Sunday, March 28, 2010

Interview with Fatima Bhutto

Now Dateline’s feature interview with the boldly outspoken Fatima Bhutto, the 20-something niece of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's former prime minister, assassinated in late 2007. A former journalist, now a writer, clearly Fatima is the black sheep of one of the best-known, albeit ill-fated, political dynasties in the world. You could never accuse her of pulling her punches. Her late aunt and her aunt's husband, Asif Ali Zardari - currently Pakistan's President - are her prime targets. But not even Barack Obama has escaped her lash - "Bush-like" is her insulting write-off of his approach to Pakistan and its unabating troubles. Her new memoir, ominously is entitled 'Songs of Blood and Sword'. George Negus spoke to her from the Bhutto family's ancestral home, on the outskirts of Karachi.


REPORTER: George Negus


GEORGE NEGUS: Fatima, thanks very much for joining us. I have to say I've never seen a cover of a book quite like yours. It actually lists not one, but four, members of your family who have been killed in very tragic circumstances - your grandfather Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, executed in 1979, your uncle murdered in 1985, your father, assassinated in 1996, and, of course, your aunt Benazir Bhutto, assassinated just recently, in 2007. I wonder why, quite honestly, you would want to be in public life at all when, if you like, the Bhutto name is such a curse - in fact, some would say a potential death threat. Why do you make yourself so public in your views with that family background? It's pretty horrific.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I don't really consider myself to be in public life as such. I'm not involved in politics in any active role.


GEORGE NEGUS: But you do write a lot about politics, so I guess whilst you say you're not really in public life, you write a lot about politics in a very - if I could put it this way - aggressive fashion, which would make you a target for at least criticism, if not something worse maybe.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I do write on political and social issues and the idea that one shouldn't - or the idea that we should censor ourselves - doesn't really work for me because it would be doing the government's job for them. And I'm not interested in doing that. I think what we need very much in Pakistan is to be able to discuss the corruption and the violence that really colours most of our life here.

GEORGE NEGUS: The most recent member of your family to die was Benazir, your aunt. It could be said that you've hardly held back on your criticism of her, both personally and politically. Why do you feel so badly towards her?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I never criticised my aunt, Benazir, personally, I always spoke about her political record. There are two Benazirs. There's the Benazir that people saw in the West, who was an English-speaking, brave, quite photogenic politician - "one of us" or one of you, actually, if you will. And then there's the Benazir we lived with in Pakistan.

GEORGE NEGUS: It sounds like you believe that Pakistan would have been better off without her in politics. I mean, you've accused her of hijacking the democratic cause, you've suggested that her political posturing was ‘pantomime’, you've accused her and her husband of corruption. I mean, do you wish that she never had entered public life, let alone political life, let alone become a leader of your country?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, you see, the corruption cases that both my aunt, Benazir, and her husband, the current president, Asif Zadari are accused of not only ran into the billions of dollars, but they were being prosecuted in Switzerland, in England, in Spain and across the world. Certainly, if we believe in democracy and democratic systems, when she failed to pass any legislation, really, at all in her first two years in government during her first term and in fact had a tenure that was marked not only by gross corruption but by human rights abuses, that should have been a time for people to say, "Well, OK, we've given you an opportunity and you haven't bettered the institutions, you haven't strengthened the democratic cause - we may not vote you back." But of course, in Pakistan we have four choices that seem to be predetermined for us depending on what the United States of America would like at the time.

GEORGE NEGUS: What do you mean by that? "Depending on what the United States of America would like at the time." That's very political, if you don't mind me saying.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I think it's not only political, but I think it unfortunately happens to be a fact. We had 11 years of General Zia-ul-Haq in government, not because he was a great government in the 1980s - not because he was a great president - but because he was helping the Americans fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. So we had a military dictator who was not only incredibly violent and repressive but brutalised Pakistan society, who held public floggings, public executions, public stonings. And Zia-ul-Haq remained in power only because the United States of America - and, actually, Margaret Thatcher's England - supported him. And then again we had Musharraf now, for a good while as well.

