Security around the 70 Clifton residence of Begum Nusrat Bhutto was tight on Sunday. Her photo stood at the end of a long drawing room, propped up on a chair next to a Pakistan Peoples Party-Shaheed Bhutto (PPP-SB) flag. At the entrance, a black flag marked the start of mourning.
The woman affectionately known as ‘Begum Bhutto’ became the first of Zulfikar Bhutto’s immediate family to pass away of natural causes. As the news spread, mourners gathered at the house to pay homage to the former first lady of Pakistan – the same residence that had been besieged by soldiers 30 years ago to make sure she would not escape.
“Begum Bhutto hid herself in the trunk of a car,” recalled Azhar Jameel, a Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) activist from the 1980s. “She was a woman with a strong will. There was no stopping her.”
Nusrat Bhutto launched the movement in 1981 against the military regime of General Ziaul Haq whose strategy was to suppress the opposition using force.
Regarded as a woman with a dynamic personality, Nusrat is credited with singlehandedly bringing political parties from the right and left of the ideological divide together. “That was her special quality. She had a way of bringing different groups together.”
When the movement gained strength, and the authorities became wary of her and tried to stop her, she had to conceal her identity. “I remember how she slipped unnoticed to Lahore in a train wearing burqa,” he reminisces, speaking to The Express Tribune over the phone.
The mood at her home, now the PPP-SB head office, was sombre with a hint of resentment. The family felt sidelined as the Bilawal House has taken over all funeral preparations.
Sikandar Ali Bhutto, a former PPP-SB Saddar Town president, chose to loudly vent his frustration at President Asif Ali Zardari and his proposed funeral arrangements. “No one is talking to us,” he shouted. “This is the place from where she left for Dubai and this is where her body should be brought.”
“The Bhutto’s home is empty now,” sobbed granddaughter and Benzair Bhutto’s estranged niece, Fatima Bhutto, “we were not even informed of her death.”
Inside the large house, Seema Rafiq, a PPP-SB activist, wept uncontrollably. “She treated us like her own kids. Her whole family was wiped out and now she is no more either.”
The mother who lost three of four children to violent deaths will also be remembered for the way she carried herself – with confidence and grace.
Dr Humaira Aziz, a friend of Benazir, remembers being awestruck by her friend’s mother. “I used to get so excited when I saw the things she used to wear, with so much elegance.”
Yet, with all that poise and glamour, Nusrat was a natural person. “She was a simple lady who was also really brave,” muses Aziz. “I was at their house every day in my younger days and she would come, sit and dine with us. I don’t know why, but that’s the time I remember the most clearly.”
However, Nusrat suffered of mental torment after her son Murtaza passed away. “Even though the loss of Shahnawaz was a major blow, the death of Murtaza broke her completely.”
In a condolence message, Meraj Muhammad Khan, a founding PPP member, said that Nusrat played a major role in creation of the PPP. “She contributed even more for the restoration of democracy. Pakistan has lost another brave lady.”
Sukkur and Garhi Khudda Bux mourn
Business centres and public places in most of upper Sindh, including Larkana, Jacobabad, Thul and Ratodero were shut down immediately after the news of Nusrat Bhutto’s death spread like wildfire. Sources claim that some stores were forced to shut down by aerial firing. They pointed out Sindh Local Bodies Minister Agha Siraj Durrani had reached Garhi Khuda Bux and would be making arrangements for the funeral.
Hundreds of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PPP-SB supporters have started to make their way towards Naudero Presidency and Al Murtaza House. The PPP-SB chairperson Ghinwa Bhutto is said to reach Al Murtaza House today. While talking to The Express Tribune, DCO Larkana Abdul Aleem Lashari, who was in Garhi Khuda Bux, said that a grave was being dug on the left side of the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s grave. Sources claim that Nusrat Bhutto’s body would most probably be flown directly to Moen Jo Daro Airport and then taken to Garhi Khuda Bux for the funeral. Heavy contingents of policemen and Rangers have been deployed in Larkana, Naudero and Garhi Khuda Bux.
With additional reporting by Sarfaraz Memon and PPI
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2011.