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Pakistan Politics: Were there two Benazir Bhuttos?


There is very little that I know about Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan except for the obvious fact that the media loved to showcase her glossy pictures, put the political spotlight on her and the intellectuals as well as the masses enjoyed speculating about her.

While reading William Dalrymple’s book titled The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters, the last chapter explores a fascinating account on Benazir Bhutto who was Prime Minister of Pakistan at the time the author had interviewed her.

Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto in Politics: Did we know her at all?

William Dalrymple’s account of meeting Benazir Bhutto caught my interest and l thought I’d write about it here. For example, he talks about how Benazir had English governesses during her childhood due to which she is fluent in English but struggles to speak Urdu and Sindhi, something she was criticized for in Pakistan.

Dalrymple’s  narrative about Benazir Bhutto suggests that she had two sides to her personality that confused people around her. For instance, the relationship she had with her estranged mother was almost ridiculous. They had had an open political war of sorts particularly because her mother favored Murtaz, who is Benazir’s brother, as the political heir.

However, every trip that Benazir made to her son was given a dramatic ‘daughter unites with mother’ type of a drama. No one was allowed to even hint that there were obvious politican differences between the two.

Benazir Bhutto who read Mills and Boons & believed in fortune tellers
While Benazir Bhutto was insecure and politically ambitious, there was a child-like vulnerability to her, as though a part of her had never grown up. It fascinated me because I strongly believe that each and every one of us has a hidden child within us that dictates and asserts its presence in us most strongly when we go through turbulent times. For instance, her brother tells William Dalrymple that Benazir sought out fortune tellers wherever she went and they were smuggled to her room so that she could ask them questions about her political future. She trusted these predictions almost blindly. 

Aptly put by William Dalrymple, “Those who know her say that there have always been two quite distinct Benazir Bhuttos. The emotional socialite from the wealthy background is generally the Benazir remembered by her Oxford friends…this Benazir adores royal biographies, slushy romances…The other Benazir is a very different kettle of fish. She fought hard for seven long years until Zia’s death and the elections made her, at the age of 35, the first woman to head a Muslim state since Razziya Sultana, Queen of Delhi in the early 13th century. This Ms Bhutto, Thatcher-like, is today renowned throughout Islamabad for chairing twelve hour cabinet meetings and for surviving on four hours sleep. This Benazir Bhutto is, in other words, fearless- sometimes heroically so – and hard as nails.”

Isn’t this fascinating? Doesn’t it ring a bell of sorts? For in some way or the other, each of us carry a hidden child within us that maniests when we least experct or want it to. The childhood is never forgotten, it lies within us waiting to be relived and sometimes replicated.

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