A tribute to Pakistan’s iron lady

Published: October 24, 2011
The writer teaches history at Forman Christian College and is an editor at Oxford University Press

The writer teaches history at Forman Christian College and is an editor at Oxford University Press

October 23, 2011 saw Nusrat Bhutto breathe her last. Even though she had been hidden from the public eye for more than a decade, her death is a great loss for our country. Nusrat Bhutto belonged to an age when Pakistan was still a young country, full of promise, hope and aspirations. When she married the dashing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1951, Pakistan was barely a few years old, and had just overcome the initial pangs of birth. Within her lifetime, Pakistan emerged from the shocks of Partition, became an Asian tiger, was split in two, saw three military regimes and ultimately attained its current semi-anarchic state. But together with seeing the slow and painful destruction of her adopted homeland, Nusrat also bravely faced the execution of her husband in a travesty of justice and the untimely death of three of her four offsprings. Her steadfastness, perseverance, loyalty and commitment are qualities which indeed made her the ‘iron lady’ of Pakistan.

Nusrat Bhutto’s merit was that she did not seek limelight for herself. Rather, she supported her husband as first lady and then her daughter, Benazir, when she sought elected office. This ‘supporting role’ was critical for these two prime ministers, as they found in Nusrat a confidante and guide.

Nusrat Bhutto’s main contribution to Pakistan was when she stood up against a dictator when no one was ready to do so — that is when she showed her real mettle as a principled and inspiring leader. Amidst the depth of Ziaul Haq’s repression of the political parties, judiciary, and even the general population, it was Nusrat Bhutto who started the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD). The MRD, which was composed of the Peoples Party and several other smaller parties, was the only voice of the people of Pakistan, when it seemed that the country had almost lost its soul due to the draconian polices of the Zia regime. Nusrat led the cause of democracy when several political leaders had left the country and no one was ready the to face the wrath of a vengeful dictator. Nusrat persevered through arrests, beatings, and almost daily disappointments, to finally witness the demise of the Zia regime and the ascendency of her daughter Benazir to power. Certainly, as Benazir later reiterated, democracy was the best revenge.

Nusrat Bhutto was also a strong example for women in Pakistan. When she married Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the majority of Pakistani women had few rights — most were still treated as second class citizens and expendable commodities. As late as 1975, Nusrat noted: “Women here (in Pakistan) are treated like pieces of furniture… we are human beings, and we should be heard”. Nusrat, therefore, joined the ranks of women like Fatima Jinnah and Raana Liaquat Ali Khan, strong emancipated women who inspired, and continue to inspire, generations of women to stand up for their equal rights. Her Persian charm, erudite conversation, fine sense of fashion and, above all, self-confidence, made Nusrat Bhutto a model for women in Pakistan to follow.

In the end, Nusrat Bhutto was simply a good person — a good wife, mother, grandmother, principled politician, an inspiring feminist and a tireless worker. Seldom do such qualities converge in a single person.

It was perhaps divine grace that Nusrat Bhutto retreated from the public eye in the late 1990s. The current state of Pakistan would have certainly broken her heart. With her death, the older generation of seasoned people and politicians has almost come to an end. We now have politicians who have no principles, no morals, no integrity and no sense of commitment. Even in her illness, Nusrat Bhutto was an example of courage for us; let us not forget what she and her daughter stood for.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • NJ
    Oct 24, 2011 - 9:56PM

    Legends never die!!


  • crackaa
    Oct 24, 2011 - 11:35PM



  • crackaa
    Oct 24, 2011 - 11:37PM

    well she and her daughter stood for corruption..want to know more?


  • tanker
    Oct 24, 2011 - 11:48PM

    yah both mom-daughter stood for corruption


  • Mirza
    Oct 25, 2011 - 12:35AM

    Great Op Ed, thanks Bangash Sahib. Thanks for giving the facts abut the legend that N. Bhutto has been. She has offered more sacrifices to the nation and suffered more at the hands of army dictators than any other person in the history. She has been a Titan among ordinary mortals and never surrendered to tyrants.
    I am sure there are still some supporters and apologists of rightwing dictators but the vast majority of Pakistani people have nothing but love and respect for Begum Sahiba. Bhuttos have been more popular than all the other politicians combined. The whole world recongizes and acknowledges their services to democracy and struggle against the army dictators and religious fanatics. It is a shame that we do not have too many women like here.


  • Oct 25, 2011 - 11:17AM

    we are the nobodies, wanna be be somebodies,
    the world would know when we’re dead…


  • Asif Siddiqi
    Oct 25, 2011 - 2:33PM

    In one of many references against her “Assets Reference i.e.” she is charged with having assets wroth $ 1.5 billion in United Kingdom, France and Switzerland which did not commensurate her known sources of income.

    And she is awarded Madar-e-Jamhoriat. What a country Recommend

  • kilo tiger
    Oct 25, 2011 - 5:32PM

    By any measure .. Great lady indeed.


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Oct 25, 2011 - 6:17PM

    I don’t think Pakistan ever was an “Asian Tiger”. It was a “model of development” and “aid-effectiveness” in the 60s.


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