Before leading PPP, Bilawal must learn Urdu, Sindhi

Published: December 12, 2011
Benazir and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also had a weak grasp over local languages initially. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID

Benazir and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto also had a weak grasp over local languages initially. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID


If Machiavelli wrote The Prince in present-day Pakistan, an additional chapter in the book would be titled: Learn local languages before leading your party.

To groom the party’s current chairperson, who’s spent most of his life abroad, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders and workers have been asked to speak in Urdu and Sindhi with Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Bilawal, who recently graduated from Oxford University and lists English as his first language, is not the first Bhutto with limited grasp over local languages. His mother, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, also went to Oxford and learnt Urdu and Sindhi as secondary languages before taking over the party reins.

(Non)-mother tongue

“Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter were fluent in Urdu … but they had grammatical issues, and the accents were not clear,” said Dr Ghulam Hussain, a close associate of Zulfikar. “You cannot imagine Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s aptitude for languages. He learnt Sindhi and Urdu in a very short span of time,” Dr Hussain added.

Despite hailing from a Sindhi-speaking family, Bhutto’s command over his native language was initially non-existent.

“The Bhutto family was immersed in Sindhi culture, but since his mother, Khursheed Begum, was not Sindhi speaking, he did not learn Sindhi during his childhood,” said Dr Hussain.

‘Mein suni hoon’

His eldest daughter, Benazir, followed in her father’s footsteps – not just to Oxford, but also in her limited grasp of Urdu and Sindhi.

“The first time I saw Benazir interacting in Urdu and Sindhi was with her household help at 70 Clifton, after she completed her education and returned from aboard,” said Munawar Ali Abbasi, PPP provincial minister from Larkana.

“The maids were making fun of her pronunciations – Benazir said “mein suni hoon” [I have heard] instead of “mainay suna hay,” Abbasi added.

Sindhi, in English

The imperative for learning the local languages came after Benazir returned from exile in 1986, when she came into direct interaction with the people.

“I remember the initial days when we visited a village near Dadu, and Benazir was trying to speak in Sindhi with the locals,” said Shamim Ara Panhwar, a party office-bearer.

“Her Sindhi skills were almost non-existent. It was difficult for the locals to understand her Sindhi, with an English accent. She tried to speak Urdu but ended up using English words,” Panhwar added. “After that, she strictly asked us to speak to her in Sindhi, to learn the language,” Panhwar said.

Ama teaches Benazir

“Benazir learnt Urdu and Sindhi from a maid at home, whom everyone called ‘Ama,’” said former PPP activist Nuzhat Pathan. Initially, Benazir wrote her speeches in English and would deliver them in Urdu, but later she started writing them in roman Urdu, Pathan added.

The first time Benazir wrote her speech in Sindhi was at the death anniversary of her father in 1988, Panhwar added.

Interestingly, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, was fluent in Urdu and Sindhi, while Ghinwa, Benazir’s sister-in-law of Syrian-Lebanese origin, also learnt both the languages.

Bilawal started learning Urdu and Sindhi after the death of his grandmother Nusrat. The party, however, is considering hiring a tutor for him, so he can master both the languages as soon as possible.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (36)

  • positive pakistani
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:30AM

    hilarious display picture …:D loved it!


  • XX
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:46AM



  • arsalan arif
    Dec 12, 2011 - 10:50AM

    i wonder why there is no need for politicians from punjab to learn punjabi? all the public rallies and jalsas in punjab are conducted in urdu,punjabi is not taught in punjab’s schools,very few punjabi language channels compared to other language channels maybe that could be one of the reasons.


  • Monir Ahmed
    Dec 12, 2011 - 11:07AM

    Good to know about this. Hope the young bhutto will bring a new trend in poltics


  • Monir Ahmed
    Dec 12, 2011 - 11:08AM

    Good initiative. Hope the young bhutto will bring a new trend in politics


  • jasmine
    Dec 12, 2011 - 11:20AM

    there z no shame in learning the national languages. its a good decision.


  • Danish
    Dec 12, 2011 - 11:44AM

    the holiest and the most merciful family bhutto..


  • Kafka
    Dec 12, 2011 - 12:36PM

    He will definitely learn Urdu and Sindhi, but all his life, he wont be able to understand how it feels to run a household on limited income, how to live in constant fear for your life and how it feels when some one else’s progeny is getting foreign education on your tax money. Alas……..


  • Dexter Morgan
    Dec 12, 2011 - 12:57PM

    Its a shame that our ‘leaders’ have to learn ‘our language(s)’ to cummunicate with us.
    @arsalan arif: Punjabi is very much used in political public gatherings but perhaps the trend is on decline since now almost all major public gatherings are being televised throughout Pakistan. As far as Punjabi not being taught, since it is actually a dialect & lacks some basic linguistic elements perhaps that is the reason. Nevertheless, it should be taught & preserved. But ironically many punjabi speaking people seems to be more & more impressed by urdu & try to adopt it which in a longer run maybe harmful for punjabi language.


  • Nero
    Dec 12, 2011 - 1:58PM

    @Dexter Morgan:
    But in India, Punjabi is taught as official language in Punjab and is also official in Delhi (alongside Hindi and Urdu). FYI Punjabi is not a dialect, it does have a lot of literature, poetry, prose and its own grammar as well as script.


  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Dec 12, 2011 - 1:59PM

    The article is presented in a good way. My suggestion for the young Bhutto is for him to get immersed in the local culture and traditions which is the best way to learn a language without the help of any hired tutor. I hope that the young Bhutto will set new traditions in our stagnant politics.


  • Acorn Guts
    Dec 12, 2011 - 2:06PM

    Lesson 1: Urdu word ‘Moroosi Siyasat’ English translation: ‘Dynastic Politics’.


