The Traditional Rebel
Friday, December 28, 2007
PARIS, Dec. 27--On a hazy winter day in 1994, I drove with then-Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to the dedication of Pakistan's first women's police station. A controversial and bold initiative, it would be a place where Muslim women would feel more at ease discussing abuses like rape with female officers rather than frequently skeptical male ones. The new police post was in Rawalpindi, the city where Bhutto would be killed 13 years later.
As we raced along the wide avenues of Islamabad in a caravan of security vehicles, I asked Bhutto if she'd like to see her children go into politics, too. She was in her second term as prime minister, following in the footsteps of her father, who also held that post but was overthrown in a military coup and executed in 1979.
"No, never," she said with conviction. "Politics in Pakistan is much too dangerous."
"What, then, would you like to see them do?" I asked the first woman ever elected leader of a Muslim country.
"I would like to see my son become a lawyer," she replied. "And I'd like my daughter to be a social worker."
Embracing such a stereotypical role for her daughter epitomized the contradictions of Benazir Bhutto, who served Pakistan amid great expectations and who ended up disappointing many of her strongest advocates, including members of her own family.
Her political career was born, as it died, of personal and national tragedy.
She was 24 when her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was ousted as prime minister in a military coup. He was hanged while Benazir and her mother were imprisoned in a nearby jail cell.
"I suddenly sat bolt upright in bed at 2 a.m.," she wrote in the opening of her autobiography, "Daughter of Destiny: An Autobiography," describing the night her father was executed.
"No! No!" she recalled screaming. "I couldn't breathe, didn't want to breathe. Papa! Papa! I felt cold, so cold, in spite of the heat, and couldn't stop shaking."
Bhutto spent five years in jail -- sometimes in solitary confinement in barren cells -- and under house arrest.
But the narrative of a family name so closely associated with martyrdom devolved into one of political intrigue, allegations of fraud and familial backbiting of epic proportions as Bhutto wound her way through Pakistan's contemporary history, ever the contradiction.