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Fatima Bhutto: living on the edge

Six months after her aunt Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Fatima Bhutto is fighting to reveal the truth surrounding the murder of her father in 1996 "” and making some very dangerous enemies

Fatima Bhutto

As the convoy neared home, the street lights were abruptly turned off. The police snipers were ready in position; some had climbed up the trees lining the avenue to get clear shots. Their guns were loaded, the roadblocks had been erected, the surrounding lanes sealed off. The guards outside the different embassies nearby had been told to retreat within their compounds in expectation of trouble. By nine o'clock, all 80 police were in position, commanded by four senior officers. There was complete silence, but for the occasional buzz of static on the police radios.

It was September 20, 1996, and Murtaza Bhutto, Benazir's younger brother, was returning late from campaigning in a distant part of Karachi. He had come home to Pakistan the previous year after a long period in exile to challenge his more famous sister for a role in the leadership of the family party, the Pakistan People's Party, or PPP. Benazir was then the prime minister, and Murtaza's decision to take her on had put him into direct conflict not only with his sister, but also with her ambitious and powerful husband, Asif Ali Zardari.

Murtaza had an animus against Zardari, who he believed was not just a nakedly and riotously corrupt polo-playing playboy, but had pushed Benazir to abandon the PPP's once-radical agenda fighting for social justice. By doing so, believed Murtaza, Zardari had turned their father's socialist-leaning party into a political moneymaking machine for the PPP's wealthy feudal leadership. But Benazir was deaf to the voluble complaints being made about Zardari, which had led to him being dubbed "Mr Ten Per Cent". Instead of reprimanding him, she appointed her husband minister for investment, so making him the channel through which passed all investment offers from home and abroad.

A few weeks earlier, according to a widely reported story, an incident took place the truth of which is now difficult to establish. In view of their worsening relations, Murtaza is said to have rung Zardari and invited him for a chat at the Bhutto headquarters, 70 Clifton. It was agreed he should come without bodyguards, in order that the two might meet privately and try to settle their differences. Zardari agreed. But as the two men were walking through the garden, Murtaza's guards suddenly appeared and grabbed Zardari. Murtaza took out a cut-throat razor, and after slowly sharpening it, personally shaved off half of Zardari's moustache. Then he threw him out the house. A furious Zardari, who had presumably feared much worse than a shave, was compelled to remove the other half of his moustache once he got home.

Whether there is any truth to this story "“ and Murtaza's family strongly deny there is "“ the two brothers-in-law had become irreconcilable by the end of the summer of 1996, and few believed the rivalry was likely to end peacefully. Both men had reputations for being trigger-happy. Murtaza's bodyguards were notoriously rough, and Murtaza was alleged to have sentenced to death several former associates, including his future biographer, Raja Anwar, author of an unflattering portrait, The Terrorist Prince. Zardari's reputation was, if anything, worse.

Around the time of the alleged moustache shaving, when Benazir's mother, the Begum Bhutto, suggested that Murtaza be made the chief minister of Sindh, Benazir and Zardari's response was to remove the Begum as chairperson of the PPP. Zardari was also said to have leant on Abdullah Shah, the man who held the chief ministership the Begum had wanted Murtaza to be given, and asked him to get his Karachi police to harass Murtaza and obstruct his election campaign. There were also hints of worse to come. So insistent had these rumours become that at 3pm earlier that afternoon, Murtaza had given a press conference saying he had learnt that an assassination attempt on him was being planned, and he named some of Shah's police officers he claimed were involved in the plot. Several of the officers were among those now waiting, guns cocked, outside his house.

According to witnesses, when the leading car drew up at the roadblock, there was a single shot from the police, followed by two more shots, one of which hit the foremost of Murtaza's armed bodyguards. Sizing up the situation immediately, and guessing that the police wanted to provoke his guards into retaliating, Murtaza immediately got out of his car and urged his men to hold their fire. Even as he stood there with his hands raised above his head, urging calm, the police opened fire on the whole party with automatic weapons. The firing went on for nearly 10 minutes.

