Benazir bhutto hamish hamilton london



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63

THE YEARS OF DETENTION


What tricks life plays on us. The first speech I was asked to give in the main debating chamber under the busts of such former British statesmen as Gladstone and Macmillan concerned the constitutional, not armed, re-moval of an elected head of state. ’That this house would impeach Nixon’ was the motion which I was asked by the Union’s president to propose.

’It is a paradox that a man who ran for the Presidency on the issue of law and order did his best to break the law and cause disorder in the length and breadth of his country,’ I began my argument. ’But then Ameri-can history is replete with paradoxes. Let me tell you the story of George Washington and his father. When young George’s father found somebody had cut down his cherry tree, he was absolutely furious and wanted to know who did it. Bravely, young George stepped forward

and said, ”Father, I cannot tell a lie. I did it.” Well, Americans began with a President who couldn’t tell a lie and now they have one who can’t tell the truth.’

With all the easy conviction of a twenty-year-old, I outlined the charges of impeachable offences against the American President, including his violat-ion of the war-making powers of Congress in Vietnam and the secret bombings of Cambodia, his antedating the gift of his vice-presidential papers so as to claim a tax deduction, and his alleged involvement with the Watergate cover-up and the mysterious erasure of his secretary’s tapes.

’Make no mistake, my friends,’ I concluded. ’These charges are serious. Nixon has consistently considered himself above the law, able to do as he pleases. The last English sovereign to do so lost his head. We are propos-ing a less drastic but no less effective surgery. It is said that Nixon once went to see a psychiatrist who told him: ”You’re not paranoid, Mr Presi-dent. You really are hated.” Today Nixon is not only hated, but he has lost all credibility. By losing credibility with his people, Nixon has lost his moral authority to lead the American nation. This is the tragedy of Nixon and America.’

Codes of law. Credibility. Moral authority. All these democratic princi-ples which I took for granted during my years in the West, would be lost in Pakistan. The motion to impeach President Nixon was carried by a vote of 345 to 2 in the Oxford Union. Guns, not votes, would overthrow my father in Pakistan.


But Pakistan seemed far away when I was at Oxford. Just as my father had predicted, the light, happy years I spent there became the best years of my life. Friends took me punting on the Cherwell River, and for picnics on the shaded greens of Blenheim Palace near Woodstock. Other weekends we drove in the yellow MGS convertible my father had given me as a graduation present from Radcliffe to watch Shakespeare at Stratford-on-
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THE DREAMING SPIRES OF OXFORD
Avon, or to London where I satisfied my craving for American peppermint-stick ice cream at the newly opened branch of Baskin-Robbins. During ’eights week’, when rowing crews from each college raced each other up the river, we all joined the garden parties held at the college boathouses, the men dressed in boaters and blazers, the women in hats and long flowered dresses. We took exams ’subfusc’, wearing the tradi-tional white shirts, black skirts and black sleeveless gowns which prompted even non-students in Oxford to call out ’Good Luck!’ as we ran by.

Unlike Harvard where there were few foreign students - only four in my class at Radcliffe including an English girl whose

definition as ’foreign struck me as rather odd - there were many more up at Oxford. Imran Khan, the Pakistani cricketer was there as was Bahram Dehqani-Tafti, whose father was Iranian. Bahram, who was killed in May 1980, soon after the revolution in Iran, used to entertain us for hours at the piano, his repertoire ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan and Scott Joplin to Faure’s Requiem. But, though Asians were accepted at Oxford as rather exotic individuals who did not fit into any particular class or category, not all the British felt the same way.

In February 1974 I flew home to Pakistan to join my family at the Islamic Summit my father was convening in Lahore. Practically every Muslim monarch, president, prime minister and foreign minister was there, representing thirty-eight nations, states, emirates and kingdoms. After my father’s call to the Summit members to extend diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh, Mujib ur-Rahman came too, flown in on President Houari Boumediene’s private plane. The Summit was a great success for my father - and for Pakistan. By extending the olive branch to Mujib, my father paved the way for the peaceful return of the Pakistani prisoners-of-war whom the Bengali leader was threatening with war trials.