GEORGE NEGUS: So are you saying that Pakistan under those sort of leaders were merely puppets, that those leaders were puppets of the United States of America? That Washington was calling the shots all of those years?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, we didn't elect them. So someone put them in there and someone kept them and it wasn't the Pakistani people.

GEORGE NEGUS: You actually said that your aunt's husband - who is now the President - was "one of the most venal figures in Pakistan". You don't like him, clearly.

FATIMA BHUTTO: I don't think it's about me liking him. I think we have to take into consideration that before he ascended to the office of the president - in exactly the same way that General Musharraf ascended, through a parliamentary vote, rather than a national vote - Asif Zadari was facing four murder cases in Pakistan, involving the deaths of 11 men.

GEORGE NEGUS: Help me here. How can a man with that kind of record become the leader of any country - in your case, Pakistan? That's almost unbelievable.

FATIMA BHUTTO: It IS unbelievable. It certainly is unbelievable. Not only did he have four murder cases against him, but again, as I said, corruption cases proceeding against him, in the billions of dollars in Spain, England, Switzerland and indeed within this country. However, I think we have to go back to the American bogeyman - we have to understand that this is a country which currently allows American drones to fly over our skies and bomb our people on an almost weekly basis, this is a country that survives on American aid in the billions. Today's headline in the newspapers is about America stepping up arms supplies to Pakistan.

GEORGE NEGUS: Would you say that the death of democracy occurred in Pakistan when your grandfather was executed? Or is that being too simplistic?

FATIMA BHUTTO: I think what happened when my grandfather, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was executed is you had a military dictator allowed to come in here and put to death a democratically elected ruler. You had that military dictator celebrated in the White House, you had him accepted into the UN, you had him, really, as an ally for Western and so-called democratic governments the world over. And that set a very dangerous precedent.

GEORGE NEGUS: You have said that your aunt was "morally responsible" for your father's death. Of course, she denied that. Why do you feel that she was responsible for your father's death?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, there are several reasons. You have to look first at the Karachi of that period. During Benazir's second government, Karachi was a battleground and within the two years - or the 1.5 years, officially - that Operation Clean-up was in effect some 3,000 men were killed in this city in the same manner in which my father was killed. The police and the security forces were empowered to target and kill opponents of the government, people who'd been critical of the government's record.

GEORGE NEGUS: But you're not saying she was directly responsible.

FATIMA BHUTTO: There are two things. There was the moral responsibility, and that, first, is creating an atmosphere where the security forces can kill with impunity, where they can turn up at a place, shoot seven people - really at point-blank fashions - and then get away with it and be, in fact, promoted. And then there is the actual responsibility, the governmental responsibility. My aunt's government forbade us, initially, from filing a police report - which is every Pakistani citizen's right under the law. She also after my father's murder did not allow us to proceed with a criminal investigation, a criminal case. She put into place a tribunal that was to have no legal authority. And that tribunal, in fact - though it could not pass sentence - said the only ammunition spent was that of the police, who used an excess amount of force, and that the permission for my father's assassination could not have come except from the highest level of government.

GEORGE NEGUS: You've said you don't believe in birthright politics, and obviously you were referring to the fact that the Bhutto family are regarded as one of the world's best-known political dynasties. You've said that you don't appear Well, you don't appear to have any political ambition, even though the country has said - I've read this quote somewhere - that "the country needs right now a true Bhutto to do the job" of cleaning up this mess, if you like, of a country that's Pakistan. Where does that leave you?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, I think that our reliance on dynasty is part of the problem here, because dynasty is inherently undemocratic. It's a very entitled thing to suggest that only one member of one family can save a country of 180 million people. It has to be about people who live in constituencies coming forward to represent them, not the sort of parachuted, elite class that comes in, wins elections and then leaves.

