So beautiful and so bitter: Fatima Bhutto and her versions of truth


Photo: Courtesy Mag Weekly

Post updated Jan 2019, on request by her agent, to embed a link to Fatima Bhutto’s profile page with the mention below “to help her to gain more traction and booking requests”. Interestingly the profile mentions an ‘aunt’ who was ‘violently killed’ without saying *who* the ‘aunt’ was… Also updated to add another link: if I can do that for Fatima, why not for Victoria Schofield?


She’s beautiful and bright (looks so much like her late aunt Benazir) – no wonder journalists (outside Pakistan notably) have been bowled over, leading to an overdose of fawning media attention (Khuswant Singh’s article takes the cake) in which few have tried to go beyond the surface.

Her father Murtaza’s cousin Tariq Islam (Z.A. Bhutto’s sister’s son) is one of the few people to have publicly challenged her version of the truth in at least one aspect. In her recently published, highly publicised book, Fatima Bhutto alleges that Z.A. Bhutto wrote to Murtaza to set up a militant base Afghanistan to wage an armed struggle against the military dictator, Zia ul Haq.

“I challenge anyone to produce that letter. Because there is none!” wrote Tariq Islam in a letter to the editor (Dawn, Apr 22, 2010). He says that he personally carried Bhutto’s message to Murtaza twice, refusing permission for Murtaza to take up armed violence and urging him to complete his studies. Benazir Bhutto’s sister Sanam bears out his statement in a letter to the editor, published today. “My father never told any of us, his sons or his daughters, to start a terrorist wing, to hijack planes, to murder passengers or to be violent in any way.”

A couple of other articles that give credit where credit is due but are not blinded by Fatima’s charm:  See Saba Imtiaz’s balanced review of Fatima’s book in Foreign Policy magazine, and  Andrew Buncombe in The Independent blog on Fatima Bhutto and her dislike of “dodgy questions“.

Speaking of versions of truth, here’s Fatima Bhutto’s sarcastic tweet following her talk at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts: “Dodgiest question came from Victoria Schofield, who announced that we met at my father’s funeral and then badgered…me about my cousins. Clearly the most important issue facing nuclear Pakistan today” (that Bunscombe refers to).

And the question was? Victoria Schofield, in response to my email query, says that all she had asked was whether Fatima “saw a way forward to reconcile with her cousins – ie. the next generation who are not responsible for the past”. Fatima did not really answer the question.

Schofield adds: “Incidentally, I did not announce I had met her at her father’s funeral but was merely reminding her, for her own sake, that I had come to 70 Clifton to condole with her following her father’s death because I was pretty sure she would not have remembered.”

My own two bits: I’m not surprised that Fatima has different versions of the truth, given the trauma she has lived through, and the death of her beloved father. It’s hard for a daughter in such circumstances to see the father as anything other than a hero (which in this case he certainly wasn’t). I hope one day she can rise above the politics of hate which she is building her career on.

Priyanka Gandhi did a great thing in going to meet Nalini, one of Rajiv’s convicted assassins, in prison – and forgiving her; earlier, Sonia Gandhi had got Nalini’s death sentence commuted after she gave birth to a baby girl in prison. To be fair to Fatima, she has never had the closure of those accused in her father’s murder being convicted.

Incidentally, in her lifetime, Benazir had explicitly forbidden her supporters to respond to Fatima’s vitriolic attacks on her or on them — as one prominent target of Fatima’s diatribes told me last year in Karachi. Sanam Bhutto’s letter referred to above bears this out:

My sister always said that our family should not blame Fatima for the outrageous accusations she makes against us. Benazir said: “Don’t blame the child, blame those who poison her.”

But Fatima Bhutto is not a child any more, she is a grown-up woman and at some point we must be held accountable for what we do and what we say. Her book is an assault on my family, on reality and, above all, on the truth.

My niece would be wise to recall and live by the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson that my father quoted to us in his last letter from his death cell: “Ah what shall I be at 50 if I find the world so bitter at 25.”


9 Responses

  1. A good read… as usual. Here is my take:

    Why do you think this book and its author are given such huge publicity… when she is a mere nobody? Why is she being presented as the ‘true heir’, ‘true Bhutto’, the ‘New Daughter of the East’, as someone who is reluctant to get into politics now… simply because she is opposed to ‘dynastic politics’? Why is there no mention of the dismal record of her and her step-mother’s party? Why is there no mention of what a washout the other party run by the self-styled ‘head of the clan’ is? Why is she given so much exposure by the western media and press as well as thinktanks? Why is she being introduced to policy makers in the west?