In the silence that followed, as the wounded men lay bleeding on the ground, the police circled the bodies with pistols, administering the coup de grâce to several of the prostrate figures with assassin's shots to the back of the neck. One of Murtaza's aides, Ashiq Ali Jatoi, the Sindh president of Murtaza's faction of the PPP, was standing up cradling a broken arm and begging to be taken to hospital when he was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head. It was all over in quarter of an hour, leaving seven men either dead or dying. The remaining more lightly wounded men were left to bleed on the road for nearly an hour before being taken for treatment.

Two hundred yards down the road, inside the compound of 70 Clifton, the house where Benazir Bhutto had spent her childhood, was Murtaza's wife Ghinwa, his daughter, the 12-year-old Fatima, and the couple's young son, Zulfikar, then aged six. When the first shot rang out, Fatima was in Zulfikar's bedroom, helping put him to bed. She immediately ran with him into his windowless dressing room, and threw him onto the floor, protecting him by covering his body with her own. When the firing had stopped, Ghinwa had tried to leave the house, but the police told her to stay inside as there had been a robbery nearby. After another 45 minutes, an increasingly worried Fatima called the prime minister's house and asked to speak to her aunt. Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, took her call. Fatima recalls the following conversation:

Fatima: "I wish to speak to my aunt, please."

Zardari: "It's not possible."

Fatima: "Why?" [At this point, Fatima says, she heard loud, stagy-sounding wailing.]

Zardari: "She's hysterical, can't you hear?"

Fatima: "Why?"

Zardari: "Don't you know? Your father's been shot."

Fatima and Ghinwa immediately left the house and demanded to be taken to see Murtaza. By now there were no bodies in the street. It had all been cleaned up: there was no blood, no glass or any sign of violence at all. Each of the seven wounded had been taken to a different location, though none were taken to emergency units of any of the Karachi hospitals.

"They had taken my father to the Mideast, a dispensary," says Fatima. "It wasn't an emergency facility and had no surgeons or any facilities for treating a wounded man. We climbed the stairs, and there was my father lying hooked up to a drip. He was covered in blood and unconscious. You could see he had been shot several times. One of those shots was from point-blank range, at the back of his jaw, and it had blown away part of his face. I kissed him and moved aside. Then my mother sat with him, speaking to him, holding his hand. He never recovered consciousness. We lost him just after midnight."

The two bereaved women went straight to a police station to register a report, but the police refused to take it down. Benazir Bhutto was then the prime minister, and one might have expected the assassins would have faced the most extreme measures of the state for killing the prime minister's brother. Instead, it was the witnesses and survivors who were arrested. They were kept incommunicado and intimidated. Two died soon afterwards in police custody.

In due course the police who were part of the operation were all promoted, except one, Haq Nawaz Sial, who was instead found shot, having "committed suicide"; his wife says she saw a gunman running away from the scene of the alleged self-shooting. This Fatima interprets as another killing by those behind the operation, who feared that the man would talk. "I rang my aunt several times to ask why none of those who did the shooting had been arrested," says Fatima. "She just said, 'Fati, you don't understand how this works.' There were never any criminal proceedings. Benazir claimed in the West to be the queen of democracy, but at that time there were so many like us who had lost family to premeditated police killings. We were just one among thousands. Nobody got justice."

Benazir always protested her innocence over the death of Murtaza, and claimed that the killing was an attempt to frame her by the army's intelligence services: "Kill a Bhutto to get a Bhutto," as she used to put it. But the failure to properly investigate the murder, along with the highly suspicious circumstances of the ambush, all led Fatima and Ghinwa to conclude that Benazir and her husband had to be directly connected to the killings: "If she didn't sign the death warrant, then who else had the power to cover it up?" asks Fatima. She wrote to Benazir, accusing her of, at best, failing to protect her father. It was the last direct contact between the two Bhutto women. "What does it all point to?" Fatima asks. "I would love to believe in the innocence of my aunt, but why else did she so obviously obstruct the investigation?"