I returned to England enthused with a sense of Asian identity - and promptly encountered my first ease of racism.

’Where are you planning to stay in England?’ the immigration officer asked me, studying my passport.

’Oxford,’ l replied politely. ’I’m a student there.’

’Oxford?’ he said sarcastically, raising his eyebrows. Fighting irritation, I produced my student identification.

’Bhutto. Miss Benazir Bhutto. Karachi, Pakistan,’ he said in a contempt-uous tone. ’Where is your police card?’

’Right here,’ I replied, producing the up-to-date police card all foreigners were required to carry in England.

’And how do you plan to pay your bills at Oxford?’ he said with condescension. I resisted quipping that I had brought pencils and a tin cup with me. ’My parents send funds to my bank account,’ I said, showing him my bank book.
65

THE YEARS OF DETENTION


Still the nasty little official kept me standing there, going over my papers time and again, looking up my name which he obviously didn’t recognise in a big, fat book.

’How can a Paki have enough money for an Oxford education?’ he finally said, pushing my documents back to me.

I was furious as I turned on my heel and strode out of the airport. If that was how immigration officials were going to treat the daughter of the Prime Minister, how were they going to treat other Pakistanis who were not as fluent in English as I was or who were not as aggressive?

Long before

I had gone to Oxford, my father had warned me about the prejudice I might find in the West. He had encountered it himself as a student when a hotel clerk in San Diego, California, denied him a room, not because he was a Pakistani, but because his dark skin made him look like a Mexican.

He warned me again of the perils of racism when my letters from Oxford and my references at home became as much Western as Eastern. He was worried, I suppose, that I might succumb to the Siren Song of the West and not return to Pakistan. ’They (the Westerners) know in their heart of hearts that as a student you are not going to remain permanently in their country,’ he wrote to me. ’They accept you because they do not think of you as an immigrant, as a coloured liability. Their attitude changes completely once they come to know that you are one more Pakistani or one more Asian who has returned to their great country for refuge. They will begin to look down at you. They will think it unfair that you should compete with them for any avenue of success.’

His warnings really weren’t necessary because I never really con-templated not returning to Pakistan. My heart was there. My heritage and culture were there. So was my future, I hoped, in the diplomatic corps. I was already getting diplomatic experience of sorts, just by being my father’s daughter.

During a 1973 State Visit to the United States where my father set in motion the lifting of the arms embargo against Pakistan, I was seated next to Henry Kissinger at a formal White House dinner. All I could think of through the soup course was the irreverent Harvard Lampoon centrefold of the cigar-smoking Secretary of State lying on a panda-skin rug, a treasured issue I had immediately sent to my sister and Samiya in Pakistan. To distract myself during the fish course I chatted to him about elitism at Harvard and other non-controversial subjects. I was quite bewildered there-fore the next night when Kissinger collared my father at another dinner to announce: ’Mr Prime Minister, your daughter is even more intimidating than you are.’ My father had roared with laughter, taking the quip as a compliment. I’m still not sure . . .

Nuclear power was the subject in France where my father attended the
66
’ THE DREAMING SPIRES OF OXFORD
Funeral of Georges Pompidou in 1974. He had reached an informal nuclear assistance agreement with Pompidou the year before to provide Pakistan with a reprocessing plant. What he didn’t know was whether Pompidou’s successor would continue the negotiations. ’Who do you think the next President will be?’ my father asked me over dinner with friends at Maxim’s.

’Giscard d’Estaing,’ I replied, basing my projection on the excellent course in French politics I was taking under my tutor Peter Pulsar at Christ Church. Luckily I was right, for President d’Estaing did indeed agree to honour the agreement, in spite of great pressure from Henry Kissinger and the United States.

