Open letter to Fatima Bhutto

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…

Dear Fatima,

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 

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20 Comments

Filed under dynasties, Pakistan, Politics

20 responses to “Open letter to Fatima Bhutto

  1. Pingback: A Response to Nighat Said Khan’s Open Letter to Fatima Bhutto | Teeth Maestro

  2. “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.”

    So the author is suggesting that feudalism can be excused in the name of feminism. What difference does it make whether it stems from matriarchy or patriarchy? At the core it is still what it is, feudalism. The people are expected to hail this as a victory for feminism while the heirs have merely taken up her name for personal gain, power, greed, and the ambitions of their family members. Perhaps this could be considered a victory for feminism if her heirs took up her name while she was alive but even that’s questionable when power and greed are involved. It was only after her death that her inheritors realized that someone from the family should be appointed to take her place in order for the dynasty to continue. Let’s not attempt to disguise dynastic quests for power with a cloak of feminism.

    As for Ms Bhutto’s feminism, it went as far as voicing concerns and making false promises during her election campaigns. In reality her two governments failed to propose any legislation for women’s welfare and didn’t make any attempts to repeal the Hudood laws as promised by her during campaigns. One can argue that the opposition prevented her from fulfilling her promises but one can also say that she relented to pressure and didn’t have the strength or perseverance to stand up to what she believed in or promised to others.

    We can continue to craft a personality cult around her but that does nothing but highlight the weaknesses of democracies in the subcontinent where dynastic succession is promoted rather than discouraged. Feminism is no excuse.

  3. Temporal has written a guest blog on this letter: Reproduced here for the readers:
    —————————————————————–
    Reza Rumi in Pak Tea house has printed an Open letter to Fatima Bhutto by fellow writer Nighat Said Khan from the Friday Times. It is for Fatima Bhutto to decide how to respond to Ms. Nighat Khan.

    I take exception to the following quote from the open letter:

    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 will address the highlighted in particular if I may. Why should not the focus stay on Bhuttos? Why all her wrongs should stay in the public discourse?

    Let us address Bhutto Sr. first. We should focus attention on him as much as we do on Quaid e Azam. The latter, almost single handedly created Pakistan. The former dismembered that Pakistan.

    And if that was not enough he amended the Constitution of 1973 in a way that made the work of Gen. Zina ul Haq easier. In particular the second amendment passed on Sep. 21, 1974, the third passed on Feb. 18, 1975, the fourth passed on Nov. 25, 1975 and the fifth passed on Sep. 15, 1976.

    There are more reasons to remember Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but for now these major ones should suffice.

    As for his eldest daughter despite her hyperbole and incantations what did she do when in power? Corruption, ethnic divide and cleansing, nepotism, playing along and compromising people’s power in appeasement. And giving a free reign to her uneducated husband. I have written about it elsewhere. Let me quote:

    And, she swam against the corruption charges levied at her and her husband Asif Zardari. ….. This reduces her incantations in speeches and in the election manifesto of the PPP to levels below a rodent’s under belly.

    These are some of the reason Ms. Khan why we should “remember” the Bhuttos. We deserve to learn from our short history, or else we will be condemned to the dustbin of history.

  4. Beena Malik

    I am appalled at the obsession of the bloggers with the Bhuttos and their short comings. Why don’t we foucs on the Army and the bureacrach who have ruled, directly or indirectly, Pakistan for nearly 48 years out of 60………. as I consider most of BB and Nawaz period as indirect rule. Only the first four years and Z.A. Bhutto’s five years can be considered as rule by civilian politicians. Unfortunately, the generation below 30 has been deprived of any real sense of our history…. the media has grown under the establishment and is hardly objective or unbiased. Lies and half-truths are peddled as established facts. The most corrupt and cavernous institution in Pakistan is its Army. Why don’t we focus on the role of the army, its secret budget, its secret arms purchases worth billions of dollars, the mansions of its generals, its loot, plunder and rape in former East Pakistan, etc. etc. ……The ‘free’ media does not have the balls to publish this stuff. Therefore all read are rants about feudals from the ignorant lot

  5. I think that the ignorant lot is well aware of the corruption and exploits of the generals and the army but is unwilling to give fee reign to the so called democratic but corrupt leaders of Pakistan. No one said that the generals are angels or they should rule the country forever but how can we justify removing them and replacing them with equally corrupt civilian politicians. Should we forget all wrongs just for the sake of getting rid of the generals? IMO, creating personality cults of these feudal lords aided by PR campaigns and half-truths and then mindlessly electing them like groupies is not real democracy at all but rather tyranny disguised as democracy.

    Also please don’t make assumptions about the whole of the generation under 30 being deprived of any so called ‘real’ sense of our history. Some of us do have the ability to see beyond lies and half-truths in search of objective and un-biased facts despite the limitations imposed upon us by our age.

  6. MK

    One of the problems with letters like this is that they are too long to read through and especially when one is so boring and self contradictory right from the beginning then i would loose all charm to read it, atleast, in one go.

  7. Pingback: Open letter to Fatima Bhutto | PakQuest - News Aggregator

  8. It should not only be feudalism against modernism, particularly with the changing nature of feudalism in the context of Pakistan (the capitalist and feudal merging in one person and class).

    At this moment, what is rather important to highlight is that how was Benazir different from other politicians? What was the main reasons for which she had to lay down her life? People like Fatima Bhutto, taking a very puritanical stance, leave these issues aside and end up lining with the cronies of dictatorship and decadence while criticizing the late Benazir. One must, Fatima, must be careful. Too much of Left seldom allies with the Right (as history of Cold War tells us).

