My mother, on the other hand, came from the new class of urban industrialists whose views were more cosmopolitan than those of the landowning class. While the Bhutto women still lived in purdah, rarely allowed to leave the four walls of their compounds and then completely covered in black burqas, my mother and her sisters went around Karachi without veils and drove their own cars. The daughters of an Iranian busi-nessman, they had gone to college and after the birth of Pakistan, even served as officers in the National Guard, a paramilitary force of women. Such public exposure would have been impossible for the Bhutto women.
After my mother and father married in 195 1, my mother entered purdah with the other Bhutto women, and at first was allowed to leave the compound only once a week to visit her family. But the old ways were getting tiresome to everyone. When my grandmother wanted to leave the family compound in Karachi and there was no driver available, she often asked my mother to drive her. When the family went to AI-Murtaza, my father insisted on staying with my mother in the women’s wing instead of returning to the men’s quarters. And when 70 Clifton was built there were no separate quarters provided for the women, though my grandfather bought a house opposite to meet his male visitors. A new and more enlightened generation was taking root in Pakistan.
In our male-dominated culture, boys had always been favoured over girls and were not only more often given an education, but in extreme instances were given food first while the mother and daughters waited. In our family, however, there was no discrimination at all. If anything, I received the most attention. The oldest of four, I was born in Karachi on June 21, 1953, my skin evidently so rosy that I was immediately nick-named ’Pinkie’. My brother Mir Murtaza was born a year after me, Sanam in 1957 and the baby, Shah Nawaz, in 1958. As the first born, I held a special and sometimes lonely place in the family from the beginning.
I was only four and my father twenty-eight when he was first sent to the United Nations by the President, Iskander Mirza. My father’s subse-quent government posts as Commerce Minister under President Ayub Khan, then as Minister of Energy, Foreign Minister and leader of Pakis-tan’s delegation to the United Nations off and on for seven years, kept him and my mother away from home much of
THE YEARS OF DETENTION
I saw my father as much on the front pages of the newspapers as in person - arguing for Pakistan and other Third World Countries at the United Nations, negotiating financial and technical assistance agreements with the Soviet Union in 1960, returning from forbidden Peking in 1963 with a border treaty peacefully ceding 750 square miles of disputed ter-ritory to Pakistan. My mother usually travelled with him, leaving the children at home with the household staff - and me. ’Look after the other children,’ my parents would charge me. ’You are the oldest.’
I was only eight or so when I was left nominally in charge of the house when my parents were away. MY mother would give me the money for food and household supplies which I hid under my pillow. Though I was just learning my sums at school, every night in her absence I would climb on a stool in the kitchen and pretend to go over the accounts with Babu, our long-time, loyal major-domo. Whether the figures tallied, I have no recollection. Luckily very small sums were involved. At that time, rupees ten, about two dollars, bought food for the whole household.
In our house education was top-priority. Like his father before him, my father wanted to make examples out of us, the next generation of educated and progressive Pakistanis. At three I was sent to Lady Jennings’ nursery school, then at five to one of the top schools in Karachi, the Convent of Jesus and Mary. Instruction at CJM was in English, the language we spoke at home more often than my parents’ native languages of Sindhi or Persian or the national language of Urdu. And though the Irish nuns who taught there divided the older students into houses with inspirational names like ’Discipline’, ’Courtesy’, ’Endeavour’ and ’Service’, they made no effort to convert us to Christianity. The school was too good a source of income for the missionaries who ran it to risk alienating the small numbers of Muslim families rich enough and far-sighted enough to educate their chil-dren.
’I ask only one thing of you, that you do well in your studies,’ my father told us time and again. As we grew older he hired tutors to instruct us in Maths and English in the afternoons after school, and he kept track of our school reports by phone from wherever he was in the world. Luckily I was a good student, for he had great plans for me to be the first woman in the Bhutto family to study abroad.
