Begum Nusrat Bhutto has passed away. May Allah rest her soul in peace. She was a woman of substance who gave more to the world than took from it. She lost a husband, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, undoubtedly the biggest political leader Pakistan has seen after Quaid-e-Azam. She lost two young sons, Shahnawaz and Murtaza, both inspirations for their fight against dictatorship. She also lost, Benazir Bhutto, an icon for not just Pakistan but also women around the world. They say a woman’s threshold of pain is many times more than men. Begum Nusrat Bhutto was the living testament of this saying.
Ever since her husband came into political limelight, she was under attack in one way or the other. Be it propaganda that she didn’t come from a “good” family background to claims of her husband’s infidelity to many more, the woman was the rock in the life of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Just when she would have been looking forward to an easy life at the age of 46 in 1977, then started the struggle of this amazing woman. With her husband behind bars and sons in exile and senior leaders of the PPP acting upon their own “exit strategies” to save their skins, it was Begum sahiba who took on the responsibility of fighting a legal, diplomatic and political battle for the life of her beloved husband and his creation, the Pakistan Peoples Party. Had it not been for Begum Sahiba, the cherished goal of Zia ul Haq for eliminating Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his PPP would have been achieved. Zia ul Haq did manage to eliminate Zulfikar Ali Bhutto physically, but made him a larger than life, immortal political figure of Pakistan.
Before she was forced to go into a political struggle, Begum Sahiba organized the PPP’s Women’s Wing into a potent political force. Her role in presenting a soft image of Pakistan post separation of East Pakistan will be always remembered. Like Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Begum Bhutto’s role in organizing the 1974 Islamic Summit Conference in Lahore can just not be overlooked. With more than 30 heads of states in Lahore along with their entourage including wives and family members, it was a gargantuan task for a country like Pakistan to manage such an event. Begum Bhutto and her team of women took care of the guests in a most successful manner. Not many know, even today, we do not have enough hotels in Lahore. In those days, handling such a large influx of guests was a protocol nightmare. Have we ever heard of anything untoward happening in the summit? Begum Bhutto can look at that summit as a feather in her cap. It is also sad that having organized such a large event in 1974, Pakistan has not been able to match the effort again. Only other event that comes to mind is the 4th SAARC Summit of December 1988, which also incidentally happened in a PPP government.
Begum Bhutto’s life post 1977 can only be termed as the embodiment of sacrifice. She battled for the life of her husband. She suffered brute force of Zia ul Haq in Lahore. She was not allowed to receive the body of her husband. She battled cancer. She was an important figure in the MRD movement. She lost Shahnawaz. She was in exile. After 1988, it could have been thought that she will have a peaceful life, but no! Our establishment and its cronies ensured that she suffer. From charges of corruption to scandals, they didn’t even spare a widow. They killed Murtaza during her daughter’s rule. I still remember 23rd September 1996, when after the soyem of Mir Murtaza Bhutto, MBB as Prime Minister read a statement in pin drop silence outside Bilawal House in Karachi. Begum Sahiba sat next to her. All she was doing was crying, and laid her hand on her head, a sign of utmost grief and helplessness. How unfortunate this woman was. She lost a son during her daughter’s rule, could not attend the funeral of her son and the allegation of killing him was on her son in law! By killing Murtaza Bhutto, the establishment achieved their goal of getting rid of MBB for the second time.
Even though she won her seat in the 1997 general elections, she became increasingly withdrawn because of her Alzheimer’s disease. She was moved to Dubai when MBB went into exile in 1999. According to insiders, she had lost all her memory. She was living dead. She may not even know that she lost her beloved Benazir as well to the same people who killed her husband and sons.
Begum Sahiba will remain an inspiration to the political workers of Pakistan in general and PPP workers in particular. We have lost a woman who not just led us but also inspired us in our struggle for democracy. May Allah rest her soul in peace. Amen.
Begum Nusrat Bhutto Buried