Fatima Bhutto, granddaughter of Pakistani Prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and niece of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke last night at the Harvard Kennedy School to promote her new book, Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir. Apart from her three books, including one poetry volume and one account of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, Fatima works as a writer and poet and resides in Karachi, Pakistan. Her appearance at Harvard last night prompted an interesting conversation in the current state of Pakistan’s government, social services, and development.
After Fatima did a brief reading from Songs of Blood and Sword, there was a Q&A segment of the program, which touched on many areas including the need for greater access to education in Pakistan. Fatima adamantly declared that education and healthcare in Pakistan are two of the most important concerns, neither of which are being addressed adequately. She offered a stunning example of how Pakistan recently failed to meet its goal of eradicating polio, not because Pakistani medical professionals could not produce the vaccine, but because the infrastructure to refrigerate the vaccine is not in place. Fatima made sure to note the irony in the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear country that cannot refrigerate its vaccines. Regarding education, Fatima noted the phenomenon of “shell schools,” buildings that will be erected and photographed with a politician cutting the ribbon without any further assistance or administration. This point met some contention from the crowd, however, as some Pakistani students who claimed to be “products of Pakistan’s public schools” rebuffed Fatima’s statement. Fatima’s point was that until there can be uniform quality education in Pakistan, the work is not finished. The fact that there can be such a disconnect between experiences shows serious need for reform to state education.
Debate continued on various other issues including varied access to healthcare in different areas and nationalization of industry, which one person contended may have stifled any movements towards entrepreneurship. The dialogue produced as a result of Fatima’s comments was just an introduction to the problems that Pakistan is facing right now, and they may only be solved with the addition of many more voices to the debate on how best to address these issues. To conclude, Fatima boldly asserted that in Pakistan it is “more dangerous to keep quiet” about problems in the government and healthcare because to not speak out for fear of retribution means condoning an environment “where your child can contract fatal diarrhea,” as we see happening now in flood affected areas. Infrastructure, education and healthcare are crucial to reform in Pakistan, now we just need more voices like Fatima Bhutto’s reminding us of that every day.
Why not start the dialogue right now? What do you think are the main issues in Pakistan and how do you think they should be solved? For further information about Fatima’s story, pick up her new book, Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir. You can also check out Barakat’s programs in Pakistan to see how we are contributing to literacy efforts in Pakistan, as well as see how you can be a part of this movement! Be sure to leave us a comment with your thoughts or tweet at us @barakatinc!