The Day My Father Died By Fatima Bhutto
20th September, 2006
The Fact: On September 20, 1996 seven men were killed under the eyes and ears of the Karachi police force outside of 70 Clifton. It was around eight in the evening.
One of those men was my father, Mir Murtaza Bhutto.
He had been on his way home after attending a public meeting in the suburbs of Karachi where he addressed a gathering in Surjani Town. Just before he had walked out of the house that afternoon I had come running down the stairs to talk to him. Papa and I were supposed to play a game of basketball and he was reneging on our deal. He promised we would play later that evening when he returned home.
Fact: He never came home.
I felt something was amiss. There had been tanks stationed outside our house for the last four days. Everyday there was a new one across from the house or behind it. In truth, I was worried. As he walked to the door that afternoon I asked him to wait a minute. “Just let me get my shoes”, I pleaded, “I’m coming with you.” My father said I couldn’t come. “It’s dangerous,” he said. “I’ll see you in the evening.”
I spent the whole day feeling restless. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I roamed around the house counting the hours until he would return. This was before the ubiquitous cell phone had entered our lives; I had no way to reach my father, so I waited.
Fact: By the evening of September 20, 1996, 70 to 100 policemen were stationed near 70 Clifton. There were men in the tress, ready in sniper positions. The streetlights had been shut and traffic had been diverted. Guards at the nearby Italian, Iranian, British and Russian embassies were told to retreat within their residences.
I was on the phone talking to a classmate about a school assignment when I heard the first shot. My brother, Zulfiqar, who was six years old at that time, was sitting on the bed in our parent’s bedroom watching TV. We heard one shot first. We later learned through court proceedings and police reports that it was the signal to commence firing. When my father stepped out of his car to ask why he was being stopped by the police, who came without warrants, he was recognized and the command was given. One shot. A barrage of gunfire followed. It lasted two to three minutes.
Fact: There was no “shoot-out”, no “encounter”, no “incident”. Forensics showed the only artillery fired was that of the police. The tribunal headed by Supreme Court Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid confirmed this. These facts are public record, check them if my word is not good enough for you. It was a premeditated attack. An ambush. An assassination.
I shut the phone and picked up Zulfiqar. Both of us took shelter in the dressing room because there were no windows there. We stayed in the small airtight room until the shooting stopped. My mother, Ghinwa, came running into the room and held us. We moved to the drawing room, there were no windows in that room either. We waited. Papa would be home soon; we had no idea he had just been killed.
Fact: The men were left to bleed on the road for approximately 45 minutes. They received no medical attention during that time. They were, in fact, being left to bleed to death.
Fact: Papa had not been killed in the firing. Only wounded. Though he had been shot several times, he would have survived if not for the last bullet wound.
Fact: After he had walked, yes walked, into the police mobile and laid down on the stretcher to be taken to the hospital he was shot at point blank range in the face. The autopsy showed that it came from an angle of someone standing over him.
We were told by the police outside our gates that dacoits were in the area – it wasn’t safe for us to leave our house they said, stay inside. We listened. They were the police. We trusted them.
When papa didn’t return home and we didn’t receive any word from him, it was I who found out he had been hurt.
I called my aunt, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, at the PM house in Islamabad. Her ADC came on the phone and sounded like he had been crying. “Are you ok Bibi?” He asked me. Of course I was. I replied; let me talk to my aunt. I was fourteen. I didn’t know what he was saying, or rather what he was not saying.
“I’m sorry,” he said and then he patched me through.
My aunt, Wadi I used to call her in Sindhi, didn’t come on the phone. Her husband did. I didn’t want to talk to Asif, do
you blame me? I asked for my aunt, he said I couldn’t talk to her and that she was unable to come to the phone. There were theatrical wailing sounds in the background, I didn’t buy it. “Let me talk to Wadi” I demanded, in as an assertive tone as I could muster.
“She can’t come to the phone” he repeated, “Don’t you know? Your father’s been shot.”
That’s how we found out.
Fact: By the time we left for the hospital – a generous term, papa was taken to Mideast, a clinic famous for not dealing with emergencies – the roads had been washed clean. There was no blood, no glass, nothing to mark the scene where the hit had taken place. Nothing.
When we saw papa at the hospital his navy blue shalwaar kameez was stained with blood. I touched his face and kissed him as we waited for doctors to arrive. When I moved my hand, my left hand, there was blood on two of fingers.
My mother sat near my father and spoke to him, she shouted at him, “Don’t give up, don’t die,” she yelled. “Fati and Zulfiqar need you,” she screamed.
Fact: Every time my mother uttered mine and my brother’s name, my father’s heart monitor would speed up. His heart was responding to our names.
Papa died after midnight. He didn’t succumb to his injuries. He fought them, but when they shot him, they shot to kill. He died.
It has been ten years since that night. Ten years of court cases and court recesses. Ten years of absconding. Ten years of police promotions and rewards.
Fact: The Intelligence Bureau Chief, Masood Sharif, was made Central Committee member of my aunt’s party; Wajid Durrani was promoted to the Deputy Inspector General of a special police branch in Karachi; Rai Tahir was made Senior Superintendent of the police in the Punjab; Shahid Hayat is surrently the Director of the Federal Investigation Agency; and after leading the Baluchistan police force during the American invasion of Afghanistan, Shoaib Suddle, was then promoted to head the commission on police reforms and is now the Head Commissioner of crimes against women.
Those who are killed fighting for life can’t be called dead. On Monday night, on what have been my father’s 52nd birthday, my family and I went to lay flowers on the spot near our house where he was killed. There was a large crowd around us throwing rose petals and chanting slogans in his memory. As we recited ‘fateha’ and said a silent Happy Birthday for papa, I looked up around me. The rose petals were still being thrown; it seemed as if it was raining flowers.
The largest mistake my father’s killers made was one that they couldn’t help. They couldn’t kill all of us, all of us who were enraged and disgusted by the state’s public assassination of an elected official. They couldn’t murder our memory. And they couldn’t and still can’t silence our calls for justice. That will be their undoing at end.