Why Benazir's brother finds family ties a trial

Missing Persons No 1 Murtaza Bhutto
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The Independent Online
It is not easy for Murtaza Bhutto, having an older sister who is the Prime Minister of Pakistan. When Benazir Bhutto came to power, many thought she would help out her errant younger brother, who faces the death penalty on 78 different charges of terrorism and hijacking brought against him by the old military dictator.

Not quite. "The government," he says, trying not to refer to his sister, "is treating me like a mortal enemy. I'm not getting a fair trial. The government doesn't want a situation where I'm acquitted."

Mr Bhutto claims that after he was given bail by the chief justice of Sindh province, Nasir Aslam Zahed, the government sacked the judge within 24 hours. Mr Bhutto also accuses "the government" of torturing his trial witnesses and scaring away police officers who were ready to testify in his favour.

In a telephone conversation with Mr Bhutto, in his Karachi mansion, the line repeatedly snapped, as though wire-tappers were busy. "You can bet they'll know about this conversation before your article is even published," he said.

It has been difficult for Mr Bhutto to find hired help. "A lot of times, when my servants leave the house, they're picked up by police and tortured for no reason," he says. His political party workers are also being harassed by police. Mr Bhutto started a party which, confusingly, is called the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), the same name as his sister's.

"It's a parallel party. Benazir has deviated too much from the original ideology," Mr Bhutto insists. With a push from his heavyweight political mother, Nusrat, he was elected to the Sindh provincial assembly in October 1993, but he is distracted from his political duties by having to appear in court.

"The government is tampering with my cases. There are days when the witnesses don't appear and neither do the lawyers," he says before the telephone line goes dead again.

The feud with his older sister, he says, is only about politics. "There's no dispute over property or the family silver. It's not about personal enmity."

In a Muslim, male-dominated society, it is usually the son who is the heir. Their father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was Pakistan's leader before he was overthrown by the generals in 1978 and hanged. Murtaza was studying at Oxford at the time, and responded by setting up the Al-Zulfiqar Organisation to avenge his father's death.

Bombs were planted, henchmen of the military dictator, General Zia ul- Haq, were murdered and a Pakistan International Airlines flight in 1981 was hijacked to Kabul. No proof of Murtaza's direct involvement in these crimes has surfaced, but the existence of Al-Zulfiqar was used by the army to harass Benazir and her PPP followers, who fought the dictatorship through peaceful protest.

Rival politicians dismiss Murtaza's brand of Socialism as passe in Pakistan, where Islam pervades all political thought.

Ms Bhutto has refused to speak to Murtaza for two years. Their mother, Nusrat, has tried in vain to reconcile them. "My mother tried with Benazir. She said: 'Please don't manipulate the courts against him, let him have a fair trial at least.' But Benazir doesn't listen."

Karachi is being torn apart by ethnic violence, and many murders have happened even in Murtaza's fashionable neighbourhood: "The government won't let me protect my wife and children ... It was too much of a risk for my children, so I've sent them off to Damascus. But I'm staying on.

"The government treats me as a mortal enemy. And after all they've done to me, I've become one," he adds.