’You will all pack your suitcases and I will take you to the airport to see you off,’ he started saying to the four of us as early as I can remember. ’Pinkie will leave as a scruffy little kid and come back a beautiful young
lady in a sari. Shah Nawaz will pack so many clothes his suitcase won’t close. We will have to call Babu and ask him to sit on it.’
There was no question in my family that my sister and I would be given the same opportunities in life as my brothers. Nor was there in Islam. We learned at an early age that it was men’s interpretation of our
IMPRISONED IN MY OWN HOME
religion that restricted women’s opportunities, not our religion itself. Islam in fact had been quite progressive towards women from its inception: the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)* had forbidden the killing of female infants common among the Arabs of the time, and called for education for women and their right to inherit long before these privileges were granted to them in the West.
Bibi Khadijah, the first convert to Islam, was a widow who ran her own business, employed the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) when he was a young boy and later married him. Umm e-Umara fought alongside the men in the Muslims’ early battles against their enemies, her powerful sword-arm saving the life of the Prophet (PBUH). Chand Bibi, the female ruler of the South Indian State of Ahmadnagar, defeated the Mogul Em-peror Akbar and forced hifri to enter into a peace treaty with her. Noor-Jehan, the wife of Emperor Jehangir and the virtual ruler of India, was famous for her skill in the held of administration. Muslim history was full of women who had taken a public role and performed every bit as suc-cessfully as men. Nothing if’ Islam discouraged them, or me, from pursuing that course. ’I have found a woman ruling over them. And she has been given abundance of all things and hers is a mighty throne,’ reads the surah of the Ant in the Holy Qutan. ’To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn,’ reads the Women surah.
Every afternoon we read these and other surahs from our Holy Book with the maulvi who came to the house after our academic tutoring to give us religious instruction Reading the Holy Quran in Arabic and under-standing its lessons was the most important subject of all. We spent hours struggling over the difficult Arabic, whose alphabet was similar to the one we used in Urdu, but vvhich had totally different grammar and mean-ings, like the differences between English and French.
’Paradise lies at the feet of the mother,’ our maulvi taught us during those afternoons, citing the Quranic injunction always to be kind to one’s parents and to obey them Not surprisingly, it was an instruction my mother would often use to keep us in line. The maulvi taught us too, that our actions on earth would determine our destiny in the afterlife. ’You will have to cross above a valley
of fire and the bridge will be a hair. Do you know how thin a hair i5T he said with great drama. ’Those who have committed sin will fall into the fire of hell and burn, whereas those who have been good will cross into Paradise where milk and honey flow like water.’
It was my mother, however, who taught me the rituals of prayer. She took her faith very seriously. No matter where she
was in the world, or what she was doing, she prostrated herself five times a day in prayer. When I was nine years old she began to include me, slipping into my
Peace Be Upon Him.
THE YEARS OF DETENTION
bedroom to lead me in the morning prayer. Together we would perform the wuzoo, the washing of our hands, feet and faces so that we would be pure before God, then prostrate ourselves facing west towards Mecca.
My mother was a Shiite Muslim, as are most Iranians, while the rest of the family was Sunni. But that was never a problem. Shiites and Sunnis had lived side by side and intermarried for over a thousand years and our differences were far fewer than our similarities. What was fundamental was that all Muslims, regardless of their sects, surrender to the will of God, and believe that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his last Prophet. That is the Quranic definition of a Muslim and, in our family, what mattered most.
During muharram, the month commemorating the massacre of the Pro-phet’s grandson Imam Hussein at Karbala in Iraq, I would sometimes dress all in black and go with my mother to join other women in the Shiite rituals. ’Follow closely,’ Mummy would say to me, for the Shiite ceremonies were more elaborate than those of the Sunnis. I never took my eyes off the speaker who dramatically recaptured the tragedy that befell Imam Hussein and his small band of followers at Karbala, where they were ambushed and brutally slaughtered by the troops of the usurper Yazid. No one was spared, not even the little children who fell under Yazid’s knives. Imam Hussein was beheaded, and his sister Zeinab was made to walk bareheaded to Yazid’s court where she watched the tyrant play with the head of her brother. But instead of allowing her spirit to be broken, Bibi Zeinab became filled with resolve, as did the other followers of Imam Hussein. Their descendants, known today as the Shiites, never let themselves forget the tragedy at Karbala.