GEORGE NEGUS: In America this week they've been talking about rebuilding relations with Pakistan, and in fact the US is saying a victory of sorts has occurred, that change is occurring, there's a wind of change. But a lot of other people regard Pakistan as a country for so long now being a country at war with itself. You've said it's a country hell-bent on self-destruction. Is it too late to save Pakistan?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Pakistan is, I always feel, hopeful. You know, our system of government is not, and the system of foreign policy whereby we do whatever is asked of us as long as the price is right only proves to fundamentalist outfits and to militant groups that when we talk of things like democracy, when we talk of things like foreign policy, what we're really talking about is being pro-American.

GEORGE NEGUS: So if you're not pro-America, there's no point?

FATIMA BHUTTO: Well, unfortunately the people who claimed to be democrats here and the people who claim to be working in democratic interests receive $10 billion cheques from the United States of America, $12 billion. Now we're talking about $7 billion as part of this Kerry-Lugar bill. So it's one thing to speak of being supportive of democratic institutions and it's another thing to talk about really being pro White House policies.

GEORGE NEGUS: Can we talk about the Obama Administration and Barack Obama's attitude towards Pakistan? You've made quite a statement when you said he's remarkably 'Bush-like' in his approach to this whole problem of Pakistan. Do you think that the Americans should back off and just let Pakistan sort its own problems out? Because they're actually involved now in conflict, what with the drone war, as we could call it, that's going on in the north-west.

FATIMA BHUTTO: I think we also have to look at the fact that Pakistan is still reeling from what America did to us in the 1980s. A lot of the problems we have today are really aftershocks, if you will, of our American adventure and an adventure of the 1980s. And now we look at Barack Obama, and like everyone else my age, really, I was incredibly inspired by President Obama during the campaign and really hoped that his time in government would be very different, but just this week there have been nine people killed in two separate drone attacks over Pakistan. So not only has Barack Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, but he's has brought a new war to the front - he's brought this war in Pakistan. He is really just pouring money into these very corrupt coffers, as President Bush did. So in the Bush era we heard about $10 billion cheques to the Pakistani Army. Well, it's not that different now.

GEORGE NEGUS: Hillary Clinton said when she became Secretary of State that "Pakistan poses a mortal threat "to the security and safety of not just the US but also to the world". There are those people who go so far as to say that Pakistan, because of the trouble there and the ramifications of it, could be the theatre for World War III.

FATIMA BHUTTO: It has gotten worse. We didn't have an indigenous Taliban before 2008. We didn't have a war in Swat before 2008, we didn't have a war in Waziristan. We never, in our 63-year history, we have never allowed unmanned Predator drones from ANY country to fly over our skies and kill our citizens.

GEORGE NEGUS: What would prompt you to pick up the cudgel, as it were, not of the Bhutto family, but your own, and get directly involved in politics?

FATIMA BHUTTO: It wouldn't. I mean, I think it's perfectly possible for us to stay outside of power politics, or parliamentary politics, and speak about things like the American hegemony in the region or speak about the unjust war on terror that's been brought to our borders. In fact, if you look at people within our government, they seem to be quite enthusiastically fighting the war against their own people at the behest of the United States. So it doesn't seem to me that the strong way to oppose this is by joining politics at all, but just to keep speaking and to keep talking about it.

GEORGE NEGUS: We have to leave it there unfortunately, but all the best with your life and your book.

FATIMA BHUTTO: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

GEORGE NEGUS: Fatima Bhutto, 28. London's 'Telegraph' newspaper wrote "Beauteous she may be, but Ms Bhutto lacks little by way of seriousness." Well, after that - spot on. There's more on our website, including my take on Pakistani politics having interviewed both Fatima and Benazir Bhutto and also "the dictator you have when you don't have a dictator", Pervez Musharraf. Pop onto our website - sbs.com.au/dateline



Interview Producer/Researcher
JANE WORTHINGTON

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