Courage in life and death: From Pinky to Benazir

Published: June 21, 2013
Slain Benazir Bhutto.

Slain Benazir Bhutto.


The year was 1996. As I interviewed Begum Nusrat Bhutto at 70 Clifton, she described her eldest daughter Benazir Bhutto aka Pinky as the most dominating child in their family. “Once Bhutto Sahab brought a big toy car for Murtaza as his birthday gift, but Pinky took it away, saying ‘why has he not brought me one?’ But she always cared deeply for her sister and brothers,” she had said.

BB, as she is fondly called, was destined to dominate. She went on to dominate Pakistani politics for over three decades.  More than five years after this brilliant mind was snuffed out, her party continues to grapple with the loss while the people remember her fondly. She would have been 60 today.

Born on this day as daughter of the charismatic leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, BB’s life story has more tragedies and sufferings than happiness. Though she became the prime minister twice, the tenures lasted only 18 and 22 months.

Despite strong opposition from conservatives, this trailblazer created history by becoming the first woman prime minister of the Islamic world and Pakistan.

Her leadership qualities led her to become the president of the Oxford Union. Bhutto saw in her someone who could carry on with his legacy, which she did.

Benazir took charge of the party soon after the formation of Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1981, but her real political journey began after her historic arrival in Lahore on April 10, 1986 when she was received by an estimated 0.5 million people.

This skilled politician knew the art of agitation and on several occasions dodged the police and intelligence agencies and led the protest rallies.

In her last meeting with ZAB in the death cell on the night of April 3, 1979, she reportedly kept taking notes like a student from a teacher. While Begum Bhutto kept crying throughout, BB knew it was a moment which would never come again, a moment to take final guidance from her political mentor. One of the advices she got from him in that meeting was about whom to trust and whom not to trust in the PPP.

She surprised many when she married Asif Ali Zardari in 1987. “In our culture marriage at the right time is very important,” she once said. A truly awaami leader, a grand reception to celebrate her wedding was arranged in Lyari.

She gave birth to her eldest son Bilawal at a time of struggle. Even the birth of two daughters did not slow down her political journey despite threats.

She was undoubtedly a courageous leader who led from the front. On October 18, 2007, because of death threats, she could have postponed the rally, but she decided to go ahead. Even after the suicide blast in which 150 PPP workers were killed, she did not sit back at Bilawal House, but on the very next day visited the injured workers.

On that fateful day, December 27, 2007, she could have addressed the public meeting in Liaquat Bagh via video link but faced the threats. This kind of courage is rarely seen. Her assailants and conspirators knew well about her courage. They thus planned the successful attack and killed her.

She committed many mistakes during her two brief tenures and her governance qualities remain controversial. But it is also an admitted fact that during her tenures, the establishment conspired several times to dislodge her government.

Yet, despite her mistakes, BB has left an indelible mark on Pakistani politics. Her bravery and sacrifices for democracy cannot be forgotten. She has left a gap that may never be filled.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Adnan Waqar
    Jun 21, 2013 - 10:20AM

    3 years back I was in Oxford for a sustainability project for my bank. I met people from time to time that were interested in where I came from, as soon as I mentioned Pakistan, the first person to come in their mind was Benazir Bhutto and then Imran Khan. At these moments I felt proud of the fact that there were individuals in my country who had given a good name to Pakistan abroad and were rememebered in good words.

    I was a big fan of Benazir when she came to power in 1988 however her political period was very volatile with accusations of corruption and target killings which changed my mind about her as a politician but not as an individul. In my personal view countries like Pakistan do not deserve individuals like Benazir. She was a well read, intelligent and visionary leader, great orater and experienced in international relations but unfortunately she was a one man show, there was no single person in her party with similar credentials or the courage to stand up to the powerful establishment. In the late 90’s she had proposed a model for single currency in South Asia similar to the Euro model which were brushed aside by people saying she was an American and RAW agent. Also she was the only one to openly condemn Osama Bin Laden and his activities in Pakistan which was not liked by the people who hid him in Abbotabad.


  • DevilHunterX
    Jun 21, 2013 - 11:25AM

    Making heroes out of nobodies is an age old tradition here in Sindh.


  • Khan
    Jun 21, 2013 - 12:28PM

    She will always be remembered as the co-signatory of NRO, which tells a lot about her commitment to democracy.