My presidential projections had not been so astute three years before in China, where my father had sent my brothers, sister and me to observe a communist state. In a courtesy meeting with Chou En-lai, the Chinese Premier had asked me who I thought the next president of the United States would be. ’George McGovern,’ I had replied firmly, repeating my choice again even after Chou said his American sources had pinpointed Richard Nixon. As a loyal anti-war activist at Harvard and resident of the liberal Northeast, I couldn’t conceive of any other choice but McGovern. ’Write me your impressions when you return to America,’ Chou En-lai asked me. I had. McGovern, I insisted again. So much for my political shrewdness as a student.

My own - and more successful - presidential elections were occupying me in the autumn of 1976 when I returned to Oxford for a one-year post-graduate course. Although I was anxious to leave the world of aca-demia for that of diplomacy, my father felt strongly that his children, by virtue of being the Prime Minister’s children, had to be doubly qualified for any job so that no one could accuse him - or us - of favouritism.

My brother Mir was beginning his first year at Oxford, and I looked forward to spending more time with him. But the real bonus to me of another year at Oxford was the chance to stand for the presidency of the Oxford Union. Over the years I had served on the Union’s Standing Committee and as Treasurer, but I had been defeated in my first attempt at the presidency. This time I won. My victory in December of 1976 upset what was really an ’old boy’s club’, where only ten years before women had been restricted to the upstairs gallery and where the member-ship ratio still ran at seven men to one woman, and surprised everyone, even my father.

’In an election one side has to win and the other has to lose,’ he had written to me shortly before the 1976 presidential election in America, bracing me for the same loss Gerald Ford was about to suffer at the hands of Jimmy Carter. ’You have to do your best but the result must be accepted in good grace.’ A month later the message from my father was very


different. ’OVERJOYED AT YOUR ELECTION AS PRESIDENT OF THE OXFORD UNION,’
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THE YEARS OF DETENTION


his cable read. ’YOU HAVE DONE SPLENDIDLY. OUR HEARTWARMING CON-

GRATULATIONS ON YOUR GREAT SUCCESS, PAPA.’

My three-month term as President was to begin in January 1977. As Mir and I flew home to Pakistan for the Michaelmas break, there wasn’t a cloud on my horizon.
’Come and meet Zia ul-Haq,’ one of my father’s aides said to me on the patio of Al-Murtaza during my father’s annual birthday party a few days later. And for the first and only time I came face to face with the man who six months later would overthrow my father and subsequently send him to his death.

Having heard of the difficulty in filling the position, I was curious to meet my father’s Army Chief-of-Staff designate. Six other Generals had been passed over for the top spot, all of them found by army intelligence sources to have some sort of character flaw: drinking, adultery, doubtful loyalty. General Zia was not without flaws either. He was rumoured to have links to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist religious organisation which opposed the PPP and wanted the country to be governed by religious, rather than secular leaders. He was also said to be a petty thief by one of my father’s ambassadors.

But Zia also had a great deal in his favour. Unlike many of our army officers, Zia had been untarnished by the carnage in East Pakistan, because he had been out of the country during the civil war. And he was reported to be respected among the army. No other criterion was more important to my father in the lengthy selection process that he found increasingly ex-asperating. When the different army agencies all wrote favourable reports about Zia, my father chose him. ’The civilian government must not seem to be imposing their will on the military. Zia may not be among the most senior officers, but the men in the army seem to like him,’ my father said with relief. And so at Al-Murtaza on January 5, 1977, I came face to face with the man who would so drastically change all our lives.

I remember being startled when I saw him. Unlike the childish image I carried of a soldier as tall and rugged with James Bond nerves of steel, the General standing in front of me was a short, nervous, ineffectual-looking man whose pomaded hair was parted in the middle and lacquered to his head. He looked more like an English cartoon villain than an inspiring military leader. And he seemed so obsequious, telling me over and over again how honoured he was to meet the daughter of such a great man as Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Certainly my father could have found a more com-manding Chief-of-Staff, I thought to myself. But I said nothing to my father.

