by Zoha Waseem
On the evening of 25 November 2013 gathered about four hundred people at the London School of Economics facing Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s granddaughter and Benazir Bhutto’s niece, Fatima Bhutto. In the hour-long Q&A session that followed, she presented less her upcoming book, and answered questions pertaining more to the politics and current affairs of Pakistan. Bhutto also honoured the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women by briefly, but vigilantly, mentioning how unfairly Malala Yousufzai has been treated inside Pakistan and must be supported unconditionally, regardless of how certain politicians in the West may be marketing her cause for their own self-interests.
In Miss Bhutto’s words, ‘when you live in Pakistan, politics defines the way you live’. Yet for someone who herself is a product of decades of family politics of one of the leading political parties, the People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP), she treads carefully in wording her political alignment, advocating the right to support people over parties. She was also, like many Pakistanis, weary of defining what the role of the West should be in Pakistan, expressing the need for less foreign intervention, an argument in line with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s chairman, Imran Khan, who has succeeded in temporarily blocking NATO supply routes to Afghanistan to protest recent drone strikes in the country. That one of these strikes took out one of the most despicable terrorists, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, and that the closure of these routes economically impedes both Pakistan and Afghanistan, are apparently other matters. They were also, surprisingly, not discussed by Bhutto even though drone attacks affect most specifically the tribal areas of Waziristan that happen to be the setting of her latest literary work.
In an interview given to a local newspaper, London Evening Standard, earlier this month, Miss Bhutto presented her image of the country’s largest city with remarkable amnesia. Gravely exaggerating that one could not walk in Karachi without the likelihood of being mugged, molested or murdered, she refrained from mentioning that the creation of such an environment in the city is the by-product of the country’s turbulent political culture, a good chunk of which was designed at the hands of her own family members, where once her father, the late Mir Murtaza Bhutto (mysteriously gunned down in Karachi during Benazir’s prime ministerial term) was notorious for traversing the streets of Karachi with armed gunmen spilling out of his vehicles and creating terror.
‘Pakistan’s struggle has to be fought by Pakistanis’, argued Fatima Bhutto, ‘and be led by Pakistanis as well’. Herein lay the inherent memory loss and selective denial that have been increasingly gripping the youth of the country. The argument begs the question: which Pakistanis? As a people, tragically, Pakistanis are not unified. Not only are internal and external borders sources of major contentions defining identities, a majority of the people identify themselves on religious, or ethnic, or linguistic, or tribal lines. Post-colonial Pakistan has never really had a strong grip on nationalism. Political narratives and discourses range from religious nationalism to ethnic nationalism, further dividing themselves into sub-categories of Pashtun nationalism or Muhajir nationalism. The list goes on.
November this year falls on the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar which also commemorates the Battle of Karbala fought in 680 AD between Imam Hussian (the Prophet Ali’s son) and the army of Yazid in present-day Iraq. The battle was to forever divide Shias and Sunnis for centuries on. Shias consider Muharram to be the month of mourning and it reflects most strongly the divides within Pakistani Muslims, some of whom resort to extreme violence against Shias. The latest Sunni-Shia clashes sparked as a result of pre-meditated rioting and bloodshed in Rawalpindi, just minutes away from the capital, Islamabad, demonstrate how quickly and vehemently some people within the country can be incited into turning on each other following religious and sectarian sermons.
So, while one can sympathise with Miss Bhutto’s bitterness towards the chaos engrained in Pakistani politics today, one finds it difficult to overlook the divisions created within societies for the sake of Pakistan’s coming into being. As a people, Pakistanis cannot even agree upon the vision Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder and first leader of Pakistan, had for the country he created. One can only assume it was not this.
Zoha Waseem is a PhD researcher in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. You can follower her on Twitter @ZohaWaseem.