KARACHI, PAKISTAN, DEC. 18 -- Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistani opposition leader, married a fellow member of her country's feudal hierarchy today in a traditional Moslem ceremony. That, as it turned out, was the only traditional note in an otherwise wild and bizarre display of the politics of matrimony.
While a proper Pakistani bride is expected to show her veiled face only to her husband on her wedding day, this one held a press conference and attended a "wedding reception" for 100,000 cheering supporters packed into a poor and working-class neighborhood that is a stronghold of her political base.
"Daughter of Pakistan!" the crowd chanted, clapping, singing and shooting off rifles in the streets. One woman was reported killed when she was hit by a stray bullet.
Bhutto, the daughter of executed former Pakistani prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was welcomed with rose petals and throbbing disco music as she arrived in a gold-embroidered white silk wedding tunic and trousers at a reception that seemed more like a massive outdoor rock concert. Last year, when she first came back to Pakistan from voluntary exile, Bhutto also attracted crowds in the hundreds of thousands. But tonight there was more of an air of glamor and danger surrounding her than at her more straightforward political rallies. People crammed onto balconies in apartment buildings decorated with strings of lights as fireworks exploded in the sky and Bhutto's young political supporters waved guns at the podium.
For Karachi society, there was a smaller reception for merely 2,000 guests in a tented garden several worlds away in Clifton, the affluent residential area where Bhutto and her husband will make their new home. Bhutto arrived there early in the evening, but was instantly surrounded by the press, forcing numerous lavishly dressed Karachi high lifes to elbow their way through the unappetizing mob of reporters and photographers to give their best wishes to the bride.
"You would hardly expect this in a society crowd," said one of their number, appalled.
"This is a private occasion rather than a public one," the bride said somewhat inexplicably at a morning session with the press, at which she revealed her intention to retain her maiden name and combine motherhood and career. The 34-year-old Bhutto made it clear, however, that she did not intend to have children before the 1990 Pakistani elections, when she would like to oust President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, the man who overthrew her father in a military coup and authorized his 1979 execution.
Bhutto complained that the government would probably see any future pregnancy as an opportune moment to call elections. "As someone told me," she said, "one sure-fire way to have early elections is to have a child."
The alliance of the Harvard- and Oxford-educated Bhutto with Asif Ali Zardari, a polo-playing Karachi businessman, had been arranged by the two families and announced in July in London, five days after the bride first met her intended. They had had little chance since then to see each other, although Bhutto assured the press today that "where ever I was, he did telephone -- so I did get to know him."
The wedding comes at the time of a significant political setback for Bhutto, whose Pakistan People's Party lost heavily in local elections held across Pakistan last month. Although she repeatedly said during the week-long prewedding celebrations that her marriage will not affect her political career and that "Benazir Bhutto does not cease to exist just because she gets married," the reality in Pakistan is somewhat different.
Up until now, much of Bhutto's appeal in the personality-dominated Pakistani politics has been that of the lone, struggling martyr who had promised to sacrifice her personal life and happiness until she avenged the death of her father by defeating Zia. "After her marriage some of that myth is bound to be reduced," said Salman Taseer, the People's Party spokesman and a longtime associate of the Bhutto family. "But maybe it's a healthy sign. The politics will be more realistic and less emotional."
For the sliver of high society in this balmy, fetid port city in the province of Sind on the Arabian Sea, the Bhutto nuptials were variously billed as "the wedding of the decade" and "the social-political event of 1987." Certainly the wedding provided Karachi's prodigious gossips with their best material in years.
While Bhutto's school friends danced every night until 1 a.m. at her home, wearing phenomenal amounts of jewelry and gold brocade, conversations at the snooty Sind Club centered on the qualifications of the groom, described as a wild, casually educated but socially presentable party boy from an acceptable, though not major, land-owning family. So many fantastic rumors circulated about flamboyant evenings and brawls during the groom's bachelor days that the Bhutto family was forced to address them in a written question-and-answer session with Zardari, part of an exhaustive press kit supplied on the wedding day:
Q: It is said that you are a playboy who plays polo by day and frequents discos at night. Are you suited to marrying a political leader?
A: Such stories are highly exaggerated. Anyway, the past is the past and it is the future I share with her that is important.
At the time of the engagement, the groom was said to have obtained a diploma from the London School of Economics, but the Bhutto family has now revised his status to that of a former student at an institution they referred to as London's Centre of Economic and Political Studies (which is not listed under that name in the current London telephone book). Whatever his academic qualifications, the fact remains that they are no match for those of his bride, and Bhutto's friends were at first concerned about the compatibility of the match. But now a number of them have met the groom, and describe him in terms normally reserved for a traditional, stay-at-home Pakistani wife.
"I told Benazir that he is the kind of person you would like to come home to after a rally," said Shirin Bajwa, a Karachi orthodontist and a friend of Bhutto's since the opposition leader's days in prison. "He sets you at ease."
Two days before the wedding, Zardari appeared as relaxed and pleasant as Bhutto's friends had promised, even in the midst of a household that was in chaos as it prepared for the arrival of the new bride. (Bhutto will live briefly with her husband and his family before the couple move to their own home, now under renovation.) "She's the maximum that one could hope for," Zardari said calmly of his bride as workers hammered, children played tag and his mother shouted instructions from a chair in the corner. "How could you do better than Benazir of Pakistan?"
