Global Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto: From ‘Pinky’ to Prime Minister

Exactly 24 years ago, on December 2, 1988, Benazir Bhutto took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, after which she became the first female Prime Minister not only of Pakistan but also of the Islamic world. This article was first published on the BBC Urdu website in December 2021 and is being republished today.

On the very hot day of 21st June 1953, the staff members of the nursing home including the family members were very happy on the birth of that baby girl in ‘Punto’s Nursing Home’ of Karachi.

The father called his first child by the initials ‘Pinky’ and the mother by the initials ‘Baby’, but in the institution’s records, the girl’s name was recorded as Benazir Bhutto, who was named after the girl’s (deceased) paternal aunt. was

Benazir Bhutto’s father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto belonged to the elite class. In the year 1943, he got married first to Shireen Amir Begum and in September 1951, he got married secondly to Nusrat Bhutto, an Iranian woman of Kurdish origin.

Nusrat Bhutto was a native of Isfahan, Iran and studied at Karachi University. Zulfiqar and Nusrat Bhutto had four children, including Benazir, Mir Murtaza, Sanam Bhutto and Shahnawaz Bhutto.

Benazir received her primary education from ‘Lady Jennings Nursery’ and then from ‘Convent of Jesus and Mary’ Karachi. Then for two years she studied at the Rawalpindi Presentation Convent, after which she was sent to the ‘Convent of Jesus and Mary’ in Murree.

In December 1968, 15-year-old Benazir Bhutto passed her O-levels with distinction, and in April 1969, she was sent to Radcliffe College, Harvard University, USA, for an undergraduate degree in political science.

According to Brooke Allen’s book ‘Favored Daughter’ published in 2016 from America, ‘Benazir was too young to enter this university, but the influential Zulfiqar Bhutto ‘pulled some strings’ and finally secured her admission and Harvard University. John Kenneth Galbraith, professor of economics (and later US ambassador to India), was appointed Benazir’s guardian.

Benazir found life in America particularly difficult, and according to the book, a friend from her university said that Benazir “spent most of her first semester crying.”

But then she also became the social secretary of her dormitory ‘Elite House’ at Harvard and, like her father, interested in foreign affairs, Benazir was also active in the campaign against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War at the same time.

According to Shyam Bhatia’s book ‘Goodbye Princes’, published in 2008 by the Indian-born British journalist, and Brooke Allen, in 1971 during his time as a student at Harvard, when Zulfikar Bhutto-Pak, India approached the United Nations on the issue of war. When he reached New York to represent Pakistan in the Security Council meeting, he also invited Benazir there.

Through such training opportunities, Zulfiqar Bhutto explained to Benazir the secrets and secrets of foreign affairs.

First focus abroad

In 1972, Benazir Bhutto was once again seen with her father in the Pakistan-India talks. This time, she arrived in India to attend the famous Shimla Agreement ceremony, where she also met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for the first time.

It was at this point in his political training under the constant guidance of Zulfiqar Bhutto that he gained the attention of the Indian media including radio and newspapers.

Benazir Bhutto himself clarified this attention of the press on him at such a young age in his own words that ‘I was the symbol of the new generation. I was born in independent Pakistan. That is why I was free from all the complications and prejudices that had separated Indians and Pakistanis as a result of the bloody tragedy and trauma of the partition of India.

After graduating from Harvard in 1973, Benazir moved to Lady Margaret Hall College, Oxford University, UK to study philosophy, political science and economics, where he passed second class. Then, on his father’s insistence, he also obtained a post-graduate degree in International Law and Diplomacy from St. Catherine’s College, another institution of Oxford University.

According to Shyam Bhatia, she lived in Oxford as a traditional Third World aristocrat but also made many friends. According to some friends, she was a ‘cheerful but curious’ person.

In 1974, Benazir had the opportunity to meet Muslim leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi, Anwar al-Sadat, Shah Hussain and Shah Faisal when she attended the summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Lahore with her father.

Higher education at institutions like Harvard and Oxford and meetings with world leaders at an early age further refined Benazir Bhutto’s political training.

In 1977, Benazir Bhutto was elected as the president of the Oxford Union, a debating association. She was the first Asian woman to hold this position. Although initially members of the organization came from the University of Oxford, this independent organization had no connection with the university.

Apart from this, Benazir was also active in the Conservative Association, a subsidiary organization of the Conservative Party, the current ruling and conservative party of Great Britain.

Despite the (still) ongoing traditional tensions between India and Pakistan, she had contacts, relationships and interactions with Indian students during her student days at Oxford. According to Shyam Bhatia, at the same time, he was offered marriage by two Pakistani fellow students, but both times he rejected the offer.

After graduating from Oxford in June 1977, she returned home with the intention of serving in the ‘Inter-Provincial Council of Common Interests’ established in the office of her father and the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Bhutto, and the Pakistan Office. She will also participate in the competitive exam for foreign employment, but politics and Pakistan’s army. Something else had been decided.