’I’m going to call for additional land reforms,’ my father confided in me
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THE DREAMING SPIRES OF OXFORD

as we walked in the garden of Al-Murtaza on the afternoon of his birthday. ’And I’m also going to call for elections in March. The Constitution doesn’t require elections until August, but I see no need to-wait. The democratic institutions we have installed under the Constitution are in place and the parliament and provincial governments are functioning. With a mandate now from the people, we can move on more easily to the second phase of implementation, expanding the industrial base of the country, modernising agriculture by sinking new tube wells, increasing seed distribution and fertiliser production . . . .’ The ideas flowed out of him as we walked, his vision of a modem and competitive Pakistan coming nearer and nearer.

Many of his reforms had already begun. The PPP had delivered on its campaign promises to the poor, beginning the redistribution of the land held by the feudal few. My father had also begun his socialist economic policies, nationalising many of the industries monopolised by Pakistan’s ’Twenty-Two Families’ to channel the profits back into the country. His government had fixed minimum wages for those who had often worked for little or no compensation from the tribal chiefs and industry owners, and encouraged the workers to form unions, giving them a voice in man-agement and a stake in their futures for the first time in Pakistan’s history.

Electricity had been fed to many villages in the rural areas. Literacy programmes for men and women were established and new schools built for the poor. Parks and gardens were sprouting in the dust of the cities, and new, metal roads were being built to link the provinces where before there had only been dirt tracks. In a pact with the Chinese, a new highway was being carved out of the Hindu Kush which would run all the way to the border of China. My father was determined to bring modern prosperity to the people of Pakistan.

’My donkey keeps slipping on this new road,’ one farmer complained to my father in Baluchistan. ’I will show you a better kind of donkey that will get your vegetables to market three times as fast,’ my father assured him. The next week he sent the farmer a jeep.

There was opposition to my father, of course. He was certainly not a favourite of the industrialists whose private fiefdoms he had nationalised. Nor of the landowners whose holdings he had shared among the peasants who had been working the land for as many as eleven generations and who were only allowed to keep half the crop they had raised. The mem-bers of the Jamaat-e-Islami, many of whom were small shop-keepers, raised their voices against my father’s social reforms, especially

the government’s outspoken support for women who worked outside the home and the new laws forbidding sexual discrimination. My father’s policy of consolida-tion antagonised those with vested interests in separatism: the seces-sionists in Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier who wanted independ-ence; the tribal chiefs who wanted to continue imposing their own rule, not the central government’s, on their hundreds of thousands of followers.
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THE YEARS OF DETENTION


In fact, all the same factions which had existed at the birth of Pakistan in 1947 still existed in 1977: the regionalists against the central govern-ment, the capitalists against the socialists, the feudalists and sardars against the educated and enlightened, the inhabitants of the poorer provinces against the rich elite of the Punjab, the fundamentalists against those who favoured modernisation. And over all these lay the mighty shadow of the Army, the single most organised and smoothly functioning institution in fractious Pakistan.

Some Western political analysts and Pakistani military men argued that democracy was impossible for such a divergent and unsettled population where the literacy rate and annual income were so low. Many in Pakistan couldn’t even talk to each other, as each region had its own language and customs. Such a population could only be kept in line by military rule, the argument went. But my father had disproved that theory by successfully establishing a democratic government where elections, not military might, determined who led the country. As 1977 began, there was no thought in anyone’s mind that his government wouldn’t be re-elected in March.


While my father prepared for the elections in Pakistan, I returned to Oxford to organise debates at the Union. ’That capitalism will triumph’ was the subject of my first debate as President, which I invited Tariq Ali, an ex-President of the Union and a highly respected and articulate Pakis-tani leftist, to oppose. ’That the West can no longer live at the expense of the Third World’ was another debate designed to focus attention on the North-South divide.

While the political opposition in Pakistan was banding together against the PPP in a nine-party coalition of regionalists, religious fundamentalists and industrialists called the Pakistan National Alliance, I was arranging the fifth debate, traditionally a funny one at the Oxford Union, whose motion was ’That this house would rather rock than roll’. Rock music resounded through the venerable debating hall for the first time ever, while two friends from Magdalen College sang a very loud duet about the Union to the tune of

’Jesus Christ Superstar’, then carried me out of the hall on their shoulders.

