She’s articulate, beautiful, young and surely has a point of view. Reason enough for people to connect with her. But if the world is noticing her, it is more likely because she answers to the surname “Bhutto”. She has publicly accused her aunt, the slain Prime Minister of Pakistan, the late Benazir Bhutto, of having blood on hand, the blood of her father and the latter’s brother, Mir Murtaza Bhutto. She has harsh words for Asif Ali Zardari, the current President of Pakistan, whom she calls a “criminal”. That’s why probably she mentions in the just-released, Songs of Blood and Sword (Penguin Viking), that she is constantly under watch, so much so that she had to be really discrete while meeting a lot of people during her research for the book, which recalls her father’s assassination. Bhutto shares her views in a freewheeling chat with Deccan Herald’s Utpal Borpujari:
Why did you decide to publish the book at this particular juncture?
I have been researching and talking to people for six years, and I started writing it two years ago, because it occurred to me that the government that was coming to power was going to erase this history. And as it turned out, they all exonerated themselves. So I realised now was the time to preserve history, otherwise we were going to lose it.
A Constitutional amendment has been moved in your country to curtail the President’s powers. Do you think it is a move in the right direction?
They should never have been given the immunity in the first place. So this is like somebody breaks your leg, and then you say now it’s healing. Well, it should not have been broken in the first place. But again, I think we have to wait and see, because there is a big gap between what people say and what people do. Certainly those in power have a different law than the ordinary citizens. They can get away with everything, though it should have been converse and those in power should be even more scrutinized as they are even more accountable.
Do you think such repeated intrusions by the army into the democratic space has also impeded the growth of Pakistan’s democracy?
Democracy is a very loose word. If you see, Asif Ali Zardari became president the same way as Gen Musharraf became the president. They were both elected by their own Parliaments, not by the people. Whoever comes to power, democratic institutions are not strengthened, they put censorship laws, they make a lot of repressive laws, instead of removing them. And, what really impedes democracy is that we don’t have a participatory system. This government now is dismantling the local body system, why? Because they are not powerful at the local level, they don’t get the votes, they will get exposed if they try it out.
You have written about having to be very careful while speaking to people during the research for this book, as you were / are being watched upon? Do you think this is because you are a critic of the government or because you are a Bhutto?
I think in this government it’s because I am a Bhutto, because this is a government that has hijacked my family’s name. The government is in power only because of a name, not because of their public policy or commitment to public service. When Musharraf was in power, I was very critical of that government too, but it was a different scenario. In that case, the fact that I was a Bhutto didn’t really matter. I was probably just an irritant. But now, it’s because of my last name, because these are the people who are using my family’s name, so it looks bad for them that someone with the name criticizes them.
But have you ever thought of forcefully laying claim to the legacy of this name, by directly confronting them at a political level?
No, because I was born a Bhutto. I don’t have anything to prove. My name always has been my name. And at the end, if there is a legacy of the Bhuttos, it belongs to the people, not to the family, not to just one person, it belongs to the people of the country.
Does that mean you don’t ever plan to join active politics?
No. I am a writer. I am active in political causes by have no interest Parliamentary politics, no.
What does the name Asif Ali Zardari mean to you?
Well, the man is a criminal. Before he became president, he had four murder cases proceeding against him, involving the deaths of 11 people. Besides that, he had corruption cases against him in Switzerland, in Spain, in the UK and in Pakistan, and in many other cities.
And he was alleged to be the “Mr 10%” too at one point in time..
Exactly, and corruption cases in Pakistan amounts to billions of dollars. So, that’s what most Pakistanis think of when they hear his name. Of course, since he became President, he gave himself immunity, he dropped all the cases. But that does not mean you take away the past. And, in terms of the friction between my aunt (and me), you know there were those who benefited from her in power, those who benefited from her corruption. Those of us who live in Pakistan, we can see the effects of her corruption. In Larkana (the Bhutto home town), the last things that were built in terms of schools, colleges, were build in the 1970s, during my grandfather’s time. It’s a town of four million people, it does not look like a place that had a Prime Minister after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. There is no evidence that one of its citizens had been a Prime Minister in recent times. Benazir did nothing. The only thing Benazir did was to build the family’s graveyard, but for living people there are no houses, no roads, no schools.
Do you think your aunt was naïve and was used by the people around her, or was she a willing partner?
I think she was a willing partner. You are the Prime Minister, how can you not know what is happening under your watch. If you don’t know what’s happening under you, then you should resign.
Are the political parties in your country equipped enough to strengthen the democratic process?
Like in India, where you have Congress and BJP, we have PPP and PML (N) who are taking turns in being in power. Since the parties in government receive billions of dollars in foreign aid, how would a small party compete with them? If you are a small, secular, provincial party, how do you compete against the PPP which has got 10 billion dollars from America. This funding process is very undemocratic. For example, in Balochistan, there are a lot of secular, provincial parties, such as the Baloch National Party. How can they fight the PML or the PPP? So if you really want to talk about democracy, these governments need to stop being funded. More is the number of parties, the better, because there should be representation for anyone, and everyone should be given a chance.
Did you ever think while writing this book that it would have been better had it been fiction?
Yes, absolutely. I wished all the time that I didn’t have to write this book. I mean, I wish none of these things had happened so that there wouldn’t have been a book to write. The violence especially is so brutal, it’s very difficult to accept that not only was it real but it continues.