Since Benazir and I are both half-Persians I always found her life to be interesting (I could never get enough of her quip that she knew enough Persian to understand the family gossip). I was randomly googling her when I came across this startling excerpt. I don’t know much about this incident?
You surely know that one of the most psychologically formative experiences for the young Benazir was growing up in a house where her father (Zulfikar) gave his Persian mistress pride of place in the home. Benazir would come to breakfast with her father and mistress at the table while her mother ate from a tray quietly and alone in her bedroom in another wing of the house. When one tries to understand how Benazir came to have her husband kill her brother, it helps to know what a strange childhood she had. Salman Rushdie’s thinly-veiled roman a clef about the Bhuttos and Zia, Shame, captures some of this atmosphere quite well.
A few remarkable facts about Benazir were:
(1) Her Height; she would tower over men. She was the tallest woman in the room and even when she gained weight over the last years of her life, she was always graceful.
(2) Her ability to code-switch: Benazir went to the best schools in the West (Oxford & Harvard) and excelled in that milieu. She was the President of the Oxford Union, she introduced Theresa May to her future husband and in general managed to stay above the fray (the fact that no one knows if she had antics is a credit to both her wiliness and conservatism). Furthermore she only learnt Urdu in the 80’s and could only read it Romanised. I just listened to a speech of hers in Sindhi and I had to cringe; it’s something I wouldn’t dare show my in-laws (Sindhi Hindus consider Benazir as the only Muslim Sindhi just as Pathans consider Raj Kapoor as the only Hindu Pashtun). However Benazir was still able to speak directly to the people of Pakistan in a way no politician in the modern era has been able to.
(3) Eclipsing her Father; Benazir as an icon and status eclipsed her father. It’s interesting to see Indira eclipsed hers; Jawaharlal Nehru was a formative nation-builder however Indira indisputably built the dynasty. However Bilawal’s political legitimacy rests upon him being the son of Benazir rather than the grandchild of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (otherwise Fatima Bhutto would have a clear run for it). The Bhuttos operated primogeniture when there was a male heir (Murtaza) and BB was the open favourite of her father.
(4) She managed to charm India & the West. She projected Pakistan’s soft-power status to traditionally hostile territory and as is typical of a bi-cultural child was also able to appease the domestic audience (obviously not entirely considering her tragic assassination).
(5). She prefigured the iconic rise of Pakistani women. Malala, Nergis Mavalwala and so many other Pakistani woman who are famous on the world stage (Nergis M is an incidental Pakistani, being Parsi and abroad for all of her adult life) owe some tiny thanks for Benazir who blazed a trail on the global stage. If Fatima Jinnah had won the 1966 election there might have still been an East Pakistan, the first female world leader being Pakistan and a host of other “first'” but that was to be Benazir’s destiny. Pakistani women can have her as an inspiration; BB was indeed a product of privilege (as was Indira) but like Indira somehow managed to channel those energies to become indelibly linked with her country.
I’m sure there are more but I’ll let commentators fill it in.