Saturday, January 05, 2008

Interview with Benazir Bhutto´s sister in law, Ghinwa Bhutto

I am currently in Pakistan. Some days ago I interviewed (over the phone) Benazir Bhutto´s sister in law, Ghinwa Bhutto.

Here is the story:

She has just returned from the funeral, on Friday December 28th, of her sister in law, Benazir Bhutto. Her attendence there was, in some ways, a small miracle. Because Ghinwa Bhutto isn’t only family of Benazir Bhutto, she is also her bitter rival.

This is Dallas and Dynasty – the Pakistani way.

Because Ghinwa and Benazir did not speak to each other for years. Even worse: Ghinwa, who was married to Benazir’s brother Murtaza Bhutto, has for years campaigned against Benazir and her spouse Asif Ali Zardari. This because she accuses Zardari of involvement in the murder of her husband Murtaza.

"But on Friday Benazir was no longer my political enemy," she says, in a telephone interview from the Bhutto residence in the Pakistani town of Larhkana near Karachi, "From that moment, she was again the daughter of this house."

Who does she think was behind the kiling of Benazir?

“It is unwise to say it right now,” she says, “But I’m sure there are a lot of candidates. It could be Islamic radicals. But as we have seen in Lebanon and Iraq that only where America goes, Islamic radicals show up.”

In 1996, Murtaza Bhutto - Ghinwa's husband and Benazir's brother – was killed by police in Karachi. Murtaza (see picture) was a radical leftist who after the 1979 murder of his father, the legendary Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, fled into the mountains and began a not very successful armed uprising against the then military regime of General Zia ul Haq. During his days as a socialst rebel, Murtaza went to Afghanistan (unconfirmed rumours say he received aid from pro-Soviet forces). During the eighties he travelled through socialist parts of the Muslim world.

He visited Beirut, where he got in touch with left wing groups busy fighting Islamist-, Israeli- or other left wing forces during Lebanon’s civil war. After Beirut, Murtaza Bhutto moved to Damascus. Here he met Ghinwa Itaoui, a girl from the Lebanese city of Tripoli who lived most of her life in Beirut but moved in 1984 to Damascus. After their marriage, in 1989, Ghinwa Itaoui became Ghinwa Bhutto.

When Zia ul Haq himself died, in 1987 during a plane crash, a power struggle erupted between Benazir Bhutto and her brother Murtazar.

The question was: Who would be the best successor to their father Zulfikar?

Benazir and her husband Zardari won this fight, Murtaza and Ghinwa “lost”, leaving them outside the powerfull circle of Benazir, her husband Zardari and other prominent members of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). In 1993 Murtaza, along with Ghinwa, left Damascus and moved back to Karachi, Pakistan.

At the end of Benazir’s second period as a Prime Minister, in 1996, Murtaza was shot dead by police in Karachi. According to Ghinwa Bhutto, the killers acted on behalf of Benazir’s husband Asif Ali Zardari.

This, as she believes, because he regarded Murtaza as a threat to Benazir’s position as the political leader of the Bhutto family. Zardari has stronly denied any involvement in the murder of Benazir’s brother.

From that moment on, Ghinwa at one hand and Benazir and Zardari on the other weren’t – so to say – on speaking terms. Bascially, they hated each other.

So picture Friday’s burial of Benazir. Present are, among others, two people: Ghinwa Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardar. Both married into the Bhutto family. Both, by now, without husband and wife. Ghinwa, a widow since 1996; Zardari, a widower since Thursday, December 27th.

Both sat, according to Ghinwa Bhutto, opposite to each other in a room, close to the burrial site.

"Zardari did not even come near me, he stayed away from me," says Ghinwa Bhutto, "You see,” she continues, “Mr. Zardari is somehow considered responsible by the people of Pakistan for the death of my husband. And this is very much on his consience, that’s why we did not speak. We did though speak to the children of Benazir.”

An awkward moment?

“It was more awkward to him than to me,” Ghinwa Bhutto says, “Because I was always open to hear his justification [for killing Murtaza] but I have never heard from him. So that [the burrial of Benazir] was the moment for him to do that, but (he)didn’t. Maybe they are under shock, I think they are stil a little bit disfunctional.”

Cinically, the death of Benazir has turned Ghinwa and Zardari again into rivals. This time not about the question who will succeed father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but daughter Benazir Bhutto.

On Sunday, the PPP consulted the will of Benazir Bhutto. And according to it, Benazir's eldest child, the 19-year-old Bilawal, was appointed her successor. But because a Member of Parliament in Pakistan must be at least 25 years old, Benazir's husband Zardari will effectively lead the PPP until Bilawal turns 25. Benazir’s political will did not mention Ghinwa.

Ghinwa Bhutto never was a serious contender for taking over Benazir’s role. Since 1996, when she publically started accusing Zardari of masterminding the killing of her husband, she hasn’t been very popular among the mainstream PPP.

"The successor to Benazir must meet two criteria," she says, "First you have to be a Bhutto, secondly, you have to be a socialist, because otherwise you do not draw voters."

According to Ghinwa Bhutto, Zardari is none of the two.

“I actually think there has never been a real replecement for Zulfikar Bhutto,” she says, “Since his killing, there is a vacuum and nobody, not even Benazir, has been able to fill that.’

Ghinwa Bhutto, who heads a small Sindh based political party named PPP-Shaheed Bhutto, has a 25 year old daughter, Fatima. Unlike Asif Ali Zardari and Ghinwa Itaoui Bhutto (who were married into the Bhutto family), Fatima is born a Bhutto because her father, the murdered Murtaza, was one. And Fatima, in some ways, is even more a Bhutto than Benazir’s son Bilawal. This because, according to Muslim tradition, you take the family name of your father, not your mother. So Bilawal Bhutto is actually Bilawal Zardari, while Fatima – whatever happens - is Fatima Bhutto.

“My daughter is a an activist,” Ghinwa Bhutto says, “But she doesn’t want to be limited by party politics or only focus on running for parlimanent. She wants to wait a little bit more.”

Time will tell who, eventually, succeeds Benazir Bhutto. That is, in case of the Bhutto´s, if there will be enough time to tell.

Harald Doornbos


Lalebanessa said...

I pity the PPP, now that I know there is a Lebanese in the equation I know their problems will never be solved.

m.p. said...

a good point that fatima is the real bhutto. cheers.