    What do you think about the timing of the book? What are your thoughts re: the political and strategic gameplan that gets played out through something as innocuous as books?

    Why did the Indian media too fall in line… and ask her soft Qs… designed mainly to reinforce the contents of the book? They never mentioned anything regarding her father’s terrorist activities, hijacking planes… or his links to the original Mrs G?

    What do you think about this new term ‘Af-Pak’? And how do you think the effort to build up a certain Mehsud and link him to Al-Quaida was done?

    Whether one agrees with her or not… Benazir is an imp figure in history and one of the foremost characters in Islam. She has paid the price for challenging patriarchy, for having married a man dubbed as “low born” or from the so-called “lower caste” in a deeply feudal, casteist and clanish society. For having made him the leader of the largest party of that country… by virtue of which today he is the first citizen. And much more…

    Why is all that and much more being forcibly ignored and ‘dynasty’ being harped on… when there is no ‘dynasty’? Benazir herself is the architect of the Bhutto legacy and the brand. Her party is a matrilineal line. What are the implications of her actions vis-a-vis Islam and not just Pak society? Why is all that being pushed under the carpet?


    • @ Roshmi (Musings of an Unknown Indian)
      thought-provoking comments.
      Even i wondered why the Indian media were so soft, Barkha Dutt, Karan Thapar- you’d expect more a more thorough interview from them.
      have no answer to that one except that she’s gorgeous and the tv channels probably thought it was easier to focus on that , than anything too serious.
      Why do you think the indian media was soft on her?
      Pandering to her in case she does join politics?

      i just read both SOBAS and Daughter of the East; Benazir defines cool.


  2. The review of this book done by the person whose own book regarding the holiest of holy cows in the land of the pure were promptly withdrawn from bookshelves… is bang on.

    I also noticed that the much fawned over author was in tears and looked completely broken at a certain funeral. She was the only one who appeared like that from ‘that part’ of the family. Not her step-mother or her step-brother. If I were to accuse someone of all the wrong doings and crime that she has accused her aunt of… and if that person were to die, I would not cry like that. For sure!

    I wonder what great game is being played in the political and international chess board.

    To quote Kahlil Gibran: “Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”

    Let me customize it to suit this post: “Who are the puppeteers, pray, and who the puppet?”


  3. Excellent analysis. Why aint she facing pakistani media? Because we know our history well and we are not gonna be blinded by her beauty. Fatima must stop building her fame on the dead body of her aunt, Benazir. I would suggest readers to check out Ayesha Siddiqa (the renowned political and defence analyst) review of the book titled,”fact or fiction”.


  4. I found this link… and feel it will add to this post. Here it is:

    It is Amina Piracha’s (a close associate of Benazir Bhutto) rejoinder to allegations made by Fatima Bhutto in her ‘must read’ book ‘Songs of Blood and Sword’ aka ‘SOBAS’.

    As for the book, its contents as well as the much fawned over author… it is not too difficult to join the dots and figure out whose game she is playing…


  5. A very thought provoking piece. It’s a fact that being the niece of Benazir is keeping Fatima Bhutto in the news.otherwise she is not taken seriously in Pakistan especially as an analyst. as M H Ashraf in his article ‘Spitting at the sky’ wrote,”her (fatima) attempt to sully the name of Bhuttos tantamounts to spitting at the sky. The spitting can’t reach the sky but those who indulge in in this detestable activity will smear their own faces.”


  6. Your post on Fatima and the reference to Priyanka prompted me to drop a note about a new documentary that is set far away from South Asia. It is relevant because it crystallizes the theme of forgiveness. I found it to be a stunning film that captures how the generation that follows history’s frontline actors turns the page of violence.

    It’s called “The Sins of the Father”. A description:

    SINS OF MY FATHER tells the fascinating inside story of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drug lord in Colombian history, through the eyes of Sebastian Marroquin, his only son. For the first time in more than a decade, Marroquin and his mother, Maria Victoria, break their silence in deeply personal interviews and share never-before-seen pictures and home movies. The film also features Marroquin’s efforts at reconciliation with the sons of prominent political leaders killed by Escobar 20 years ago.


  7. Who are your female heroes? In Pakistan and globally?


  8. Hi I am Naveed bhutto from pakistan


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