On July 5, 1977, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, the head of the army, overthrew Zulfikar Bhutto and seized power. Martial law was imposed in the country and anyone suspected of speaking out against the military or its seizure of power, including political leaders, writers, journalists, and intellectuals, was arrested. can

Zulfiqar Bhutto was also arrested but was released when there was a mass public protest.

On September 16, 1977, Zulfiqar Bhutto was arrested again, so he sent Benazir’s brother Mir Murtaza out of the country, but both Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir remained in the country.

Zahid Hussain, the (former) chief photographer for Pakistan and Afghanistan for the British news agency Reuters, was close to the Bhutto family in the 1970s.

In a conversation with BBC, Zahid Hussain recalled that ‘General Zia overthrew the Bhutto government, so Nusrat Bhutto came to Clifton (the residence of the Bhutto family in Karachi) with 70 children. Delegations used to come there all the time to show sympathy and support. So many people came that it was not possible for Nusrat Bhutto alone to meet everyone. She wanted some people to meet Murtaza and Benazir Bhutto instead of her.

One day when the delegation came, Nusrat Bhutto told me to call Baby from the library. Only Bhutto used to call Benazir Pinki, otherwise Begum Sahib, all members of the house, employees and we also used to call Benazir Bhutto Baby.

On Begum Sahiba’s request, I went to the library. She was sitting there reading a book. The camera was on my shoulder. She was surprised to see me coming so frankly in this inner part of the house. Obviously, only the people of the house could go there. He looked at me carefully from top to bottom and asked (in broken Urdu) ‘Are you a photographer for equality?’

‘isaid Yes… So they said, I am also very fond of becoming a journalist. Then they started saying tell mummy that I am coming.

The beginning of practical politics

After the military coup, Zulfikar Bhutto nominated Nusrat Bhutto as the co-chairman of the party, while in October 1977, Benazir was also appointed as a member of the central executive committee of the party.

It was at this time that Benazir Bhutto emerged as the future leader of the party and became the party’s most popular political face. He and Nusrat Bhutto continued to organize demonstrations and protests against General Zia and even met Zulfiqar Bhutto in jail when he got the chance.

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Photographer Zahid Hussain says that ‘in February 1978, when Benazir came to Kot Lakhpat Jail with Bhutto, he called us (Zahid Hussain and Equality reporter Inayat Hussain) that Papa (Zulfiqar Bhutto) had said that the visit to Sindh had started. Do it and take the equals with you, then you have to walk in the morning.’

At that time, Qaim Ali Shah was the provincial president of the party in Sindh. He said that BB should not be so quick. Even the people cannot be told until the morning. Similarly, the martial law authorities are arresting the workers. If the people do not gather, how will the gathering be possible?”

According to Zahid Hussain, Benazir remained Egypt on his program. Benazir said, “No, I just have to go.” When I went to Thatta, there were only 15 to 20 women in a house. After addressing them, she went to another house and there were 30 or 35 people there too. He gave a speech but the mood was very bad. Didn’t even eat food properly. We took pictures of both gatherings, but Begum sahiba called the equality office to not display it too much, the baby is now. What will happen if you say something upside down?

The editor (Khalid Alig) just put a picture and the news was published very small. When we arrived the next morning, Baby was very angry. One is the low number of people yesterday and now a picture and a small news in the newspaper. When we entered, Qaim Ali Shah was also sitting in the corner. As soon as Baby saw us, he told us (with a very sharp English sarcasm) ‘Come my princes come’. Come sit down (Come, come my prince. Come sit down).’

A sheet of equations was kept there. He picked it up, twisted it, made it into a ball and threw it at both of us. They started saying, ‘This is my status according to you people? I have attached a picture, those 15 girls are also standing with me. I went there to meet the girls?

Then came the time when the military government also arrested Nusrat and Benazir Bhutto and both were imprisoned or detained in different cities.

Zulfiqar Bhutto was tried for the murder of Muhammad Ahmad Khan Kasuri, the father of his political opponent Ahmad Raza Kasuri. The Lahore High Court sentenced him to death and the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. Zulfiqar Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979.

Before the execution, Zulfiqar Bhutto asked both Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir to leave the country, but both refused. After this execution, Benazir and Nusrat Bhutto were again arrested for six months. When released, both were placed under house arrest for another six months and both were released in April 1980.

In this most difficult practical politics, hardships of imprisonment and martial law, ‘different attitudes and characters’ in Benazir Bhutto’s great political training as well as the impression in her personality that she created. Both supporters and opponents continued to describe his ‘charisma’.

Eventually, the mother-daughter duo were able to form an alliance with several political parties in February 1981 called the Movement for Restoration Democracy (MRD).

Farhad Safi
Sharing insights and perspectives on the stories that matter.

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