This eloquent piece by Nighat Said Khan*, published by the Friday Times, is a reminder for the bright and ambitious Fatima Bhutto that she should get her politics sorted out before she ventures to settle intra-family scores in the public domain. I have also noted that the upper middle classes of Pakistan have given huge attention to Fatima’s recent invective against her late “Adi”. Fatima is surely a budding literary talent but her politics alas falls short of historical consciousness and betrays a lack of understanding of the nuances of Pakistan’s homegrown struggle for democracy.
In her earnest attempts to say the right thing, Fatima not only negates herself but also reinforces the Pakistani establishment’s long held biases against the murdered Bhuttos. The two Bhuttos – father and daughter – were no saints nor the best of administrators. However, they represented a threat to the status quo as Nighat mentions and thereby personified the struggle for democracy.
If Fatima does not believe in heirs or dynasties then why is her immediate family doing political business in the name of late Murtaza Bhutto. And why above all she plays the Bhutto card with such ease and aplomb.
Perhaps good advice from Fatima, like charity, should begin at home.
Two quotes from this excellent piece deserve attention:
But the detractors, the middle class, urban progressives, intellectuals, academicians, “left” activists and “left” pretenders who add to this, “they didn’t do anything” refrain, are to my mind either unable to understand liberal bourgeois democracy or are unable to see reform for what it is – a slow, laborious, tedious and frustrating process. I don’t expect mainstream politicians to bring revolutions.
And you, Fatima, is not the media and political and social circles focusing on you only because you are a Bhutto? Surely every young Pakistani professional woman is not being interviewed by the London Times and the Guardian? Do you also not play the Bhutto card every time you accept or court celebrity status? Do you not already have an edge that you have not earned?
We are publishing the full text of this letter for those who may not have seen the print version.
It is for bread we fight, but we fight for roses too…
I looked forward to your articles over much of 2007. I read you with interest. My sense of you was of a serious and sincere young woman who had sensitivity and an openness that was engaging.
Unfortunately, your personalized attack on Benazir Bhutto a couple of months ago jolted me. As a reader, I don’t want to be part of the internal pain and betrayals of the Bhutto family. My concern is only at the level of what the Bhuttos were, are and will be in the public sphere. I respected Benazir Bhutto for many things (while being only too critical of her failings) but I was particularly appreciative of the fact that she didn’t wash her family linen in public even under extreme provocation. Nor, I understand, did she indulge in personal vendettas or bear grudges. She was either “polite” or magnanimous. Either way, I felt better that she was not publicly vicious and that she kept her personal pain and betrayals to herself. I always felt that she dealt with me as a citizen and a woman and in that gave me respect.
As a feminist I am appalled that you are so deriding of Benazir as a woman. Your article brought to the fore how ingrained sexism is in many of us and how easily we can obliterate a woman’s identity even when that woman has nurtured a self-definition despite all odds and often at great pains to herself. By calling Benazir “Mrs. Zardari” you insulted not only her but all of us women who have tried to carve out our identities within a rampant and sinistre patriarchal structure. I would like to point out that a majority of women in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world do not become “Mrs” when they get married. This is common only in urban middle and upper class circles and is a heritage of colonialism. How many women have you come across in Larkana who are called “Mrs”?
Benazir was and remained a Bhutto by birth, conviction and commitment. I am also disturbed by the present prurient debate on parentage and spousal identification; or on who can wear the Bhutto name, which was triggered by Benazir’s children adding Bhutto to theirs. As a feminist I am delighted by this and only wish that it had been done much earlier. I think all children should be known as the offspring of both or neither. I am also delighted that by claiming their mother’s name and home, and with her husband changing his residence (and his burial place I understand), these Bhutto’s are declaring to the world that their legitimacy derives from their association with a woman. I think this is fantastic given that women in the mainstream get their identities from their fathers, husbands, sons, brothers or even uncles. This is striking a blow at a foundation of patriarchy and even though Asif Zardari and Benazir’s children may not have intended to pose such a challenge, it is an affirmation of matrilineal and matrilocal norms and is, well, feminist.
I have been affirmed by the response of the people (and particularly members and voters of the PPP) to a woman leading them even though Bhutto had male heirs. I am aware of the argument that she “stole” the legacy of the PPP. Perhaps she did maneuver it but she could not have been successful then or later if the party had not gone along with her or if she had not been able to get out the vote. Like most people in this country, I am saddened by Murtaza Bhutto’s murder. I remember his promise when he returned to Pakistan, but I was disturbed by his claim to his “inheritance as a male heir” and I continue to be enraged that a father should separate you, his daughter, from your mother at the age of three. No law, religion or system allows for this. I appreciate that now you may not be interested in your blood mother but who knows what your stand would’ve been had Murtaza facilitated you loving her at an early age.
