Begum Nusrat Bhutto: A Tragic Life Comes to an End
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Begum Nusrat Bhutto who passed away in Dubai on October 23rd will be remembered as a woman of great courage and determination by millions in Pakistan and by historians writing about that region in future with reference to her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and daughter Benazir, who both left quite a blazing trail in Pakistan.
Begum Bhutto was 82 years of age, a cancer survivor who battled Alzheimer’s disease in late life. Ironically, if there was ever a woman who needed to forget a great deal, it was her. A tragic a life such as hers was, once a second wife then a country’s first lady and later a young widow who also had to mourn for not one but both her sons. And one hopes in the end that she was not aware that her oldest daughter Benazir Bhutto had also been killed. So in her case in some strange way Alzheimer’s may just have been kind.
Nusrat Ispahani became the very public wife of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and accomplished many things but two stand out when related to ZAB’s family. She outlived her husband and out of that family (barring ZAB’s first wife Amir Begum) she is the first in the family to die a natural death. She once fought for her husband’s life through the courts and later on the streets for the party that he founded, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is still very much alive today led by President Asif Zardari. A great deal of credit goes to late Benazir Bhutto for the PPP’s survival but in that effort, both the leadership and support of Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto just cannot be ignored. She succeeded in politics till the point where she failed to launch her son Murtaza as a serious contender for the party leadership. Murtaza was killed in front of his home in Karachi in 1996, another gruesome episode in her life of suffering after which she went into political oblivion and seclusion (she never really recovered).
Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto can also be considered one of the most valuable gifts that the neighboring country of Iran ever gave to Pakistan. Of Iranian-Kurdish ancestry, Nusrat Ispahani had made it a habit to help out in the newly independent country called Pakistan which the family adopted as its own. She certainly made a bigger impact after 1951 when she married young Zulfikar. Together they made a striking couple and when ZAB led Pakistan on the world stage, she stood by his side. And after his judicial assassination in 1979, she stood by his party and her children who were all killed one by one except for Sanam her youngest daughter, who thankfully is not in politics and is now the last one left.
When this scribe recently read about Mrs. Bhutto once being hit by a lathi (a baton or thick stick that police use in Pakistan to subdue demonstrators) at or near a stadium (yes it is still named after Gaddafi) in Lahore, and walked away bloodied and wounded, some thoughts did come to mind. What that country is still suffering from today, the malady of religious intolerance and extremism, took root under General Ziaul Haq, the man who had her husband hanged. That effort in promoting extremism in Pakistan and Afghanistan (and the reader can correct me if I am wrong) was openly aided and abetted by Washington in its own war against the Red menace. To counter the Red menace another menace was created and the region as it stands today suffers badly due to that miscalculation. That lathi which struck Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto requiring several stitches may have caused her lifelong impairment. One can add that similarly her country is yet to recover from that dark period.
Even many critics of Z. A. Bhutto held a soft corner for his suffering wife Nusrat. It was probably not easy being married to a meteor. History marched on and was especially unkind to this lady who is today known as the mother of democracy in Pakistan. Her husband was made a horrible example of just like someone else very much in the news these days (incidentally, they were good friends). Unfortunately the future will bring to us many more such widows along with orphaned children to mourn. Mankind just cannot rest. And those without access to power or who do not matter anymore (in the grand scheme of things) are often left to document the lives of the prominent figures in history who have suffered greatly at the hands of time.
Some still remember how beautiful Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto once was, a beauty today preserved in old photographs. But along with her looks, like other members of ZAB’s family, she also possessed a rare fighting spirit in a quest to overcome the odds. But in the end there are people no matter how talented or determined who can no longer live amongst wolves. She removed herself from the scene broken but left a legacy that all Pakistanis (and Iranians) can today be proud of. We will miss you Mrs. Nusrat Bhutto. Rest in peace.