She was very much her father’s daughter. “You are my jewel,” he told her just hours before Pakistan’s military rulers hanged him for alleged conspiracy to murder in 1979. And it was by his grave in the family cemetery near Larkana in southern Pakistan that Benazir Bhutto vowed to avenge the death of her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the country’s first democratically elected prime minister. Nine years later— after suffering repeated arrests, months of solitary confinement and two years in exile— the willowy, dark-haired, Western-educated Benazir led her father’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to victory. At the age of 35, she became the first woman to head an Islamic country. The years of her struggle—the personal and national costs of returning democracy to Paki-
stan—are dramatically, sometimes bitterly, recounted in Daughter of Destiny, an autobiography that is part eulogy, part revenge.
Autobiography typically serves the author better than it serves history. And Bhutto begins hers by offering a flattering portrait of her father as an almost mythic leader who, with his equally mythic family, fights for democracy in a backward, illiterate country in the grip of unscrupulous military rulers. In her scenario, the archvillain is Gen. Zia ul-Haq, the Islamic fundamentalist appointed military chief of staff by Zulfikar Bhutto himself. In July, 1977, Zia orchestrated a coup, imprisoned the prime minister and then systematically dismantled the apparatus of the fledgling democratic state. There is no denying the power of Benazir Bhutto’s recollections—the persecution and torture of PPP supporters, the farce of the trial that found her father guilty, the terror of men wearing no official uniform, carrying no official warrant, bursting into her room in the night to
arrest her. And despite her justified caution in revealing her personal self—she finished the book just prior to the 1988 elections—she emerges as a woman born to rule.
The guiding hand of Zulfikar Bhutto is ever present in Benazir’s life story. It was her father who decided that Benazir, born in Karachi in 1953, would be the first Bhutto woman not to wear the head-to-toe covering, the burka, that isolated Pakistani women. He encouraged her to go to Harvard University, where, behind the scenes, he helped to direct her toward political courses. And after graduating she followed her father’s advice by attending Oxford University. “I feel a strange sensation in imagining you walking on the footprints I left behind at Oxford over 22 years ago,” he wrote her.
She learned her politics from him as well. She was sitting two rows behind him in the UN Security Council when, in 1971, as the country’s leading political figure, he tried to “save a united Pakistan” while a bitter civil war raged. Ultimately, the conflict ended with the secession of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. And she was with him in June, 1972, in Simla, in northern India, when he negotiated with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the terms of peace after India’s military intervention in the Pakistan rupture. “Was she seeing herself in me,” she writes of Gandhi, who stared at her frequently, “a daughter of another statesman?”
The lessons in power politics served her well when her own political struggle began. While finishing her studies at Oxford in the spring of
1977, her father’s rule, was being undermined by strikes, riots and allegations of voterigging in the March elections. Within a month of her return to Pakistan in June,
1977, Zia had overthrown her father and put him under arrest. Benazir and her mother, Nusrat, her sister, Sanam, and her brothers, Mir Murtaza and Shah Nawaz, all became victims of the regime, either forced into exile or held in a series of detentions.
Benazir herself lived in appalling conditions before international pressure resulted in her 1984 release to get treatment for a serious ear infection. In one telling, sad comment, she writes, “As 1983 began, I realized there had been only one New Year’s Day that I had been free since 1977.”
Despite providing many details about her life in prison, Bhutto carefully remains a veiled woman of the East. In the West, she learned to love peppermint-stick ice-cream cones and the democratic ideals of Thomas Jefferson. But she never explains how she learned to survive in her country, where self-immolation was considered to be a noble form of protest. She seems to have bridged East and West by
presenting a different face for different occasions. Her many references to her religiosity seem written with her Pakistani readers in mind (her father and her brothers had been attacked in Pakistan for their Westernized behavior). A sense of duty pervades her story. She even views her arranged marriage to Asif Zardari, the heir of a landowning Pakistani family, primarily as a necessity. Noting that her
Western friends would have difficulty understanding her action, she writes, “An arranged marriage was the price in personal choice I had to pay for the political path my life had taken.”
According to political observers of the time, Zulfikar Bhutto was brought down by his own ruthlessness in dealing with opposition, charges of corruption and the reaction of an increasingly fundamentalist, anti-Western country faced with rapid change. The forces that he, a Westerneducated member of the landowning elite, faced now confront his daughter, who
returned to Pakistan from exile in Britain in 1986 and went on to form the government two years later. Benazir
writes of her political career: “Other women on the subcontinent had picked up the political banners of their husbands, brothers and fathers before me. I just never thought it would happen to me.” Although she is still defining her
own political style, she is already one
of the most remarkable members of a family of destiny.
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