’Hear the little baby cry for water,’ the speaker called out, her voice filled with emotion. ’Feel the heart of the mother, hearing the cry of her child. Look at the handsome man on his horse, going for the water. He bends by the river. We see him bending. Look! Look! Men are attacking them with
swords . . .’ As she spoke some of the women performed the matam, striking their chests in anguish. The vivid recounting of the story was very moving, and I often cried.
My father was determined to bring his country - and his children - into the twentieth century. ’Will the children marry into the family?’ I over-heard my mother ask my father one day. I held my breath for his answer. ’I don’t want the boys to marry their cousins and leave them behind our compound walls any more than I want my daughters buried alive behind some other relative’s compound walls,’ he said to my great relief. ’Let them finish their education first. Then they can decide what to do with their lives.’
IMPRISONED IN MY OWN HOME
His reaction was just as welcome the day my mother covered me in a burqa for the first time. We had been on the train from Karachi to Larkana when my mother took the black, gauzy cloth out of her bag and draped it over me. ’You are no longer a child,’ she told me with a tinge of regret. As she performed this age-old rite of passage for the daughters of con-servative land-owning families, I passed from childhood into the world of the adult. But what a disappointing world it turned out to be. The colours of the sky, the grass, the flowers were gone, muted and greyish. Every-thing was blurred by the pattern over my eyes. As I got off the train, the fabric which covered me from head to toe made it difficult to walk. Shut off from whatever breeze there might be, the sweat began to pour down my face.
’Pinkie wore her burqa for the first time today,’ my mother told my father when we reached Al-Murtaza. There was a long pause. ’She doesn’t need to wear it,’ my father finally said. ’The Prophet himself said that the best veil is the veil behind the eyes. Let her be judged by her character and her mind, not by her clothing.’ And I became the first Bhutto woman to be released from a life spent in perpetual twilight.
My father always encouraged me to feel part of the greater world, though sometimes his lessons went over my head. I was travelling with him in the Foreign Minister’s private railway carriage in the autumn of 1963 when he shook me awake. ’This is no time to sleep,’ he said urgently. ’There has been a great tragedy. The young President of the United States has been shot.’ Though I was only ten and had heard only vaguely of the US president, he made me stay by his side while he received the latest bulletins on the condition of President John F. Kennedy, a man whom he’d met several times at the White House and whom he admired for his liberal social views.
Occasionally, he took my brothers, sister and me to
meet the foreign delegations visiting Pakistan. When he told us one day that we were to meet ’some important men from China’, I was very excited. My father had often spoken highly of the Chinese Revolution and its leader Mao Tse Tung who had led his army through the mountains and deserts to throw out the old order. I was sure one of the men was going to be Mao, whose cap, a personal gift from the Chinese revolutionary, was hung up in my father’s dressing room. For once I didn’t mind being dressed up in the outfits my father brought back every year from Saks Fifth Avenue in New York where the saleslady kept our measurements. But I was quite disappointed when the ’important Chinese men’ did not include Mao, but the Premier of China, Chou En-lai, and two of his Ministers, Chen-Yi, and Liu-Shao Chi who would subsequently die in jail during the Cultural Revolu-tion.
Chou En-lai wasn’t the only ’important guest’ in Karachi who didn’t
THE YEARS OF DETENTION
match up to my expectations. But we didn’t actually meet this one. We knew a VIP must be corning to dinner because the outside of the house was covered with strings of lights. When a limousine drove through the gates, we peered from the upstairs window to see President Ayub Khan and an American gentleman entering 70 Clifton. I recognised the American immediately from the films we had seen in town. ’Did you enjoy meeting Bob Hope?’ I nonchalantly asked my mother the next morning. ’Who?’ my mother asked. ’Bob Hope,’ I said. ’You silly,’ she said to me. ’That was the Vice President of the United States, Hubert Humphrey.’ Later I found out that Hubert Humphrey was trying to elicit Pakistan’s support for America in Vietnam in the mild form of supplying badminton rackets for the US troops. But my father refused even that gesture, being morally opposed to any foreign involvement in Vietnam’s civil war.
