Caught Between Allah and America

Caught Between Allah and America
AP Photo/B.K. Bangash

ut here for the author’s deep reading of Pakistan and its labyrinthine politics. Fluently written, impeccably researched and never short of extraordinary insights, this is a landmark publication. While by no means an authorised study, it is the most comprehensive book on the Bhuttos to appear since the respected historian Stanley Wolpert’s life of its illustrious scion Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was published in 1993.

Wolpert was commissioned to write the book by the Bhutto family but fell foul of his benefactors after appearing to take too keen an interest in Zulfikar’s sexual peccadilloes. Bennett-Jones steers largely clear of this temptation, though he offers some entertaining vignettes of earlier generations of Bhuttos using sexual politics to outmanoeuvre their British colonial masters. Indeed, what is noteworthy is his sober treatment of his subject. He avoids casting the Bhuttos as either psychopaths or saints. This even-handed approach, supported by a mass of published and unpublished evidence and scores of interviews with friends and foes, gives us an unrivalled portrait of a dynasty whose political ambitions have left an indelible mark on Pakistan.

With roots in the country’s southern province of Sindh, where the family amassed a vast fortune from landholdings after migrating from Rajasthan (in present-day India) in the 17th century, the Bhuttos rose to prominence as loyal subjects of the Raj. In 1930, Zulfikar’s father, Shahnawaz Bhutto, was rewarded for his services to the empire with a knighthood. During the 1930s, he sealed his family’s influence in what would become Pakistan by spearheading a successful campaign for Sindh, which had long been part of the Bombay Presidency, to be granted the status of a separately administered province. When India was partitioned in 1947, this new Muslim-majority province elected to join Pakistan.

Notwithstanding these achievements, the story of the Bhutto dynasty is dominated not by Shahnawaz but by his son, the charismatic Zulfikar, successively president and prime minister of Pakistan between 1971 and 1977, and his exceptionally courageous daughter, Benazir, often portrayed as Electra to his Agamemnon. But if Benazir herself was in no doubt about the unmatched heroism of her adored father, Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister, history ensured that she eclipsed her mentor to emerge as a formidable leader in her own right. She twice won election as prime minister and remains an inspiration for millions. It is no wonder that the global outrage unleashed by her assassination at the hands of jihadists in 2007 while campaigning in the country’s general election – an event Bennett-Jones examines in forensic detail – far surpassed the international condemnation that followed Zulfikar’s ignominious hanging by the military in 1979, two years after he had been removed from power in a coup.

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