  • sidra farooq
    Dec 12, 2011 - 2:28PM

    @Dexter Morgan:

    yes,dexter punjabi language is dying out because punjabi people themselves don’t want to speak it’s pretty sad because diversity should be appreciated and different languages should continue to be’s upto the punjabi people themselves to promote their mother tongue and speak it at home and in public.


  • Dec 12, 2011 - 2:51PM

    wow democracy or royalty!


  • RH
    Dec 12, 2011 - 3:28PM

    @Dexter Morgan: Punjabi is taught and also used as the official language in Indian Punjab province. So I find the claim that it ‘lacks basic linguistic elements’ (such as?) pretty dubious.


  • Faraz
    Dec 12, 2011 - 3:53PM

    No harm in learning different languages,bilwal is young and can learn Urdu and Sindhi because what his father and his cronies have done to PPP’s reputation,he has abundant time for learning languages !)


  • Usman Lakhani
    Dec 12, 2011 - 5:09PM

    My blood boils when I read about Bilawal Bhutto and the new Gilanis. Who gave them the right to rule us? Bilawal went to meet Obama with Zardari..on what grounds was a 22 year old allowed to listen to matters of national security? For a university project?
    Bilawal and Bakhtawar sound and behave like local people here in the UK. I am sure Bilawal will try to get elected through liyari or Naudero, can he even live there for one day without a translator? Shame on our nation for being so naive and illeterate! Recommend

  • Annoyed
    Dec 12, 2011 - 5:16PM

    Hope the party hires a tutor for Politics as well!


  • Truth
    Dec 12, 2011 - 5:26PM

    Why is he being called a Bhutto, his father is Zardari .. hence he is a zardari.Recommend

    Dec 12, 2011 - 6:29PM

    A lad who will now waste time learning a language will lead this nation. What a pathetic nation we are to have such leaders who cant speak their own people’s languages and yet claim to be FROM PEOPLE


  • Dec 12, 2011 - 6:40PM

    Bay se Bhutto, Jeem se Jamhooriat , Seen se Sindh Card.

    And he’s set to take over.


  • Amjad
    Dec 12, 2011 - 6:45PM

    Jinnah couldn’t speak in Urdu but only spoke in English. Why does he have to learn Urdu or Sindi anyway when English should be made the national language. We would be better off watching US films in English than Hindi Urdu films from Bollywood.


  • Chief "Saab"
    Dec 12, 2011 - 7:30PM

    For some odd reason, all of this reminds me of the movie “The King’s Speech”. Maybe Bilawal should watch the movie to get some pointers. Recommend

  • zK
    Dec 12, 2011 - 7:31PM

    @Usman Lakhani: You said it all buddy! in 100% agreement with you .


  • Hasaan
    Dec 12, 2011 - 8:50PM

    I just gonna ask from all You peoples that why You are divided in languages and ( Castes ).. The Jinnah were not able to speak in Urdu or Sindhi. But he changed the history and every one Knows very well about this. Same For BHUTTO , I agree that he were not able to speak in our languages but take a look of his works. NOW Just aspect the good from the junior one.


  • Hameedullah
    Dec 12, 2011 - 8:52PM

    Ironic that ET article says about Bilawal learning Sindhi to get hold of local politics while they themselves could not write it properly.


  • Dec 12, 2011 - 9:37PM

    @Usman Lakhani:
    Good to note that such sentiments are there. Shame on PPP that they claim to be democratic part but follow centuries old despotic monarchy system….


  • FAZ
    Dec 12, 2011 - 9:57PM

    How Ironic? The “angraiz” also learned Urdu when they came to rule us!
    Mentally, we all are still slaves! Cant even choose a leader who has actually lived amongst us! A middle class guy who is honest to us not coz of his character, but being an actual son of the soil!!


  • Ch Allah Daad
    Dec 13, 2011 - 12:36AM

    There is no Harm and Haraam if people of Pakistan elect young Bhuttos, Sharifs and Gillanis. Politics is a profession meant to serve people. Its great injustice to bar anyone entering in any profession. There are thousands of similar examples in other professions like medical, legal, armed forces, sports and entertainment industry. Politics is the only profession where its hardest to get in. Its the only profession where final selection is in hands of general public unlike selection boards. As a voter I would prefer to vote a candidate who is very close to Prime Minister, because its much easier for me to get something done at highest level. It takes months for ordinary MNA to see Prime Minister whereas Son meets every day.


  • Dec 13, 2011 - 1:19AM

    Unfortunately, whatever language they know, that corrupt dynastic feudal family will never understand the word ‘accountability’ or ‘ehtesaab’.

    Unfortunately neither will the voting slaves, who’ve given into corruption and for whom democracy means voting in and subjecting themselves to dynastic autocrats to rule over them, till the next military enslavement.


  • SM
    Dec 13, 2011 - 3:09AM

    Let the kid start by being a grass root leader. He is not royalty. He is the son of a con man, by the way.


  • Optimist
    Dec 13, 2011 - 5:11PM

    @Monir Ahmed:

    Dream on.


  • Ahmad
    Dec 13, 2011 - 6:13PM

    May God protect Pakistan from dynasties..


  • Ali S
    Dec 20, 2011 - 11:02PM

    Could it be that it’s the ‘charm’ of someone apparently so ‘foreign’ and ‘distant’ (in status and compatibility) wanting to care for them that draws the poor to the Bhuttos. And it’s the fluency in English and Westernization that draws the liberals to them. However, none of it changes the fact that the Bhuttos can’t relate at any level with the people they claim to represent. A functional democracy is only as good as the awareness and education of the people that form it.


  • punhal khan
    Dec 29, 2011 - 4:38PM

    ya exactly, it z esential to learn local languagez to comunicate easily wd people of party as wel state. , ,


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