When I was ten and Sanam seven, we were sent north to boarding school in the pine-covered former British hill station of Murree. Our gover-ness had given very short notice and was returning to England. Boarding school seemed the quick solution and my father was in favour of it, thinking the experience would toughen us up. For the first time I had to make my own bed, polish my shoes, carry water for bathing and tooth-brushing back and forth from the water taps in the corridors. ’Treat my children like the others,’ my father had told the nuns. And they certainly did, laying the brush on Sunny and me for any infringement of the strict rules.
At Murree my father continued our political education by mail. Shortly after he returned from the Summit of Non-Aligned Countries
in Jakarta, he wrote us a long letter elaborating on the self-interest of the Super-powers in the United Nations and the resulting neglect of Third World countries. One of the nuns sat Sanam and me down on a bench in the school garden and read the letter to us in its entirety, though we under-stood little of its content.
During our second and last year at Murree, Sanam and I learned some political lessons at first hand. On September 6, 1965, India and Pakistan went to war over Kashmir. While my father flew off to the United Nations to argue for the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir and against the aggression of India, the nuns at the Convent of Jesus and Mary prepared their students for the possibility of an Indian invasion. The road to Kashmir ran right through Murree, a clear invitation most people thought, for Indian troops to use it to march into Pakistan.
Where once we had played ’jacks’ with goat bones after dinner, or read Enid Blyton books, now suddenly we had air raid practices and blackouts. The nuns made older girls responsible for getting their younger sisters into the shelters, and I made Sunny tie her slippers to her feet at night so she wouldn’t lose time in looking for them. Many of our schoolmates
IMPRISONED IN MY OWN HOME
were daughters of prominent government officials or army officers, and with excitement we gave each other false names and practised them in case we fell into the hands of our enemies. In the flush of adolescence, we were all quite dramatic about the possibility of being kidnapped and car-ried off into the hills. But for the seventeen days of the war, the threat of invasion was quite real and frightening.
The United States was making the situation in Pakistan even more difficult. Alarmed to find that the arms they had provided Pakistan against a Communist threat were being used instead against India, the Johnson administration imposed an arms embargo on the entire sub-continent. But India was also getting arms from the Soviet Union, and Pakistan wasn’t. Despite this handicap, our soldiers fought successfully right up to the time of the cease-fire called by the United Nations on September 23. The country felt triumphant. Not only had we repulsed the Indian attack, but we had taken more of their territory than they had of ours.
Our elation was short-lived. During the peace negotiations held in the southern Russian city of Tashkent, President Ayub Khan lost everything we had gained on the battlefield. Under the Tashkent Agreement, both countries agreed to pull their troops back to their pre-war positions. My father was disgusted, and
tendered his resignation as Foreign Minister. When the Indian Foreign Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died of a heart attack the day after the agreement was signed, my father acidly remarked that he must have died from happiness.
As the terms of the settlement were disclosed to the people, massive demonstrations erupted in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, amidst reports of police brutality. Still, the demonstrations continued. And the lives of the Bhuttos were changed forever.
In June 1966, Ayub finally accepted my father’s resignation. The differences between Ayub and my father were now in the open and the groundswell of popular support for my father as a political leader soared. On our last ride home to Larkana in the Foreign Minister’s private railway carriage, the crowds were frenzied, running alongside the train, hurling themselves towards the handrails to try and ride along with us. ’Fakhr-e-Asia-Zindabad! Long Live the Pride of Asia!’ the crowd roared, climbing on top of the train and running along the tops of buildings by the track. ’Bhutto Zindabad! Long live Bhutto!’
