Spotlight on Fatima Bhutto

The Bhutto family is, in the words of George Negus, “one of the world’s most amazing political dynasties”. The ubiquity of the Bhutto name in Pakistani politics - like that of the Gandhi name in neighbouring India - has a fateful quality to it: born into politics, its most prominent members have given their lives to politics. And with the recent assassination of Osama bin Laden, hiding out a stone’s throw from a stronghold of the Pakistani military establishment, the international spotlight is firmly on Pakistan.

Fatima Bhutto, appearing at the Wheeler Centre tomorrow night, has already carved a public identity for herself strikingly distinct from her prominent family’s, and she hasn’t been shy in her criticisms of dynastic rule: “I think our reliance on dynasty is part of the problem here,” she said in an interview on SBS’s Dateline last year, “because dynasty is inherently undemocratic.” Elsewhere she’s written, “I don’t believe in birthright politics. I don’t think, nor have I ever thought, that my name qualifies me for anything.”

Born in Kabul in 1982, Fatima spent a childhood in exile in Afghanistan and Syria. She’s the niece of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto (assassinated), daughter of the late Murtaza (assassinated) and his widow Ghinwa Bhutto (who now heads the Pakistan People’s Party), and granddaughter of another former Pakistan prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (executed). She’s also been a fierce critic of current Pakistani prime minister Asif Ali Zardari, her late aunt’s husband.

A graduate of Columbia University and London’s School of Asian Studies, Fatima has had her name linked to Hollywood royalty despite the serious intent of her journalism, which has appeared in New Statesman, Daily Beast, The Guardian, and The Caravan magazine. She burst into the public eye at the age of 15 with a collection of poems, Whispers of the Desert. She’s published another two books since, most recently a memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword. A Guardian review described it as “a multi-layered work, as remarkable for its adroit interweaving of the personal and the political as for its ambitious scope.”

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