Murtaza was, after all, clearly a direct threat to Benazir's future, and she gained the most from the murder. For this reason her complicity was widely suspected well beyond the immediate family: when Benazir and Zardari attempted to attend Murtaza's funeral, their car was stoned by villagers who believed them responsible.

The judiciary took the same view, and the tribunal set up to investigate the killing concluded that the assassination could not have taken place "without approval from the highest level of government". There was no shoot-out, as the police had claimed; the police had suffered no injuries; it was clearly a premeditated ambush. The tribunal concluded that Benazir's administration was "probably complicit" in the assassination. Six weeks later, when Benazir fell from power, partly as a result of public outrage at the killings, Zardari was arrested and charged with Murtaza's murder.

Twelve years on, however, the situation is rather different. Fatima is now a strikingly beautiful 25-year-old, fresh from a university education in New York and London. She is sassy and clever, a respected poet and an outspoken columnist in the Pakistani press.

She has a razor-sharp mind and a forceful, determined personality.

Meanwhile, the man Fatima Bhutto holds responsible for her father's death is not only out of prison, after 11 years behind bars without conviction on murder and corruption charges, but is suddenly, in one of those dramatic reversals of fortune for which Pakistan is remarkable, the most powerful man in the country Since Benazir's death in December, Zardari has been the co-chairman of Benazir's PPP with his son Bilawal. And since the party's victory in February's election, Zardari has become both kingmaker and potential king. As he is not currently an MP, he could not immediately make himself prime minister, but the appointment of a relative nonentity "“ one Yusuf Raza Gillani "“ to the position makes it a strong probability that, come the next by-election, Zardari will put himself forward to be elected, then take the top position for himself. He has explicitly stated that he would take the job "if called upon to do so".

The various murder charges against Zardari "“ there are three others in addition to that relating to Murtaza "“ stood until last month, when he was acquitted under the terms of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), mid-trial, with half the witnesses still to give evidence. The NRO was a highly controversial law signed by President Musharraf under pressure from the US, which dismissed all outstanding charges against political figures, and which Benazir insisted on being passed before she agreed to return to Pakistan. To cap it all, the man Zardari has appointed as law minister, whose duty it is to oversee the cases against Zardari, is Zardari's former defence lawyer and personal attorney.

While the various murder and corruption charges were undoubtedly used as a weapon against Benazir by her enemies, there is equally no question that some of the cases have real substance, and that Zardari has credible charges to answer and, if possible, refute. As well as the four murder charges, there are a stack of corruption charges against Bhutto and Zardari that have also been dropped, even though they have substance to them and their dismissal leaves many unanswered questions about the disappearance of huge sums of money. There is, for example, the evidence from independent banks, US congressional reports and the governments of several countries that Zardari was getting huge kickbacks from government contracts, for everything from power and gas projects to French fighter aircraft and Polish tractors. It is for this reason that Zardari has been trying to block the reappointment of the chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry, who has a reputation for integrity and has publicly stated that he wishes to challenge the constitutional legality of the NRO "“ an issue that has seriously divided the newly elected coalition and threatened its future. The issue has nearly led to the current fragile coalition breaking up, and Zardari has been dragging his feet about allowing the chief justice to resume his position.

All this leaves Fatima Bhutto in a difficult and unenviable position, standing between the probable next prime minister of her country and the clearing of his name. After a long period of military rule, few in Pakistan now wish to dig up this old case or rock the boat. Many others have died since Murtaza Bhutto, including of course Benazir herself, and there is strong pressure to let the past go and to allow the new civilian government a chance to prove itself after eight years of military dictatorship. Few wish to see the country dragged into a new round of political wrangling, so there are unlikely to be many supporting Fatima Bhutto in her continuing bid to see justice done over her father's murder.

"In Pakistan we live with this historical amnesia," Fatima told me recently. "Such are the difficulties of the present that there is a strong urge to forget those of the past. But there are those of us who are not willing to forget.

We are currently waiting for Zardari's acquittal judgment. But I am not going to give up this struggle. I am not going to stand down quietly. This is bigger than us "“ this is about justice. I will continue to do all I can to stand between Asif and a clean record."