I was terrified in Lahore where my father left the train to have a luncheon meeting with the Governor of Punjab. ’There is blood on Mr Bhutto’s shirt,’ someone cried out. My heart froze until I saw my father return through the crowds, smiling and waving. His shirt was tom and he had a small scratch, but nothing more. His tie was gone, as well. I heard later that it was auctioned for thousands of rupees. When he got back into the Foreign Minister’s carriage, the crowd started rocking the train, the momentum growing until I thought we would come off the rails.
THE YEARS OF DETENTION
Safely back at home, the talk turned to politics even more. Terms such as ’cold war’ and ’arms embargo’ had already become part of our dimly understood vocabulary as small children. We were as familiar with hearing the results of roundtable conferences and summit meetings as other children were with World ’Cup Cricket scores. But after my father broke with Ayub Khan in 1966, the words ’civil liberties’ and ’democracy’ were the ones that came up most, words which were mythical to most Pakistanis, who had only experienced restricted political participation under Ayub. Until my father formed his own political party in 1967, the Pakistan People’s Party.
Roti. Kapra. Makan. Bread. Clothing. Shelter. These simple promises became the rallying cry for the Pakistan People’s Party, fundamentals which the millions of poor in Pakistan did not have. Whereas all Muslims prostrated themselves before Allah, the poor in our country still prostrated themselves before
the rich. ’Stand up! Do not grovel before others! You are human beings and have rights!’ my father exhorted the crowds in the most remote and forlorn villages of Pakistan where no politician had travelled before. ’Call for democracy, where the vote of the poorest carries the same weight as the vote of the richest.’
Who is Bhutto? What is Bhutto? Why do people say that everyone is coming to hear him when only Conga drivers, rickshaw drivers and rehri drivers are at his public meetings, Ayub Khan’s Governor questioned in the government-controlled press. As an idealist, I was shocked. Though we were living sheltered lives and attending privileged schools, I had seen people without shoes, without shirts, young girls with matted hair and thin babies. Did the poor not even count as people? We knew from our Quranic studies that everyone in Islam was equal in the eyes of God. We had also been taught by our parents to treat everyone with respect and not to allow anyone to prostrate himself before us to touch our feet, or to back out of our presence.
’There is no law of God that we here in Pakistan alone should be poor,’ my father continued to argue to the masses of poor and increasingly, to the groups of women standing shyly on the edges of the crowds. ’Our country is rich. It has many resources. Why then should there be poverty, hunger and disease?’ It was a question people could readily understand. Ayub’s promised economic restructuring of Pakistan’s economy had failed while his family and a handful of others had become rich. In the eleven years of Ayub’s rule, a group known familiarly as Pakistan’s ’Twenty-Two Families’ had established practically every bank, insurance company and major industry in Pakistan. The outrage drew hundreds, then thousands of people to hear my father’s call for social and economic reform.
The first floor of our house at 70 Clifton, Karachi, began to serve as a branch office of the PPP. At eleven and fourteen my sister and I enthusiasti-
IMPRISONED IN MY OWN HOME
cally paid the four anna dues to join the party so that we, too, could help our major-domo Babu sign up the increasing numbers of people who lined up at the gates every day. But in the midst of our normal recountings of our days - who had won at netball or cricket - we also began to hear my father’s accounts of the bribes offered him by the Ayub regime. ’You are young, with your whole life ahead of you. Let Ayub have his turn and later you will have yours. Work with us, rather than against us and we will make things very ease for you,’ Ayub and his colleagues were telling my father, exactly the same words I would hear
later from the envoys of another dictator. When Ayub’s offers of bribery failed to silence my father, death threats began.
The world of violence was unknown to me then. There was the world of politics in which my father lived, and there was the world of the children: schools and games, laughter at the beach. But the two worlds collided when news of armed attacks against my father began to come in. Ayub supporters fired on him at Rahimyarkhan, Sanghar and other stops on his tour to popularise the PPP. Thankfully, the assassins missed. At Sanghar, my father’s life had been saved by his supporters, who threw themselves over him and suffered injuries from the bullets themselves.