Fatima Bhutto: Dad who would be king – by Nadeem Paracha

“Fatima’s attempt at setting the record straight regarding her father is understandable, but her deriding the woman who led her party into power not through the bullet but by the ballot is not.”

The much-awaited book by Murtaza Bhutto’s daughter, Fatima Bhutto, Songs of blood and sword, is selling well, especially among the writer’s main fan-base, i.e. the offspring of the class of people who were at the forefront of labelling her grandfather (Z.A. Bhutto) as a monster.

As expected, the book is a passionate argument against whatever her controversial father had been accused of, and, of course, this being Fatima Bhutto, she makes sure to every now and then ridicule her aunt, Benazir Bhutto, who, as a character in the book, is always lurking somewhere behind, manipulating, sulking and having a ‘split personality’.

The book is a touching document of a sensitive daughter remembering her father. But at the same time it is frequently punctuated with some glaring half-truths. Due to space constrains here, I will just comment on the book’s chapter that deals with the hijacking of a PIA plane in 1981 by Al-Zulfikar (AZO) — the guerrilla organisation Murtaza formed to avenge his father’s judicial murder by the Zia dictatorship.

A former fiery PPP leader, Raja Anwar, who escaped Zia’s tyranny by crossing into Kabul (via Berlin) to join the AZO, has written one of the most detailed accounts of what life was like in that organisation. I will also take into account my interviews with some former Peoples Student Federation (PSF) members who knew Salamullah Tipu — the notorious PSF militant who joined the AZO and led the hijacking. According to Fatima though, Tipu was someone her father did not know.

Fatima treats Murtaza’s excursion into guerrilla-land (in Soviet-held Afghanistan) as something more significant than what her aunt (Benazir) was doing; trying to organise a democratic front against the Zia dictatorship while in jail in Pakistan. Till 1981 Zia’s opponents only knew Benazir and the MRD — a multi-party anti-Zia alliance that Benazir formed. It undertook three major movements against Zia (in 1981, 1983 and 1986), during which scores of PPP and PSF members lost their lives while thousands were jailed, flogged and tortured.

Men like Raja Anwar (and former PSF comrades of Tipu) are sure to cringe as Fatima ignores their documented accounts, and instead, takes at face-value what one of Murtaza’s slippery friends (Suhail Sethi) had to say about the hijacking. Raja Anwar was one of the early members of the AZO. His explosive book, The Terrorist Prince (1997), is completely ignored by Fatima Bhutto. Also ignored (rather intentionally, I believe) is the fact that Murtaza got Anwar thrown in a Kabul jail for daring to suggest that he (Murtaza) should go back to Pakistan and support his sister’s democratic struggle against Zia.

Secondly, Fatima absurdly alludes that Tipu was perhaps Zia’s agent and it was Zia who masterminded the hijacking to discredit the Bhutto family.

According to statements given by AZO activists who were arrested by the Zia regime (between 1982 -86), Ziaul Haq was on AZO’s hit list — and he knew that.

So the question is, if Zia was so easily able to penetrate the AZO with an ‘agent’ like Tipu, why didn’t he simply get Murtaza killed and get it done and over with?

Fatima suggests that Murtaza had no clue who Tipu was, whereas Anwar and former PSF colleagues of Tipu insist that not only did Murtaza know Tipu, he actually promoted Tipu to deputy commander in the AZO.

Anyone associated with Karachi’s student politics in the late 1970s and early 1980s knew Tipu as a militant PSF firebrand who, after avenging the murder of a student killed by the pro-Zia IJT, gunned down a senior IJT leader, and escaped to Kabul.

Fatima extensively quotes Suhail Sethi, whom Anwar describes as a chamcha of Murtaza. Sethi (and Fatima) claim that Murtaza tried to dissuade Tipu from shooting a Pakistani official on the hijacked plane. But according to Anwar and one of Tipu’s cousins I talked to, it was Murtaza who gave the orders for the murder. Anwar then goes on to assert (in his book) that Tipu became Murtaza’s trusted right-hand man after the hijacking.

Fatima also claims that Tipu went on to work for the government. This is yet another case of naiveté. Tipu was hanged by the Afghan government (on Murtaza’s insistence) for a supposed murder of an Afghan citizen in 1984.

Benazir condemned the hijacking in an interview she gave to the BBC in 1985. Murtaza Bhutto never claimed innocence, either for the hijacking or for the murder, in any newspaper published during 1981 to ‘86.

Fatima’s attempt at setting the record straight regarding her father is understandable, but her deriding the woman who led her party into power not through the bullet but by the ballot is not. This was what differentiated Benazir from Murtaza.

Source: Dawn, 11 Apr, 2010



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