) ) ) ) )

Fatima Bhutto was born in Kabul on May 29, 1982. General Zia had recently seized power in one of Pakistan's periodic military coups, and the Bhuttos were in disarray: the patriarch of the family, the deposed prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had been hanged three years earlier, and Murtaza was in exile from Pakistan in Soviet-controlled Afghanistan. From there he tried to organise the struggle against Zia, though Kabul was under daily assault by Afghan mujaheddin. Fatima's life thus began as it has continued: as a stowaway in the hold of Pakistan's history, shaped by her country's succession of crises.

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested on July 5, 1977, his children reacted in various ways and disagreed on the best method with which to carry on his legacy and return Pakistan to democracy. Benazir believed the struggle should be peaceful and political. Her brothers initially tried the same approach, forming Al-Nusrat, the Save Bhutto committee; but after two futile years they decided in 1979 to turn to the armed struggle. Murtaza was about 24 and had just left Harvard. Forbidden by his father from returning to Zia's Pakistan, he flew from the US first to London, then on to Libya, Riyadh and Damascus, and finally to Beirut, where he and his younger brother Shahnawaz were adopted by Yasser Arafat. Under his guidance they received the arms and training necessary to form the Pakistan Liberation Army, later renamed Al-Zulfikar, or the Sword. The idea was to harass the regime by targeting "collaborators", especially those who had helped arrest, try and hang their father. They also tried to stir up younger officers in the army to topple or assassinate Zia.

Murtaza and his brother found shelter in Kabul, as guests of the new pro-Soviet government. There they had married the Afghan sisters Fauzia and Rehana Fasihudin, beautiful daughters of a senior Afghan official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fatima's mother was Fauzia.

For all its PLO training in Syria, Afghanistan and Libya, Al-Zulfikar achieved little except for two failed assassination attempts on Zia and the hijacking of a Pakistan International Airways flight in 1981, when a plane going from Karachi to Peshawar was diverted to Kabul. It secured the release of around 50 political prisoners, but also caused the death of an innocent passenger, a young army officer. Zia used the hijacking as a means of cracking down on the PPP, and had the two boys placed on the Federal Investigation Agency's most-wanted list. Benazir was forced to distance herself from her two brothers, even though they subsequently denied sanctioning the hijack, and claimed only to have acted as negotiators once the plane landed in Kabul.

Murtaza was posthumously acquitted of organising the hijack in 2003. But at the time, the operation gave Zia the excuse he needed to send out his agents to try to track down and assassinate the two Bhutto boys. After Moscow leant on Kabul to expel them from Afghanistan in the aftermath of the hijack, they were forced to keep moving: first back to Libya, then to Damascus. In the summer of 1985 the different Bhutto children were all reunited in Cannes, where Shahnawaz had set himself up with Rehana in an apartment on the Lido.

Despite the increasingly bitter rows between Shahnawaz and his wife, it was initially a blissful summer: Benazir once told me of the thrill of walking down the Cannes Lido with her hunky younger brother and being "the centre of envy: wherever Shahnawaz went, women would be bowled over". It soon turned to tragedy, however, when one morning the family woke to find that Shahnawaz had been found dead from poison.

The chief suspect was immediately Rehana. She claimed her husband had committed suicide, but nobody believed her. There were signs of forced entry and a struggle in the flat, implying that a third party had entered, presumably a Zia agent. Moreover, the bruised and battered body was already cold by the time Rehana called for help, and she was immaculately turned out. While the family went off to report the death to police, Fatima was taken to the park by her aunt Benazir, who looked after her for the rest of the day.

In the aftermath of the murder, Rehana was arrested while her sister Fauzia supported her. She was charged with not coming to the aid of a dying man, spent three months in jail and was then whisked away to asylum in the US. This caused a permanent breach with Murtaza, who was understandably distraught and certain of Rehana's guilt. After Shahnawaz was buried, Murtaza left for Damascus with the three-year-old Fatima; the child was not to see her mother again for nearly two decades.