    The dynastical politics is more or less how it is in a peasant-oriented backward country of Pakistan. In order to get rid of this, we need to focus on the material conditions that propogate it rather than asking for good faith from the mainstream political leaders.

  9. Really nice, YOu really defended the Benazir Bhutto in a very nice way..

  10. ammad

    if one really wants to see educated ignorance at its extreme, please read temporal and raumi,s comments on this blog. Just see how ilogical and how retarded they become when showing there hate against BB which is nothing but the old traditional anti-ppp propagenda. Just Filthy. Look at the word “Let us address Bhutto Sr. first. We should focus attention on him as much as we do on Quaid e Azam. The latter, almost single handedly created Pakistan. The former dismembered that Pakistan”. How can a person with simplest of knowledge of history, I mean very very simple knowlege of Pks history, can express such coments. Just unbelivable. And talking about BB you can see the distortion all sorts of morals and ethics at its apex. In BB they want to find a prophet. And if any of her actions or saying are below this most idealistic standard, they will simply start accusing her in most degrading way, forgetting atonce the all rudities, brutalities and unjustices which the forces of establishment have been afflicting upon us for years.
    Just pitty. Just pity.

  11. Muhammad

    A corrupt, venal, power-hungry woman with an absolutely apalling lack of morality is what Benazir Bhutto was and what she always will be.

    The “socialist feudal lord”, Bhutto’s handmaiden, Pakistan People Party derives her policies from secular progressive, feminist, socialist thought probably as much as Maulan Fazl-ur-Rehman’s JUI derives her policies from political/deobandi Islam.

    Both are spectacularly corrupt and both are making a fool of people by laying claim to their respective superior ideologies.

    What I would like to know from Ms. Nighat Said Khan is,

    How would this slow laborious, tedious and frustrating process of bringing secular, progressive, feminist democracy would be furthered by handing over the leadership of MY country to Mr.Amin Fahim, he the one whose two sisters are married to the Quran??????

    Talk about having your head stuck up your own ***!!!!

  12. having siblings married to the quran makes the makhdoom not a harbinger of doom, but the perfect person to lead a muslim majority state where nepotism is a key factor in human resource recruitment.

    no doubt, mr fahim’s brother’s-in-law can become the honorable ministers for awqaf and information respectively.

  13. Syed Habib Orakzai

    I dont understand one thing that if PPP is after name, as they have shown and proved after Benazir’s death, their sudden appointment of Bilawal Zardari as PPP chariman was shock for all world. Then why dont they go for Fatima. Who is real of Bhutto while Bilawal is real blood of Hakim Ali Zardari. Changing his surname will not make him Bhutto. He is son of Zardari and will remain son of Zardari while Fatima is daughter of Bhutto family and will remain daughter of Bhutto family.

    I am fan of Fatima. She seems to be ambitious, polite, hardworking, focused, skilled, devoted and committed person. She has already proved to us that she has many skills to be PPP chairperson. She is already in politics. while Bilawal needs to spend years in Oxford to learn what politics is. She is mature lady and have very pleasant personality. While Bilawal is a still school boy.

    Pakistan recent judiciary crisis made Pakistan more interesting in world news. Therefore people throughout the world focused on every event in Pakistan. When Bilawal was appointed as PPP chairman, people from other countries were laughing on us that what sort of a country it is. where 19 year guy is appointed as chairman of the biggest political party of the country. Surely Bilawal’s appointment made people laugh on us and our system of political monarchy……..thanks to Asif Zardari and thanks to fake will of Benazir…..

    I want to appeal workers of PPP to support Fatima Bhutto. leave these corrupt family of Zardaris on side and come and join us to support Fatima Bhutto. Fatima’s family has already suffered many times …..this is the right time for us to support her.

    Let the emotionsof Benazir’s death subside and people and PPP worker will realise and InshAllah everyone will come to Fatima Bhutto.

    GOOD LUCK FATIMA…………..
    Fight for your right …..You are one the one who need to be the chairperson of PPP…we are with you.

    Syed Habib Orakzai
    President Shamla Forum London
    urdupashto@yahoo.com

  14. the ONLY way i will ever consider respecting the pee-pee-pee as a political party truly involved in the democratic process is when its members grow the b*lls (or feminine equivalent) to chuck ALL butthos (biological or marital) from the party high command and start developing a whole new set of secular (and not hereditary or “feudal”) leaders.

    or as the song goes, “that’ll be the day-ay-ay when i sigh”

  15. Naveed Ahmad

    Miss Fatima Bhutto : –
    With respect of all, you are giving a bad impression to the whole community because here the whole globe have feeling with Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto, all the world with her and in other hand your family is not with you because they don’t want to give you to other hand as a wife. Can you manage your marriage?
    Miss Fatima please reply me with full of honour.
    Thanks and regards

    Naveed Ahmad
    Dated : 10-03-2008

  16. Murtaza

    Dears,

    I think Fatima has a great point of views in the politics of Pakistan. I have read her several thesis and she has a great influence about the poor political culture. Everyone knows that the late Bhuttos were not saints and ZA bhutto personally done several misdeeds with the people of Pakistan and what has given by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari the Husband of Benazir Bhutto. She never done anything to stop his corruption and accepted Military Rule in Pakistan only for NRO. So how can they Saints, so FATIMA’s view is best about the politics.

    Murtaza

  17. Madhushree

    I dont think that they should get married because according to me bilawal and fatima are totally different kind of people and dont go together and if at all they get married, then their marriage would’nt be successful.

  18. salma

    a well written article.thank god, someone has managed 2 speak the truth

  19. Its the time for PPP to bring revolutionary changes in the party and in the country.
    Pakistan Be Blessed Forever

  20. Wow. Fantastic, thanks for posting.