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The Tragic Death of Benazir Bhutto

I FOUND out about the tragic death of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a text message Thursday evening while in a taxi going home from a mall in Abu Dhabi.

I was shocked and saddened. I had always been a supporter of Benazir and of the whole Bhutto family. To me they, and the Pakistani People’s Party that Benazir’s father the late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded in 1967, represented progressive and secular ideals that would help propel Pakistan from the ranks of dysfunctional Third World countries to that of developing nations that were successful such as Brazil and Malaysia. This hope in a bright future for Pakistan perhaps reached its peak in me when Benazir was elected the first-ever female prime minister of a Muslim country in 1988.

Benazir ruled until 1990 when the president ousted her. She won re-election in 1993, but was again dismissed in 1996 for alleged incompetence and corruption.

Benazir unfortunately never really was a good leader while in office, due I think to her imperious attitude and a coalition of conservative Pakistanis, both in the government and military, who did not want to see a woman succeed in governing a Muslim nation. To them having Benazir lead them was both horrible and shameful.

In 1995 I went to Karachi for a week on assignment from Arab News to interview politicians and businessmen about the raging violence in that city that Benazir was not able to control. The resulting series was called “Karachi: City of Death.”

Two American employees of the US Consulate were shot dead at a traffic crossroads in Karachi when I was there. I remember rushing to the scene with Pakistani journalist colleagues and then attending a press conference given by Benazir to talk about what had happened. She literally sneered at the gathered press and it was quite clear that she was not being successful (nor was she happy) at governing Karachi and the rest of Pakistani.

That week, I visited the Bhutto home at 70 Clifton in Karachi and met Benazir’s mother Nusrat and brother Murtaza, who had just launched a splinter group of the PPP. The house was steeped in the ghosts of Benazir’s father who had been hung by Gen. Zia ul-Haq in 1979, with pictures of him everywhere.

In the interview, which appeared in Arab News on March 16, 1995, Murtaza sharply criticized Benazir for failing to govern the country wisely, and most importantly, for surrounding herself with people who had helped bring their father down. Tragically, a year later in 1996, Murtaza was shot and killed outside the very same home where I had interviewed him.

Here are some excerpts of that interview, that seem so prophetic today as I re-read them more than 12 years later:

Murtaza Bhutto pledges to give new vision to PPP

KARACHI, March 15 — Murtaza Bhutto, the estranged brother of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, launched his own splinter faction of the Pakistan People’s Party here today, in an attempt to return to the roots of a party that he says Benazir has utterly corrupted.

AN: What are your plans with this new party?
MB: On the 15th of March we’ve called a convention of the Pakistan People’s Party. And its not really to organize, it’s to reorganize the party, which we feel has been betrayed by the present leadership.

AN: Yes, but your friend (Subaktageen Majeed) was telling me that you were planning to keep the same name.
MB: Yes, yes. ….What we are saying is that the PPP which is officially the PPP now, is not the PPP which was made by Mr. Bhutto. It has changed so much. …
The PPP that Mr. Bhutto made was supposed to represent the interests of the working classes, of the less fortunate people, of the farmers, of the students. And the PPP of today, which is headed by Benazir Bhutto, represents the interests of the upper -middle classes, of the factory owners and of the big landlords.

AN: Why is Benazir seemingly not doing anything for Karachi?
MB: I don’t know. She doesn’t listen to people. She doesn’t listen to advice or any report that is contrary to her thinking. She said this in an interview when she was elected the second time: “We’ve learned a lot. During my first government I thought I knew everything, now I’ve learnt that I don’t, that I have to ask some advice sometime.” She forgot the only lesson that she learnt. She doesn’t ask, doesn’t seek advice.
Her choice of people is bad, her judgement of people is wrong. Her policies are wrong. She’s surrounding herself with those people who opposed her father, who are responsible for his overthrow, who celebrated at his hanging. She’s just inept.

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