While Benazir went on to make her home in New York and London, Murtaza chose to settle in Damascus, where he was given shelter by the government of Hafez al-Assad. It was there that Fatima grew up, speaking English and Arabic but knowing hardly a word of Urdu. A year after he arrived in Syria, Murtaza met a Lebanese teacher named Ghinwa Itaoui. Ghinwa had fled to Damascus following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The two married three years later, and it was Ghinwa who brought Fatima up and whom she now regards as her mother.

"We lived in a two-bedroom apartment," says Fatima. "We had no cash and no servants. My father would drop me at school, do the cooking and look after me. Until he married Ghinwa, he brought me up entirely on his own. He was a wonderful parent. But he missed Pakistan and constantly dreamt of going back."

Benazir visited her brother in Damascus and she and Fatima became close. But the political differences between Murtaza and his sister grew more marked as the 1980s progressed. After Benazir married Zardari in 1987, she increasingly urged Murtaza to stay away from Pakistan, saying she needed time to settle the outstanding charges against him. When there was no sign of progress, the two gradually became estranged. "There are two Benazirs I remember," says Fatima. "When she was in exile aged about 25, she was very brave and very sad. She had lost her father and brother and was in pain and fragile and vulnerable. But later, once she was in power, she changed. She became very far from fragile. In power she was unrecognisable from the figure I loved as a child."

When Benazir returned to power for a second term, Murtaza decided the moment had come to return home and face in court the charges of terrorism that were still pending against him, and which Benazir had refused to quash.

"He was always saying, in one year, in six months, we'll go home," says Fatima. "Then when I was 10 he suddenly, finally made up his mind. Ghinwa, Zulfikar and I went ahead and filed his nomination papers for the Sindh assembly. He was elected with a huge majority and he flew home shortly afterwards to take up his seat. When he arrived, police surrounded the plane on Benazir's orders and he was arrested on the tarmac. He spent eight months in Landhi jail in northern Karachi before he got bail.

"I was 11. I remember him leaving the flat in Damascus. I was crying. I was scared for him, but he told me, 'I am going home. Everything will be okay.' We tried to have a normal day. It was late at night in Damascus by the time we heard he had landed. For years my father had spoken about returning to Pakistan, to his friends, his life, his home. We knew he'd been arrested, but strangely I was happy because I knew he was alive and home, and I thought it would all be okay."

) ) ) ) )

A month after Murtaza's arrest, in February 1994, I arrived in Karachi in the course of writing a profile of Benazir for this magazine. Given the scale of the challenge Murtaza posed to Benazir's future, I thought it was important to talk to him, so I went over to the court where he was then being tried on terrorism charges.

A convoy of Jeeps followed by four pick-ups full of police gunmen brought Murtaza to the trial court where his case was being heard.

In noise and style it was identical to one of Benazir's elaborate prime-ministerial processions. The only difference was that Murtaza was unable to wave to passers-by, as his hands were handcuffed to the policeman beside him.

I found Murtaza with his mother, Begum Bhutto, and a lawyer in an annexe beside the courtroom. He was strikingly like his father: handsome, very tall and slightly chubby, with an air of self-confidence and charisma. He said he was very pleased to talk: "Benazir doesn't care what the local press says about her," he said, "but she's very sensitive to what her friends in Paris, London and New York get to read about her."

"Has your sister got in touch with you since you returned to Pakistan?" I asked.

"No. Nothing. Not one note."

"Did you expect her to intervene and get you off the hook?" I asked.

"I didn't want any favours," he replied. "I just wanted her to let justice take its course, and for her not to interfere in the legal process. As it is, she has instructed the prosecution to use delaying tactics to keep me in confinement as long as possible: the prosecution has told several people these are her instructions."

"But you can understand why she feels threatened by your return," I said.

"She should regard my return as an aspect of strength [for the family], not a threat. I don't want to lead the PPP. I'm not demanding any party or government post. I just want to be an MNA [Member of the National Assembly, or Pakistani parliament] and represent the people of my father's constituency. But she's become paranoid and is convinced I'm trying to topple her."