  • Rehan
    Jun 21, 2013 - 12:44PM

    @DevilHunterX: Yes, Imran Khan, a nobody, has been made a hero for no reason.
    Benazir is still the face of Pakistan, the most recognizable Pakistani in Pakistan’s history. EVERYONE the world over knows who she was and how courageously she campaigned even in the face of the most serious death threats from the Establishment and the extremists.
    BB is a legend and always will be. And for you to not recognize that, as one of her countrymen, is profoundly, profoundly sad.
    RIP BB. Thank you for your service.


  • ysk
    Jun 21, 2013 - 2:12PM

    Get over it…She was no leader. Signed NRO and got killed…Married the worse person in the country and left us to deal with him…She added no value


  • Hassan
    Jun 21, 2013 - 2:29PM

    Or read the book, songs of blood and sword by Fatima Bhutto.


  • Waqar Rana
    Jun 21, 2013 - 2:34PM

    It used to be a general practice that people would not comment over the dead. Political leaders are however an exception. It is but a habit perhaps ingrained too much in us that we worship people and leaders. The simple test to judge a leader whether he was truly a great person is to see how much difference ( on the better side) he to the lives of the people. Jinnah made this difference to the lives of millions of Indian Muslims and so did M.K. Gandhi for the Indian Hindus. Jinnah after taking care of his sister(s) left everything for charity. The story of our subsequent leaders is too obvious to be mentioned. Jinnah had no Swiss Bank Accounts, no Surray Palace, No houses in London or in New York City.


  • J.P Sharma
    Jun 21, 2013 - 2:36PM

    If only she were alive she would have been the Indira Gandhi of Pakistan and India Pakistan relations would have been the best of all things, but the Military did not approve of this and she had to pay with her life. She was in favor of good relations with India To day even Nawaz sharif advocated the better relations with India but had to relent due to the Military pressure.


  • SNJ
    Jun 21, 2013 - 3:34PM

    A figure larger than life!


  • awais
    Jun 21, 2013 - 3:56PM

    You all can say what ever you want but its a fact that she was an international and a recognized leader representing Pakistan. Get over the NRO thingy- if thats the case than Imran khan supported Musharaf in the referendam also.
    Every one has his goods and bads in their personality. BB was one of her kind. Bold, outspoken and an intelligent lady.


  • DevilHunterX
    Jun 21, 2013 - 6:05PM

    Imran Khan gave us a Cricket World cup. Benazir Ali Zardari gave us Asif Ali Zardari.


  • PK
    Jun 21, 2013 - 7:01PM

    I completely fail to understand the delusions about the Bhutto family that so many in the nation continue to indulge in.

    Together the Bhutto family and associates have ruled Pakistan for approximately a total of 15 years and given nothing but corruption, failed governance, and crushing of political dissent.

    “The year was 1996” – did you care to mention that 1996 was the same year that Benazir’s government was dismissed for large scale extra-judicial killings in Karachi (as per Supreme Court of Pakistan), along with corruption? That between 1993-1996, in her government, she let loose men with murderous mindsets onto ordinary Karachiites to crush political dissent. That it was in her tenure that the city witnessed thousands of state-sponsored murders, tortures, handicaps, charred bodies, and misery for people living in the bulk portions of the city?

    Corruption skyrocketed. Economy continued to decline. Institutions hijacked by her party. Nepotism at its peak. State sponsored operations on common men. So, tell us Mr. Author, how should we remember this lady?


  • Ali S
    Jun 21, 2013 - 8:34PM

    What a piece of unadulterated jiyala-ism this article is. The way she died was tragic, admittedly, but face the truth – apart from the fact that she was a charismatic educated woman, there were very few redeemable qualities about her leadership during her tenure as PM.


  • Saad
    Jun 21, 2013 - 8:40PM

    My thoughts exactly. Stop worshipping an image of a woman that she clearly wasn’t. The Bhutto family has done nothing but brought misery and despair to the nation.


  • Hassan
    Jun 21, 2013 - 8:41PM


    keep posting the negative comments as always. good work


  • Mohammad Naeem
    Jun 21, 2013 - 9:28PM

    She fought for years over years all alone. Her father hanged, Her brothers murdered, her husband jailed, her mother traumatized due to all political tribulations the family faced… but she stood like a rock. its sad to know our countrymen cant learn to respect a brave person like her! People world over know her as a leader more than to know Pakistan as a country. As a nation we should get over it an learn to respect our leaders who fought for us and gave us democracy and freedom after losing their life.


  • Ahmad
    Jun 21, 2013 - 9:46PM



  • Khalq e Khuda
    Jun 22, 2013 - 4:14AM

    RIP Shaheed Rani! You are sorely missed!


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