Our Beacon Forum

Asif "Ali Baba & Forty Thieves"
By:Fatima Bhutto
Date: Thursday, 14 May 2009, 4:43 pm


Besides ruining my country, I believe my aunt's husband, Pakistani President Zardari, orchestrated my father’s murder. Is Obama really going to offer him billions more when they meet today?

Something rotten has arrived in Washington.

Today, President Barack Obama will shake hands and stage Oval Office photo ops for the first time with the man who many believe stole billions from the Pakistani treasury, empowered Pakistan’s newly formed Taliban by imposing Shariah law without a vote or referendum, and whom I have publicly accused of orchestrating the murder of my father, Murtaza Bhutto, an elected member of parliament until he was killed in 1996.

Pakistan has been at war with its own people for a long time now—perhaps it’s only natural that we move on to terrorizing the world at large.

My father was a vocal critic of both Pakistan’s former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto (his sister, my aunt), and her husband, current president Asif Zardari. He called Zardari and his cronies “Asif Baba and the 40 thieves,” and spoke out against the targeted killings of opposition members and activists by the state’s police and security forces. In the end, my father was slain in an extrajudicial assassination. The fact that he was seen, in a traditionally patriarchal society, as the heir to the Bhutto legacy didn’t make him any safer as Benazir’s second government began to lose power and international repute.

Now in Washington, the man who helped this happen will ask for money and the chance to cling to his dwindling power. Obama, in turn, will ask for results. That's going to be a problem. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the situation in my country a threat to universal peace. Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for Pakistan, has said our government is capable of fighting terror, but he also calls the region “AfPak” so he's probably confused. President Obama hasn’t offered much of an opinion yet. He has noted that the civilian government has failed to provide its citizens with the most basic services. But he’s also suggested that some hard cash might help the Zardari government through its problems. No, it won’t.

Pakistan has been at war with its own people for a long time now—given the daily politics of persecution that the state machinery inflicts on its own citizens, perhaps it’s only natural that we move on to terrorizing the world at large. The Taliban is waiting at the gates. They are making inroads into the Punjab, the heart of the country, slowly but steadily. Swat has fallen. Buner district is gone, airstrikes or no airstrikes. Now this government has to go. It’s either them or Pakistan.

President Zardari is a man with a colorful history. He is known by many endearing epithets here in Pakistan: Mr. 10 Percent (a reference to kickbacks), Mr. 50 Percent, the First Spouse (twice), and President Ghadari, or “traitor” in Urdu. I might not be the right person to tell his story, given that I believe he was involved in my father’s murder. But, then again, I just might be in the best position to warn President Obama about him.

Last summer, as an odious bill called the National Reconciliation Ordinance expunged from his prison record the four murder cases pending against him—my father’s included—as well as various national and international corruption cases, Zardari prepared himself for power. He did so not only by wiping his criminal slate clean, but also by distancing himself from medical records that showed him to be “a man with multiple and severe physical and mental-health problems,” according to the Financial Times.