"And why do you think that is?"

"Probably been listening to one of her fortune-tellers. She thinks her first government fell because she sought the advice of one pir [Muslim holy man] and another stronger pir got jealous and cursed her. When you base your political decisions on that sort of thing you're in serious trouble." He giggled: "When she came to Damascus in 1990 I had to find an astrologer for her, some Bedouin woman. Benazir spent two hours with her. I had to smuggle her into the presidential guesthouse through the servants' entrance"¦ It's easy to realise why she thinks I'm a threat if she's that easily influenced."

"Do you think she has become harder "“ more ruthless "“ over the past few years?" I asked.

Begum Bhutto answered: "My daughter would not have been capable of her actions today five years ago. The things she is doing now even General Zia wouldn't have done." She recounted the incident that took place at the Bhutto country estate of Al-Murtaza in Larkana on January 5 of that year. The date was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's birthday, and to mark the occasion both the rival claimants to his mantle, mother and daughter, had planned pilgrimages to his grave. Anticipating trouble if the two groups of supporters clashed, the security forces surrounded the Bhutto compound in Larkana, the Begum's base, and banned her procession.

When the Begum ordered the compound gates to be opened and got ready to leave, the police opened fire. One person was killed immediately and two others died after the police refused to let the ambulances through. That night, as the three family retainers lay bleeding to death, 10 miles away in her new farmhouse, Benazir celebrated her father's birthday with singing and dancing.

"After three deaths, she and her husband danced!" said the Begum, near to tears. "They must have known the police were firing at Al-Murtaza. Would all this have happened if she didn't order it? But the worst crime was that they refused to let the ambulances through. If only they had, those two boys would be alive now."

) ) ) ) )

After Murtaza's assassination 2½ years later, the 14-year-old Fatima took on the mantle of keeping her father's memory alive and attempting to seek justice for his murder "“ a strange echo of Benazir's own quest to vindicate her father's struggles. "You learn to deal with it," she says, "but it won't end until he's got justice."

Fatima's first action was to publish the book of poems she had been working on, which her father had titled Whispers of the Desert. She also fought to keep the family together when Benazir encouraged Fatima's biological mother, Fauzia, to return from the US to seek custody of Fatima from Ghinwa in the Pakistani courts.

One decade after this, Fatima first got in touch with me by e-mail. She had spent four years in the US studying Middle Eastern politics at Columbia University; she had been in New York during 9/11 and in London during 7/7. Shortly after that, visiting her mother's family in Lebanon, she had been in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of that country.

Now, however, Fatima was back in Karachi, and sent me an article she had written about the assassination of her father to mark the 10th anniversary of his death. It was a campaign she had kept up relentlessly, using her new prominence as a writer and columnist to publicise her cause. While her aunt Benazir prepared for a political comeback in Pakistan, Fatima ratcheted up her own counter-campaign. As Benazir came increasingly to be depicted in the western media as the embodiment of Islamic moderation, liberalism and decency, Fatima popped up in newspapers to remind readers that her aunt's record was not the saintly one that this simplistic hagiography liked to make out.

Benazir duly returned to Karachi on October 18. The very night of her return a suicide bomb aimed at her convoy killed 134 of her followers and left around 450 dead. The bombers, or perhaps a marksman "“ the matter has never been resolved "“ finally killed her on December 27, after a rally in Rawalpindi, throwing Pakistan into chaos and bloody rioting yet again.

Fatima and her mother were campaigning for the election when the blast took place, and hurried home before Larkana erupted into violence. "It was too familiar," Fatima says. "My father's murder all over again. Every 10 years it seems we have to bury a murdered Bhutto." Fatima and Ghinwa went to the funeral, and sat, heads bowed in black veils, behind Benazir's immediate family during the mourning. Though they were sitting only a few yards from each other, no words were exchanged between Fatima or Ghinwa and the newly widowed Asif Zardari: "I was looking at him, but he didn't look back or even acknowledge our presence."