While I was busy painting the President’s office at the Oxford Union powder-blue and having the debate programmes printed in green and white (the colours of the Pakistani flag), in Pakistan Asghar Khan, a leader of the PNA and the former Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force, was an-nouncing that the opposition coalition would not accept the March elec-tion results, claiming they would be rigged. I paid little attention to that charge, knowing that my father was following the electoral procedures found in all democratic countries and had set up an independent Election


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THE DREAMING SPIRES OF OXFORD
Commission, Election Tribunals, and election laws under the jurisdiction of the superior courts to ensure that the elections would be fair and impartial. Still, it seemed a strange campaign tactic for Asghar Khan to be preparing the country not to accept the PPP’s inevitable victory at the polls.

The election campaign became even more perplexing when on January 18, the deadline for registration of candidates, the PNA did not put up a single candidate for any of the constituencies where my father and his chief ministers were contesting. How odd, I thought, as I read the story in England. Why were they leaving the Prime Minister and the chief minis-ters of the four provinces unopposed? Perhaps the PNA candidates knew they could not defeat my father and wanted to save face. But that thought proved to be too rational. Their explanation was not only ludicrous, but made headlines.

’We were kidnapped and prevented from registering,’ the opposition screamed, claiming that their proposers and seconders had also been snatch-ed by the police until the deadline was passed. Their charges sounded ridiculous to me in England. I did not believe for a moment that the members of the PNA had been kidnapped, nor evidently did the Chief Election Commissioner who dismissed their charges for lack of substantiation. If they had been kidnapped, they must have arranged it themselves. But it was a clever move. Kidnappings for all sorts of reasons were common in Pakistan, and many people probably believed the PNA’s claim of foul play.

I began papers as week and


to follow the campaign news more closely in the English news-well as the Pakistani newspapers my parents sent me every other Asian publications. The PNA was getting more ir-responsible and outrageous by the minute. Bhutto cannot be trusted, the opposition was trumpeting. He plans to nationalise everyone’s private homes and to confiscate every woman’s gold jewellery. Bhutto is a rich elitist, not a man of the

people, they scoffed. He wears Savile Row suits, Italian shoes and drinks Scotch whisky.

Ayub Khan’s ministers had made the same charge. My father’s retort then had delighted me, for he was an open person and never hid in public what he did in private. ’I don’t deny that after an eighteen-hour working day I take an occasional drink,’ he had shot back during a public meeting in Lahore. ’But, unlike other politicians, I do not drink the blood of the people.’

I never doubted the outcome of the election. The PNA leaders were not great men or even fine men. Most were much older than my father and had had their time. They hadn’t had the benefit of my father’s educa-tion, nor his extensive experience in government and international di-plomacy. In Pakistan, my father was, in fact, unique. Under the rule of the

THE YEARS OF DETENTION
Generals, politics had not on the whole drawn the cream of the crop; real power was seen to lie in the Civil Service, the Army, or in industry. Many of those opposing my father were small, provincial men whose myopic views had failed Pakistan in the past and would do so again in the future. ’

And their lies were growing preposterous. Bhutto is such a bad Muslim, Asghar Khan was claiming, that he is only now learning how to perform the five daily prayers. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that charge in the Far Eastern Economic Review in February; I had prayed often with my parents at home. But I loved my father’s retort to that one, too. When a reporter asked him why Yasir Arafat, leader of the PLO, was coming to see him, my father quipped: ’He is coming to teach me prayers.’

Under the campaign slogan of Nizame-e-Mustafa, the ’Regime of the Prophet’, other coalition leaders were shamelessly using religion for politi-cal ends. A vote against the party, the head of the famaat-e-Islami party told one rally in a rural area, was a vote against God. A vote for the PNA was equal to 100,000 years of prayer.

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