A house of triumph and tragedy Pakistan: The home of the Bhutto family in Karachi has played a role in a drama that has defined the country's political life for 25 years.

KARACHI, PAKISTAN — KARACHI, Pakistan -- The most famous residence in Pakistan is the walled compound at 70 Clifton Road, the house of the Bhuttos, perhaps Pakistan's most famous and most troubled family.

This was the home of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was prime minister until he was overthrown and hanged in 1979. And the home of his son Murtaza Bhutto, who was killed a few yards outside the entrance in a shootout last year with police. And the home of his daughter Benazir Bhutto, who spent months there under house arrest and then twice became prime minister.


But Ms. Bhutto -- rejected by voters in parliamentary elections last month -- is no longer welcome at the family home.

She has become the main actor in a family drama that has mixed successes with humiliating defeats and has defined the country's political life for 25 years. The Bhuttos' is a tumultuous story that falls somewhere between Greek tragedy and soap opera, and seems to foretell a sad end.


Pakistan has long relied on the myth and aura of this family. "They are like the Kennedys of Pakistan," says Sherry Rehman, editor of the Herald, a Karachi magazine. "They have provided the closest thing that one has had to royalty or glamour."

But no member of the clan has fulfilled the public's expectations. None of them made real progress against the country's grinding poverty. Or fully won the trust of the military. Or took effective steps against the widespread corruption that has eroded trust in every institution. During her two terms in office, Ms. Bhutto did no better, and perhaps worse, than her predecessors.

Politicians, for example, still use their government positions as collateral for large loans, but never repay what they owe. Before the recent elections, newspapers ran lists of these "debtor" candidates, and encouraged the public not to vote for them. But most of those candidates were returned to Parliament.

For Ms. Bhutto, the most pressing problem is the fate of her husband, Asif Zardari, who is in jail facing murder charges. Zardari was Ms. Bhutto's minister for investment. But he was unflatteringly known as "Mr. 10 Percent," for his alleged insistence on kickbacks on government contracts -- an accusation he denies.

Zardari was jailed in 1990 but was acquitted of all the corruption charges against him at the time. Now he is accused of having conspired to kill Ms. Bhutto's brother, Murtaza.

The murder and his arrest are part of a family feud touched off four years ago when Murtaza returned to Pakistan from self-exile. He had fled to Afghanistan and then Syria with his brother when their father was arrested in 1977. They organized an underground terrorist group called Al-Zulfikar and sought to overthrow the man who had overthrown their father. As part of their efforts, they hijacked a Pakistan International Airlines flight, killing a passenger in the process.

On the strength of his name, he won a seat in Pakistan's provincial assembly in 1993 elections. When he returned to Pakistan to claim his seat, he seemed a dangerous rival to his sister.

"His whole style of politics was to operate outside the political mainstream," Rehman explains. "He had run away in exile. She had chosen to face the music in Pakistan. She had chosen to remain in the front line. She could not afford to carry a brother with the taint of Al-Zulfikar on him and she could not afford to say, 'Well, I'm letting him off the hook.' "


He became a bitter critic of Ms. Bhutto's husband, referring to him and his cronies as "Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves." Murtaza's widow says that when Murtaza and his sister tried to make peace, their meeting ended in anger.

"The first thing she told him was, 'I believe your people are plotting to kill me,' " says Ghinwa Bhutto, Murtaza's widow. "This is how the meeting started. She didn't listen to anything he said. She only spoke at him, not to him. The meeting finished with nothing.

"There was no reconciliation, unfortunately."

And then came the shootout in September at 70 Clifton Road. Police stopped a convoy of cars escorting Murtaza and attempted to disarm his bodyguards. A shot rang out and then 10 minutes of automatic weapons fire. Murtaza's guards threw themselves on top of him to shield him from the bullets. But seven people died, including Murtaza.

Police say it was a bungled attempt to disarm his supporters, some of whom were suspected of various crimes and making Clifton Road their headquarters. Murtaza's widow insists that it was a murder conspiracy, and holds Ms. Bhutto and her husband responsible.

"I always said I will not accuse Asif Zardari," Ghinwa says, "but I do not exonerate him. And I do consider him and his wife, Benazir, responsible for the murder of my husband, at least indirectly."


Zardari remains jailed, accused of the murder, though the evidence linking him to the crime seems sketchy at best. But in the country that hanged Ms. Bhutto's father, some now wonder whether her husband, too, will be hanged.

"This is a much wiser military here," says Rehman. "They are politically savvy, in the sense that they would think twice before XTC hanging Ms. Bhutto's husband, giving her a new lease on the whole martyrdom bandwagon."

For now, Ghinwa is the keeper of 70 Clifton Road. It remains a virtual museum to the founder of the clan. In the drawing room, photographs show Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shaking hands with Russian Premier Leonid Brezhnev and China's Mao Tse-tung. A painting shows him seated next to India's Indira Gandhi.

And Ghinwa has picked up where her husband left off by becoming head of a political faction opposed to Benazir. She thinks of her 6-year old son, Zulfikar Jr., as the true heir of the Bhutto clan.

"My children are Bhuttos and this is their home," Ghinwa says.

But no one should underestimate Benazir Bhutto, even out of government.


"It's very seductive to talk of the end of the Bhutto dynasty because it's a charismatic dynasty and people have seen it really collapse like a house of cards," says Rehman. "But to say that it is over is very difficult."

Pub Date: 3/03/97