) ) ) ) )

The following month, while covering the February election in Pakistan, I went to meet Fatima in Larkana, the Bhutto family stronghold. I wanted to ask her if, in light of her aunt's violent death, she had regrets.

A small figure in a lavender-coloured dupatta, she was moving through the bazaars of Larkana. It was the last day before the polls opened "“ the election had been delayed because of the violence after Benazir's death "“ and though Fatima was not standing for election herself, she was campaigning hard on behalf of her mother. Ghinwa was doing her best against the odds to keep afloat Murtaza's political party, the PPP-SB. She had so far failed to retain the provincial assembly seat Murtaza had won when he was alive, but everyone seemed hopeful that this time she might succeed.

The campaigning went on for the rest of the day. It was only much later that night that Fatima was able to sit back and talk about the death of her aunt: "I've no regrets," she said. "I write about political issues in Pakistan. When Benazir did her deal with Musharraf, I couldn't keep quiet. Surely the point of a democracy is to hold elected officials accountable, yet here in Pakistan we pass a law aimed at wiping out corruption cases so they can whitewash all the criminals, extortionists, drug dealers and murderers who enter our parliament.

"I didn't just write about Benazir as a niece. I wrote as a Pakistani. I'm clear I made the right decision."

We were sitting in her grandfather's sprawling country house in Larkana. All over it were family pictures: images of the young Benazir and her brothers as teenagers; Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as prime minister, addressing meetings and shaking the hands of leaders of the 1970s such as the Shah of Iran and Colonel Gaddafi.

"Of course, I was angry at what Benazir did to my father," Fatima continued, "but mainly because I expected more. I do feel sad that the idealistic Benazir I knew as a child had turned into a person so tragically mired in corruption and compromise. The person who was killed was a completely different person to the one I loved.

"I cried when I heard the news of her death. She was shot in the neck, just like my father. Only one of my father's four siblings is alive now, all killed in these terrible ways. Benazir lived the longest "“ she didn't die until she was 54. Her father was hanged at 51. Murtaza was 42. Shah was just 26."

I asked whether she would consider entering politics herself.

"I am political, but I don't think becoming an MP and sitting in Islamabad is necessarily the best way to influence people here. A writer has other options.

"There is much to be done. Power in Pakistan never changes hands "“ it's only the victims who change. The people of this country are so dispossessed "“ they have no access to justice or basic necessities. There is so much corruption. We have to teach the people to stand together and protect themselves.

"For now I want to be a writer. But if in the future there was a way I could serve my country that did not involve becoming yet another part of dynastic birthright politics, maybe I could envisage putting my name forward. If I stood I would want it to be on my own merits, not as a member of a dynasty."

) ) ) ) )

In the event, two days after we spoke, Ghinwa was wiped out at the ballot box, though only after some very blatant ballot-stuffing, some of which was captured on film. This was effected not by the pro-Musharraf parties, as had been expected, but in the case of Larkana by Zardari's PPP, which had won the largest share of the vote. Musharraf was being slowly eclipsed, and Fatima's nemesis, Zardari, was suddenly the biggest power in the land. The obvious candidate for PPP prime minister, Amin Fahim, was pushed aside and replaced with a Zardari loyalist, Yusuf Raza Gillani.

I rang Fatima and asked: "So, with Zardari in power, are you now afraid for your own safety?"

Fatima considered for a second before answering: "Well, I am certainly very afraid for this country," she said. "Even before Zardari, this was a country where anything can happen, a country that regularly disappears its own people. The state here is, in the worst way, expedient. You just don't know what's waiting for you, especially if you stand up and say what you think. And I have never been an especially diplomatic person. I certainly don't belong to the silent majority."

She paused. "So perhaps I should be anxious," she said. "After all, this man knows no limits. He has a record. He has, as they say, form. And he is now clearly indulging in the politics of revenge and retribution. It's nothing new "“ it's how he has always been." She paused again. "But what can you do? You just have to carry on as you can, and try to tell the truth as you see it. That's all you can do."

William Dalrymple is the author of The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi, 1857 (Bloomsbury);

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