I marvel at the sophistication of the people who voted for Benazir especially when there were other PPPs to vote for over the last 15 years or so. Clearly, supporters had an affinity with Benazir. She had suffered with them and for them. Those years that she spent fighting for her father’s life and against General Zia ul Haq, the stories of her solitary confinements, house arrests, her courage in the face of Martial Law; her resilience and her commitment at a young age to a cause larger than herself is writ large in the hearts of people and they seem not able to forget it. I appreciate that Murtaza and Shahnawaz Bhutto were following their own form of resistance but however sincere, that adventurism led to countless deaths, prison sentences, torture and disappearances, not least the murder of Shahnawaz himself. A friend of mine spent ten years in jail. He was often in solitary confinement, he was tortured, and left without hope, on the grounds that the state suspected him of being a member of Al Zulfiqar. He says sometimes he would get news of Bhutto’s sons, their marriages, their chidren, their time in Europe, and he would also get news of Benazir – in solitary or under house arrest. It was with her and through her that he continued to identify with the Pakistan People’s Party. He was only 27 years old when he was released by her government in 1989 and he continued to dream.
This dream is the crux of peoples’ engagement with the Bhutto family. It is this dream that makes for the resentment of the Bhuttos within the power structure and with the establishment; it is this dream that makes those who support a Bhutto a threat to the status quo; and it is this dream that makes those who are the status quo insecure. So many people argue that Benazir (and for that matter Bhutto) did very little for those who supported them. Those who had something to lose if the Bhuttos had challenged the structures of society say this with comfort and glee. This is understandable. But the detractors, the middle class, urban progressives, intellectuals, academicians, “left” activists and “left” pretenders who add to this, “they didn’t do anything” refrain, are to my mind either unable to understand liberal bourgeois democracy or are unable to see reform for what it is – a slow, laborious, tedious and frustrating process. I don’t expect mainstream politicians to bring revolutions. I only expect the more progressive among them not to reverse progress that may have been made and to push the parameters. As a socialist and feminist I always criticised and challenged the Bhuttos from the left. I have not, however, allowed this criticism to negate what they did do. At the very least, it was that they articulated a humanity that touched their supporters. This I salute, legacy or not. I am reminded of one of the most poignant songs that have come out of the women’s movement called Bread and Roses “…yes it is for bread we fight but we fight for roses too…”
In the 60 years of Pakistan a Bhutto has only been in power for about 10 and yet this name looms large both for supporters and detractors. Why does the focus always stay on the Bhuttos (as opposed to all other politicians and even military governments?) Why are Benazir’s all too brief terms in office still under the microscope; why are all her wrongs always in the public discourse (urban discourse in the main); why does she elicit such fury? Why does the murder of Murtaza figure more than the suspicion of murder of Shahnawaz? Why is there no “objective” thinking through of Benazir’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the murder of her brother Murtaza? I am baffled by the fact that Leghari, Sharif and Musharraf didn’t conduct inquiries that would have proved this. Surely, then, they could have hanged her and/or Asif? Or at the very least, they could have prevented them from ever returning to Pakistan. I believe that your father Murtaza’s murderers could not be exposed, perhaps because they continue to be powerful elements in the establishment.
You and your stepmother, Ghinwa Bhutto, argue that the Bhutto name should not determine political success, nor should it give privilege. I agree, but then why does Ghinwa Bhutto lead her faction of the PPP as Murtaza’s widow? Is it not her husband’s name that she exploits and is the Bhutto “legacy” not being used here? And you, Fatima, is not the media and political and social circles focusing on you only because you are a Bhutto? Surely every young Pakistani professional woman is not being interviewed by the London Times and the Guardian? Do you also not play the Bhutto card every time you accept or court celebrity status? Do you not already have an edge that you have not earned?
Actually, I have no problems with this. I only have problems with your saying that you don’t. You are an “heir” to the Bhutto legacy, a legacy shared by all the grandchildren of Nusrat and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. These grandchildren include the offspring of Sanam and Shahnawaz Bhutto. All of you, even those of you who do not want to get directly involved at the moment, have a role to play in keeping the PPP together as a national and liberal party that reflects the interests of all the provinces of Pakistan. None of you are “too young” as is being suggested. Benazir Bhutto was about your age when she took on her monumental task and Bilawal is not much younger than she, Murtaza or Shahnawaz were when circumstances forced the Bhutto mantel onto them.
I wish you a life of commitment, energy, courage and honesty.
*Nighat Said Khan is the Director of Institute for Women’s Studies, Lahore/Applied Socio-economic Research Center, Pakistan