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Zardari tried to bribe my father: Fatima Bhutto


New Delhi : Asif Ali Zardari attempted to bribe his brother-in-law Murtaza Bhutto to swing a deal in the Middle East at a time when his estranged sister Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan’s prime minister but was roundly rebuffed, Murtaza’s daughter Fatima Bhutto writes in her just released memoir, “Songs of Blood and Sword”.

Zardari was accused of plotting Murtaza’s murder but had been acquitted of the charge.

The book, published by Penguin, comes at a time when Zardari is set to be deprived of his sweeping powers through a constitution amendment being tabled in parliament Friday to transfer to the prime minister major powers like the appointment of armed forces chiefs and reduce the president to a titular head of state.

“During a state trip to Syria during Benazir’s first government and while we were still in exile there, Zardari had gone so far as to ask Papa to facilitate a deal he was considering in the Middle East, offering him a cut of the profits,” Fatima writes.

“Papa was sickened; he never liked his sister’s husband. His corruption and the stories of his excess reached Papa’s ears often and it hurt him that such a man would use Zulfikar’s (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Fatima’s grandfather and Paksitan’s former president) name and memory to bilk investors the globe over of millions. He was further annoyed that Zardari, hapless when it came to any understanding of what Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s legacy meant, would be so crooked as to assume that the son of a martyr, who had been struggling in exile for over a decade at that point and who had never compromised on his beliefs, would jump at the sound of a cut in a Zardari deal.

“‘We don’t do that, Zardari,’ Papa said furiously,” Fatima writes.

Murtaza was killed Sep 20, 1996, when Fatima was 14, in a police gun battle near his Karachi residence. On Dec 3, 2009, a Karachi court acquitted 20 policemen charged with the killing.

After Benazir’s government was dismissed in 1996, Zardari was detained for having a part in Murtaza’s assassination. However, no charges were ever proved for want of evidence as the scene of Murtaza’s assassination was wiped clean before police investigators could arrive.

On Zardari’s acquittal, Fatima writes: “The day Zardari was acquitted of my father’s murder, I was halfway around the world. I was on an assignment in Cuba to cover the past and present of the revolution in the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of Castro’s takeover. I knew it was coming. Even when he had been incarcerated for the murders and the myriad cases against him, Zardari hardly spent time in jail – a serious mortally ill heart patient at the time, he had himself transfered to a luxury suite at his friend’s private hospital in Karachi. That doctor friend was rewarded with the cabinet post of Minister of Oil and Petroleum after his chum miraculously rid himself of his heart problems and ascended to the highest post in the land.

“I had been visiting hospitals and schools, meeting officials and travelling the country. I was away from email. I had disconnected myself from Pakistan intentionally. I got a phone call one afternoon in Havana…It was Hameed (a guard), calling from home. ‘I’m sorry, baba’, he said. He didn’t have to explain why. Zardari had bypassed the courts’ standard procedures to have himself absolved of my father’s murder. There was no point in appealing. He was going to be President legally or illegally. It was typical of the way he operated; justice was always the first casualty,” Fatima writes.

She also relates another instance of her father’s contempt for Zardari.

“When he gave speeches or interviews, Papa often called Zardari a chor, a thief. He coined the term ‘Asif baba and the chalees chor’, ‘Asif Baba and the forty thieves’ which became an instant hit (it remains part of the popular parlance to this day, I’m proud to note),” Fatima writes.

The Bhutto family has had to contend with violence for the last four decades, losing one member every decade.

Fatima’s grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was executed in 1979 after what many consider to be a kangaroo trial. This was after he had been deposed as president by then army chief Gen. Zia-ul Haq.

Her uncle Shahnawaz, 27, was found dead in Nice on July 18, 1985, under mysterious circumstances and the Bhutto family firmly believed he was poisoned. No one was brought to trial for the murder.

Her father, Murtaza, Shahnawaz’s brother, was killed Sep 20, 1996, and her aunt Benazir was assassinated Dec 27, 2007.