto is making a splash this month with the publication of her book: “Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir.”
Niece of current President Asif Zardari and deceased former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and granddaughter of Pakistan’s first democratically elected Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Fatima has many stories to tell, making for a compelling and often shocking memoir that balances the personal with the political in her quest to make sense of the history of her family, and her father in particular, against the background of Pakistan’s tumultuous history.
The 441-page book is both an edifying look at Pakistani history and politics since the 1960s and an emotional journey into the heart of a broken family. Bhutto traces the beginnings of her family’s political legacy to her grandfather’s founding of the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) and looks at how years of military coups and, later, Benazir Bhutto’s ascension to power, led to the corruption of her grandfather’s ideals and, subsequently, irreparable damage to Pakistan.
The author is more than the disaffected child of a tragic political dynasty. She was, in fact, well qualified to write this book given her background as a poet and journalist in addition to her graduate work on Pakistani history and politics. While she sometimes lets her emotions get the best of her—as when she attempts to retroactively trace the rift between her aunt Benazir and her father back into their childhood— the book, for the most part, is a solid and valuable work that provides hitherto unavailable perspectives on many issues.
Fatima sets the record straight on a number of counts, delivering some astonishing revelations in the process.
First, she suggests that her aunt Benazir might have been behind the death of her Uncle Shahnawaz, who was killed in 1985 in France under mysterious circumstances. Second, she strongly asserts the role of Benazir and Asif Zardari in the assassination of her father in 1996, while Benazir was Prime Minister. Third, she highlights evidence of Benazir and Zardari’s rampant corruption and deal-making with former enemies of Zulfikar Ali.
These accusations are not made lightly; the book is meticulously researched. Fatima travelled around the world interviewing anyone and everyone who could give her firsthand accounts of major events or inside insight into the experiences of her family members at different points in their development.
Snippets of the memories of everyone from her father’s first love, a Greek woman named Della, to long-time PPP loyalists to Murtaza’s college friends are included, allowing Fatima to craft a compelling narrative that both records events and examines motives in context.
Her narrative is rather shocking and unfamiliar to even those who follow the news; the perspective of Benazir and Zardari monopolized the media due to their positions of power and the international support enjoyed by the political party they created.
Nevertheless, the evidence Fatima points to is not only hefty, but also convincing in its logic. One can only conclude that Benazir Bhutto, despite her groundbreaking achievements as the Islamic world’s first woman Prime Minister, chose a path of power and unsavoury compromise over one of principle, with dire results for both her country and her family.
If Fatima Bhutto is the black sheep of the Bhutto family, she is at least a powerful and vocal one: the damning revelations contained in her book deserve the wider audience they will gain from its publication. With Asif Zardari continuing to lead Pakistan, it seems certain that Fatima Bhutto’s voice will continue to be heard in the debate on both the future of her country, and the true legacy of her family.
“Songs of Blood and Sword” is available at local bookstores across Egypt.