Sunday, December 30, 2007

Her father's daughter

Miss Bhutto was still a giant in a land of political pygmies and military stooges.
~Daily Telegraph, One of the world’s most respected and highest selling British newspapers

Yeh Baazi khoon ki baazi he
Yeh baazi tum hi haaro ge
Hur ghar se bhutto nikle ga,
Tum kitne bhutto maaro ge.

This is a game of gore
You’ll loose this game
Every home’ll beget a Bhutto
How many Bhutto’s will you slay?

~Slogan at Benazir’s funeral

Benazir Bhutto's last moments were spent, like much of her life, as a lone woman among men. A sea of male hands bore her from her country home in Naudero inside a simple wooden coffin decked with green, as millions of flower petals rained on it like fragrant confetti. At Miss Bhutto’s funeral, grief-stricken supporters thronged the ambulance carrying her remains as it crawled through a haze of dust from her family home in Garhi Khuda Bux, in southern Sindh, to an imposing white marble mausoleum three miles away. I think it was the deep reverence of the people she loved the most – and who loved her back -- that everyone jostled to touch the coffin.

Born into wealth, splendor and perhaps the most important political dynasty of the subcontinent, educated at the Ivy League and daughter to the iconic Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir was immediately catapulted to limelight. Her election as president of the Oxford Union, the first Asian woman and first non-British to hold the post, attracted worldwide media attention. She reportedly held some of the best parties in the university and drove a yellow MG sports car. Prior to that she had joined anti-Vietnam demos at Harvard. That is when the spotlight began. Destined for bigger things in life, the lionizing was already in the making. Many would contend that she always remained in the public eye and was one of the most adored stateswoman in the world.

However, her journey from Oxford to Pakistan was fraught with her father’s fight with the all-powerful Pakistan military. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was renowned for his quick temper and mercurial brilliance. As Pakistan's foreign minister, Bhutto Sr met President John F. Kennedy for the first time at the White House in October 1963, Kennedy was so impressed with Bhutto Sr that he said to Zulfikar, "Too bad you are not American, because if you were, I would have appointed you to my cabinet." Zulfikar Bhutto responded with his humorous wit: "President Kennedy, that is very kind of you, but if I was American, I would not be in your cabinet but would be president of the United States". Benazir was to carry forward the legacy of her great dad.

On a much personal level, she managed to create this aura about her that was almost unreal. Always elegantly attired, her dresses came from Saks Fifth Avenue. The prestigious People’s magazine put her on the ‘50 most beautiful people on earth’ list. With or without her designer glasses, Benazir always contrived to look fabulous. She had a great love for English chocolates. Bendicks Bittermints were a favorite, as her Oxford friends reminisce. Everyone who met her would vouchsafe that she carried herself with immense grace and laughed easily.

Adulations apart, Benazir was imprisoned on her return to Pakistan and she spent almost five years in prison. Like her father, Benazir was to live short. Miss Bhutto died just two miles from where her father, the former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged by Gen Zia in 1979. Infact days after he announced that elections would be held in a couple of months in 1977, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was asked by western journalists about how many terms he expected to win. That was a time when there was no political threat on the horizon, and Bhutto Sr reigned supreme. “I am not looking beyond the next term,” he replied. “The Bhutto’s do not live very long.”

On Friday Dec 28, 2007, Bilawal, a tall, solemn-faced man who followed in his mom’s footsteps this year by starting his studies at Oxford, kneeled and threw fistfuls of sandy soil into the cavity of Benazir’s freshly dug grave. Only a day after Eid [December 21], she had confided in her confidants her irrepressible urge to visit the family graveyard in Garhi. She arrived there on December 22, and sat next to her father's grave for two hours, reciting verses from the Quran and later strewing red rose petals on the graves of her father and two slain brothers. She had buried all three. Six days later, she joined them, leaving behind a bed-ridden mother – Nusrat Bhutto -- in Dubai, too sick of Alzheimer's to even have a last glimpse of her daughter's face.

Guardian sums it up: She was insistent that Islam awarded equal rights to men and women, despite evidence [cultural if not theological] to the contrary. At the end of one of her interviews – way back in late 80’s -- she was asked if the popular supposition was correct: that if and when she supplanted General Zia-ul-Haq, she would become the first woman to rule a Muslim country. "Quite true," she said and then remembered that a Queen Raziyya [Raziyya Sultan] had ruled the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century.

I checked the reference. According to history, the queen had been "wise, just and generous" and endowed with all the qualities befitting a king. "But she was not born of the right sex, and so, in the estimation of men, all these virtues were worthless."

Eventually men had murdered her.