Zardari, who was dressed in blue jeans, a sweat shirt and expensive-looking loafers, is considerably looser and more handsome than he appears in his engagement photos, which give him an owlish air.
By his own admission, he had admired Bhutto from afar for years; even back when she was the teen-aged daughter of then-foreign minister Zulfikar Bhutto, Zardari's crowd considered her, in the words of one friend, "a good catch." Nothing came of his unrequited feelings until Zardari's father started pestering him to get married.
"So I said fine -- get me married to her," recalled Zardari. For those who might find this presumptuous on young Zardari's part, a friend explained that this isn't necessarily so when a groom believes that he is "god's gift to women." A proposal from the Zardari family was submitted to the Bhuttos more than a year ago, and after a suitable investigation, an agreement was reached. Zardari was said to be ecstatic, although he would not go so far to say that he has fallen in love with a woman he hardly knows.
"Who isn't in love with her?" he said rhetorically instead. "The whole country is in love with her."
This may be the hyperbole of an excited groom, but it also brings up one of the more complicated new image problems that Bhutto is expected to face as a result of her marriage. As a young, attractive, single woman in an Islamic country, she was the object of intense, almost fanatic devotion by hordes of young men who had come to see her as a kind of unattainable virgin figure. "But now that she's been attained, there has been an awful crash," said Hameeda Khuhro, a Pakistani historian and Sindhi separatist politician. And yet Khuhro said she thinks Bhutto's marriage was a political inevitability. "If she had gotten older and stayed unmarried," Khuhro said, "she would have been regarded as an eccentric old spinster."
Recently Bhutto's single status had begun to cause problems. Bhutto works all day with young male political aides, many of whom are said to be infatuated with her. Her own party members say that damaging rumors were spreading. Falling in love with the wrong person would have ruined her politically, and in a conservative Islamic country, particularly considering Bhutto's public life, there was no chance of dating, even if the man had been appropriate. "An arranged marriage seemed not only advisable but necessary," one of Bhutto's many press statements concluded.
Bhutto, who is recognizable as the character "Virgin Ironpants" in Salman Rushdie's novel "Shame," about the recent history of Pakistan, nonetheless has been known to have had an active social life and many men and women friends during her years at Oxford. She has always denied ever having had a boyfriend or even a date.
Although considered backward in the West, Bhutto's arranged marriage is in fact a nontraditional "modern" arranged marriage, now gaining acceptance among the upper classes of Pakistan. Unlike most brides here, Bhutto met her groom before the engagement and retained veto power. As she explained in her press statement: "No one can guarantee the success of a marriage, whether it is an arranged one or a love match. Perhaps the expectations in an arranged marriage are less, so the possibility of survival better." Then, moving into an "Ask Benazir" mode, she added, "But if you want my personal advice: Make your own decision -- whether you personally want one or not."
At her press conference, when asked whether she anticipated eventually falling in love with her husband, Bhutto replied that "I was always told by elders that love comes after marriage. What I've found for myself in an arranged marriage is that there's a mental commitment. You know you're marrying somebody and he's going to be a part of your life forever ... If they're a part of your life, in a strange way they become a part of you. It's a very strange kind of mental journey which I have not read about or heard about but feel my own self experiencing now that I am actually in a situation like this."
In some ways, Bhutto's wedding is the first "normal" wedding in this generation of her family. Her two brothers, one of whom died on the French Riviera under mysterious circumstances, were married in exile in Afghanistan; for her sister's wedding, Bhutto was released from jail for a day and a half. She has spent most of the last decade either in prison, under house arrest or in voluntary exile in London.
It has not turned out to be the kind of life that "Pinky" Bhutto, as she was known during her school days, ever imagined for herself. Raised by an English governess and clothed by Saks as a child, she went away to Harvard at 16, horrified that she could no longer be driven to class and aghast at certain peculiar American customs, like eating in dormitories. "There was this huge hall and you had to serve yourself and sit down somewhere next to someone, which meant I had to talk to people, and Americans are very talkative," she told Vanity Fair last year.
By the time she returned home from Oxford to Pakistan for good in the summer of 1977, she had made up her mind that she would take a civilized job in government, perhaps in the Pakistani foreign service. Within a week of her arrival, her father was overthrown by Zia, who was his army chief of staff. In September of that year he was imprisoned, and in April 1979 he was hanged.
It was Benazir who kept the family and party together during her father's jail term, and it was Benazir who watched helplessly as he deteriorated day after day. It was in those years, she has said, that she learned the hard lessons of politics, in long conversations with her father in jail. She herself was in detention when he was executed and was forbidden to attend his funeral.
After an exile in London, she returned to Pakistan in April 1986, where she created the kind of sensation people said they hadn't seen since the country gained independence in 1947. At the time she tried to force Zia into holding early elections, but the passion she inspired at the time has greatly subsided, at least until the celebration tonight.
Perhaps the person most delighted by the day's events was Bhutto's mother, who had for years wanted her daughter to get married and is said to have pressed her into this match. Today she beamed. "I'm very happy that she's getting married," she said, "because all girls have to get married."