Friday, October 30, 2009

Fatima Bhutto Goes Down the Slippery Slope, Sadly

Ok, so I have to admit I have always had a soft spot for Fatima Bhutto. Not only because of all that she has endured growing up and because she is easy on the eyes, but also because she is a fairly intelligent and sensitive young woman who has not let her personal tragedies and lineage turn her into some sort of caricature of an arrogant feudal or a bitter slave to dynastic politics, both of which things her background could easily have fostered in her. For the most part, she seemed also to have her head resting firmly on her shoulders.

Sure, she had her failings - for example when she wrote about her aunt with a little too much personal vitriol than necessary, or let her crafty feudal uncle Mumtaz use her to further his political goals, or wrote about her father Murtaza's untimely death when she was just 15 with all the objectivity that a young loving daughter can muster about a father - but one reasoned she was, after all, only in her early twenties still. One could forgive her her youthful passion and naivete. And most of all, because she kept insisting that she would rather write than enter politics as everyone assumed she would. The way she was built up as the next great white hope for Pakistan - mostly by Western journalists - was after all, a construction of their minds, not hers.

And now look what's happened to her. Like all people exposed too much, too soon in the media, Fatima has let the limelight bloat her head. One could see it coming for a while now, ever since she got her own column in The Daily Beast. Slowly, but surely, her heartfelt prose started giving way to rhetoric and political vitriol that made one really question whether it was political ambition that was driving her or a misguided sense of her own importance.

Unfortunately, this gradual deterioration has led to this latest piece, which not only overreaches in its flamboyant rhetoric - telling off Hillary Clinton for the Peshawar blast that  has claimed over 115 lives so far, and instructing her to go home, when most agree that whatever they may think of US policies, Hillary has taken great pains to add nuance to her interactions with Pakistanis - but also makes some truly egregious mistakes in its statement of facts. Does Fatima really believe what she has written? - in which case, one can question her understanding of matters - or has she deliberately spread untruths? - in which case, one can question why she gets to hold forth in places like The Daily Beast.

I will quote just three examples of "facts" that Fatima gets severely wrong.

1) About Waziristan, she writes:

"One week ago, the Pakistan army—aided by U.S. drone technology, no less—launched its offensive against the South Waziristan region, the new home of our fabled local Taliban. The Taliban moved there after last summer’s Swat offensive, which was declared a resounding success. So successful, apparently, that the militants were able to pack up and shuffle right into a new region of the country."

South Waziristan, the 'NEW' home of the Taliban??? They 'moved there after last summer's Swat offensive'??? The militants 'were able to pack up and shuffle right into a NEW region of the country??? I don't really know which world Fatima has been living in - perhaps access to news is difficult at 70 Clifton - but South Waziristan and North Waziristan have been the ORIGINAL home of the Taliban in Pakistan since 2002! For the record, the Pakistan Army first went in there in 2004 only to get beaten black and blue by the militants. It has long claimed that the linkages of most suicide attacks in Pakistan extend to the Waziristan region. The Swat Taliban - Fazlullah et al - were loosely allied with the Waziristani Tehrik-e-Taliban - i.e. Baitullah et al - but were distinct from them and if anything, it was Baitullah's fighters who were alleged to have infiltrated into Swat. Not the other way round.

2) About the NRO, she writes:

"During its one year in office, the Zardari government has passed two measly but scurrilous bills. The first, called the National Reconciliation Ordinance..."

Ok, Fatima, we KNOW you hate Zardari and we're not fond of him either. But out and out lies to bolster your argument are just pathetic. First of all, the number of bills passed by the government is certainly NOT "two measly" bills. I would be the last person to hold up Pakistani parliamentarians as a model of conscientious lawmakers, but hell, even the Finance Bill is a bill you know. All you had to do was go here to see what legislative business the current parliament has been involved in. But no, that would probably skewer your argument wouldn't it? Or is a little bit of conscientious research now passe for columnists?

To add stupidity to ignorance, you claim for your American audience that the bill "National Reconciliation Ordinance" - by the way, by definition an ordinance is not a bill - has been passed by Zardari's government. As any child in Pakistan knows from the endless stream of verbiage on television about it, the bill to make the NRO permanent is currently being debated in parliament, and there is no guarantee it will actually pass. Which by the way, is the hottest topic pertaining to Zardari's future, at the moment.

3) About the Kerry-Lugar Bill, she writes:

"The Kerry Lugar bill promises $1.5 billion a year (for “development”) but the fine print is a gift that keeps on taking. While Pakistan will be flush with development dollars, we will have to send the U.S. government detailed reports regarding our armed forces, including assessments of the civilian control of our very independent army, updates on our prevention of nuclear proliferation, and expertise and analysis of how much we have expanded or diminished our nuclear programs."

Ok, so Fatima, now you are really beginning to scare me. It would seem your source of news is Hamid Mir or Dr. Shahid Masood. How else to explain your parroting of the line put forward by the establishment? Personally, I don't think we should be taking on aid in the first place and that if you must beg, it is the donor's prerogative whatever conditions it wants to tack on. But leaving aside my personal opinion, the KLB is an AMERICAN law. The stipulations about "detailed reports" such as the ones you mention are for the US administration to provide to the US Congress, not for Pakistan to "send" to anyone. Of course, proper accountancy is called for from Pakistan - and why shouldn't it be? - but that is not what you have an issue with. I can even understand the establishment - read army - making up this myth, of Pakistan having to submit its internal policies for approval to the US, as a nice brick to beat Zardari on the head with, since it wants him out or at least neutered. What's your excuse as an "honest reporter"?

The point is this: If this is the credibility of her "facts", can one really trust Fatima Bhutto's analysis? It would be a good friend who could tell her to just stop writing for the time being. Then again, maybe politics is her thing.


Ali K. said...

Nicely rebutted XYZ. I read one of her articles before (I can't be bothered to remember which one) and it was horrendous. However, this isn't any different than what one of our scions of journalism would pen.

On the KLB the conditions are only on military aid. There are no conditions on civilian aid.

Ahsan said...

Yeah but she's hot.

Anonymous said...

Spot on. Her allegations against the PPP were always very puerile, vindictive and unstructured. But one felt bad saying it out loud because one felt a little sorry for what she has had to go through at such a young age.

Moving on at a tangent from the actual topic for which I apologize profusely, you mentioned Dr Shahid Masood and Hamid Mir as parroting the establishment's line. Now, whereas that may be true for Dr SM, I don't know about Mir.
By virtue of being Pakistan's most watched talk show host, Mir has become sort of like a punching bag but I've actually found him to be surprisinlgy liberal (as opposed to SM, Javed Choudhry etc,) and respectful (as opposed to Lucman).
He was called a Zionist agent by Zaid Hamid once on TV for giving an anti-Army interview from Bajaur.

Anonymous said...

brilliant, easy-to-follow, lucid argument.cap being doffed.

Aaminah said...

I would have thought that after pouring her heart out to Jemima Khan (who is now an authority on Pakistan,which is laughable in itself)in this months brit Vogue would have cemented the fact that Fatima really has fallen off the proverbial bandwagon, and despite all her so called resistance to be a typical Bhutto brat, judging by her current actions she really isnt that different after all!

Rafay Alam said...

Nighat Said Khan said it all in her Open Letter to F.B, published in The Friday Times (and posted here:

AKS said...

Spot on. And Ahsan, she's actually not that hot.

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Anonymous said...

Hey XYZ, why haven't you written on her new book?

Rania Farid said...

The problem is that anybody belonging to a 'political family' is hell bent on getting into the limelight. Thus the mess.