Bhutto discusses modern Pakistani issues, new book

Oct. 7, 2010, 2:00 a.m.

Fatima Bhutto, the granddaughter of former Pakistani President and Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and niece of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke Wednesday evening at the Bechtel International Center. She discussed a wide range of issues facing her country, most of which she has written about in her latest book, “Songs of Blood and Sword,” released in April.

“It was one of the last things I promised my father,” Bhutto, a poet and journalist, said of the book. Her father, Murtaza Bhutto, a critic of the Pakistan Peoples Party, was killed in an encounter with police in 1996. Fatima Bhutto was 14 years old.

“Hours before he was killed, we were sitting and talking, and I said, ‘You’ve had such a fascinating life. You have to write a book,’” Bhutto recalled. “And he laughed and said, ‘I can’t write a book about my life because they would kill me for saying what I know. When I’m gone and you’re older, you write it.’”

Of her family and its legacy, Bhutto lamented the failure of Pakistan to preserve the sites where Bhuttos have been killed. At the same time, she addressed the downsides of dynastic political families in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

“All these countries have had not just dynasties, but dynastic murders and dynastic assassinations,” she said. “None of these cases have ever actually been solved. No sites have been preserved, except that of Indira Gandhi in New Delhi.”

Violence in Pakistan, such as the bloody war between the army and the Taliban in Swat Valley that raged last year, is only one of the contemporary issues hampering democratic peace in the country, Bhutto said.

“There is tremendous violence in Pakistan,” she said, “but what accompanies it is silence.”

Censorship in the country, Bhutto said, is among the worst in the world. Censorship boards in cities across the country scan newspaper articles and radio broadcasts as frequently as twice a day, redacting names, paragraphs and entire articles.

“Newspapers begin to print empty newspapers — essentially white newspapers,” Bhutto said. “And when they are told by the regime that they cannot print empty newspapers, they fill the space with pictures of donkeys and animals.”

Also constraining Pakistan’s democratic development, she said, are blasphemy laws, “hudud” ordinances, which make adultery punishable by death, and a lack of understanding in the foreign press about Pakistani culture and politics.

On U.S. foreign policy toward Pakistan, Bhutto slammed American officials who say Pakistan does not cooperate with the U.S., and she reaffirmed her hard-line stance against aerial strikes by U.S. Predator drones.

“I’m not sure, at this point, how much more Pakistan could cooperate without becoming the 51st state,” she said, prompting several disagreeing audience members to raise their hands with questions. “It has cooperated with thousands of Pakistani lives.”

Asked by an audience member if she herself will enter Pakistani politics, Bhutto said she would rather discontinue the line of Bhuttos in government so as to avoid the political effects of a dynasty.

“I think that Pakistanis have to choose between democracy and dynasty,” she said. “Both cannot exist. One is inclusive and the other is exclusive. One is participatory and one negates participation. So I don’t think it’s correct to enter politics.”

Devin Banerjee was president and editor in chief of Volume 236 of The Stanford Daily, serving from June 2009 to January 2010. He joined The Daily's staff in September 2007. Contact him at devin.bane[email protected] or follow him on Twitter @devinbanerjee.

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