On Saturday, Sindh National Front leader Mumtaz Bhutto was put under house arrest in Larkana [in Sindh province] for “allegedly ordering his workers to attack on the office of a Sindhi newspaper,” reported GEO News. He reportedly was later taken into custody in Karachi. Pakistani news agency cited reports that stated the workers of SNF had attacked the office of a local daily, the Awami Awaaz, and a case was registered against Mumtaz Bhutto in this connection. A separate GEO News piece noted that SNF members allegedly “ransacked” the newspaper office and “gave threats of life to the staff because the newspaper did not carry a column written by Mumtaz Bhutto.”
However, reported Dawn, the SNF has denied the allegations, saying the arrest of Bhutto was a case of “political victimization.” Ameer Baksh Bhutto, Mumtaz’s son, told the news agency, “My father is being victimized for criticizing Asif Ali Zardari…SNF workers visited the newspaper’s office in a goodwill gesture and complained that the newspaper is not giving due coverage to the party. The government has found an excuse to pursue its undemocratic agenda.” Mumtaz Bhutto also spoke to Dawn newspaper, alleging that the government had been planning to arrest him for a long time because “he was the only person who had openly been talking about unmasking Benazir Bhutto’s killers.” Mumtaz reportedly asserted, “The killers of Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto are the same,” [given that several members of the Bhutto family allege that Zardari had been behind Murtaza’s death, Mumtaz’s parallel is therefore a loaded statement].
As news of the arrest spread, Larkana was reportedly partially closed as protests were held in various towns near the city. According to GEO Television, “The workers of the SNF staged a protest…[after] which police used teargas and baton-charged them, injuring two people. People belonging to the Bhutto clan held a protest demonstration in front of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto shrine.” According to Dawn, Mumtaz’s son, Ameer Baksh Bhutto, who is also vice-chairman of the SNF, condemned the arrest in a press conference today and asserted “it would not deter the party from highlighting injustices against Sindh and ‘revealing the truth about the murders of Mir Murtaza and Benazir Bhutto.'”
The arrest yesterday further highlighted the deep fissures within the Bhutto family. Mumtaz Bhutto is the first cousin of Benazir Bhutto‘s father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was both the president and prime minister of Pakistan in the 1970s, [he was executed by hanging for conspiracy to murder a political opponent in 1979]. Mumtaz is also the chief of the 700,000-strong [according to The Times] Bhutto tribe and was a former federal minister, Governor of Sindh, and Chief Minister of Sindh. However, although Mumtaz had been a founding member of the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP], Benazir Bhutto reportedly “sacked” him due to a policy disagreement when she took over the leadership of the party in 1984. This was arguably when the inter-family tensions began.
When Benazir returned to Pakistan last year, Mumtaz reportedly refused to support her, “saying she had betrayed the family name with her negotiations with Musharraf,” reported the Times. Following her assassination in December 2007, Mumtaz also rejected the appointment of her husband [Zardari] and son to be the successors of the party, predicting it would split the PPP. According to the UK Independent, the SNF leader said last January, “The party has come into existence on the name and the sweat and the blood of the Bhutto family…Therefore, the leadership should either have gone to Sanam [Benazir’s sister]or the son or daughter of Murtaza [Benazir’s brother, who saw himself as Zulfiqar Ali’s true political heir].” At the time, both Sanam Bhutto and the PPP disagreed. The party spokesman said, “Whatever Mumtaz is saying, he is saying out of spite for Benazir, spite and frustration, because he is now out in the political wilderness.”
As for the truth over yesterday’s arrest – I wonder if we’ll ever really know, given how quickly the incident devolved into a “he said-she said” escapade. What do you think? [Image from GEO]