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One who lost the most - Begum Nusrat Bhutto --- By Fakhar Zaman

In the history of Pakistan, the Bhutto family has suffered immensely and Begum Nusrat Bhutto has suffered the most; she lost her husband, her two sons and her daughter and lived unconscious for years. She is the central character of the Greek tragedy that befell the Bhuttos. On her first death anniversary, I can recall some fond memories and different aspects of her affectionate, kind, dynamic and brave personality.


She would long be remembered for her matchless qualities with which she was blessed in abundance. She was a woman of substance, commitment and determination. She was committed to the cause of democracy, determined to work for and ensure women empowerment, and had a very soft corner for the downtrodden people in general and the poor party workers in particular. She would walk into a hut or jhuggie (makeshift house) of a party worker with a smiling face and spend quite some time there inquiring about the welfare and well-being of the family members.


The role Begum Nusrat Bhutto played in politics and in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD), particularly when her illustrious husband and first democratically elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was overthrown and hanged by military dictator General Muhammad Ziaul Haq, would always be remembered as a golden chapter n the country’s chequered political history. She activated and took both the PPP and the MRD to new heights, which even her political opponents have always recognised and appreciated then, and even now, when she lies in eternal rest alongside her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and daughter Benazir Bhutto in the family graveyard.


PPP leaders, other political and religious party leaders as well as people from all walks of life are still paying rich tributes to Begum Nusrat Bhutto for her contributions and sacrifices. Most of them must have seen her from a distance and many would not have ever come across her when she was alive.


But I was fortunate enough not only to have seen her in different capacities closely but also to have the opportunity of working with her for several years as her political adviser.


First of all, I may mention here how I came to work as the political adviser to Begum Nusrat Bhutto. I had formally joined PPP in 1970 after returning from studies in Holland. On my return to Pakistan after completion of studies abroad, I had written a comprehensive paper regarding party’s organisational matters, which I had sent to the PPP founding chairman and the then prime minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Some days later, I was invited to come and meet Mr Bhutto in the Governor’s House, Lahore. It was in January 1973. 


Accordingly, I went to meet Mr Bhutto who highly appreciated my paper and its contents. He used to call me always as Fakhar-e-Zaman. Mr Bhutto said that he was very happy to have such an intelligent and talented young man in the party. He said I have decided to hold party election, but firstly, we want to have election of the party’s women’s wing in all the four provinces from top to bottom. He then came up with the proposal that I should go to Rawalpindi, the PM’s House was then located there, meet Begum Nusrat Bhutto, who was the chief organiser of the PPP Women’s Wing, and work as her political adviser. I accepted the offer quite willingly with one condition that I will be working purely on an honorary basis and not receive any remunerations whatsoever for working as the political adviser to Begum Nusrat Bhutto. In my first meeting with her, she told me that Bhutto Sahib was very impressed by what I had written in my paper. We had a detailed conversation to get a better understanding of each other’s thinking, political views and ideas for ensuring better results when working together.


She was strongly against corruption in politics. She also used to say in our interaction during tour of Punjab in connection with election that no corrupt minister or bureaucrat should be tolerated under any circumstances. She was of the considered view that corruption had spread during Ziaul Haq’s martial law regime like the Kalashnikov culture and the drug culture.


She was also the chief organiser of the PPP Women’s Wing, a position which had afforded her much desired opportunity to work for women empowerment.


Begum Nusrat Bhutto was so committed to the cause of democracy and democratic process, that one of the first things she had told me was that she wanted election of the PPP Women’s Wing held from down to the tehsil level up to the chairperson level all over the country. This task was accomplished over a period of three years from 1973 to 1976. She was herself elected unopposed as the chairperson of the PPP Women’s Wing.


Her life was full of struggles, sacrifices and sufferings. She had seen a lot of strife and hardship in her life but had stayed steadfast and undeterred.


Begum Nusrat Bhutto first lost her illustrious husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then her one son Mir Shahnawaz Bhutto, then second son Mir Murtaza Bhutto and furthermore, her eldest daughter Benazir Bhutto. But I don’t think that she was in the best of her mental and physical health conditions while living in Dubai when Benazir Bhutto was martyred in December 2007 during a big public meeting in Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi.


As a matter of fact, her health deteriorated after the assassination of her beloved son Mir Murtaza Bhutto, who was shot dead in Karachi. That was the beginning of the decline of the great woman who had already lost her husband and then her son. After this tragedy, she had gradually started showing no interest in politics and withdrawing herself to loneliness.


I was out of the country when Mir Murtaza Bhutto was shot dead in Clifton, Karachi, a short distance from his residence. On my return home, I went to the Prime Minister’s House to offer my condolences.


She was sitting all stunned, shocked and motionless. I took both her hands in my hands and said a few words to console her. But there was no reaction at all from her. Then, her secretary Rukhsana Bangash, who was also present there, said, “Begum Sahiba, he is Fakhar Zaman.” On hearing these words, she turned towards me, had a deep look and started crying and weeping with tears trickling down her face.


Begum Nusrat Bhutto had herself ran the campaign for the election of Mir Murtaza Bhutto to the Provincial Assembly of Sindh. On being elected an MPA, Murtaza Bhutto had returned home from exile.


I had never before seen her in such a bad shape in all the years I had been associated with her as the political adviser, officially and then also unofficially.


She had stood firm and strong even when she was beaten up brutally by the police with batons at Qaddafi Stadium in Lahore, resulting in wounds to her head. I was most of the times with her in the United Christian Hospital Lahore afterwards.


She had faced all the rigours of military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq with courage, boldness and determination, both as the PPP chairperson and as an MRD leader.


She was made the chairperson of the PPP on the insistence of veteran political leader Shaikh Muhammad Rashid in view of the conditions then prevailing in the country as well as within the party. She had taken up the challenge very well and did not allow the fact that she was a woman create any obstacles in discharging the duties and functions as the PPP chairperson despite losing her husband not so long ago.


As already mentioned, Begum Nusrat Bhutto preferred to meet party workers whom she always treated with affection and as a loving mother. She was deadly against those party leaders who had betrayed Mr Bhutto and the PPP in any manner and was of the view that such people should not be taken back in the party. I was with her in Noon House Lahore, along with Benazir Bhutto, when Mr Bhutto was in the Central Jail undergoing trial at the Lahore High Court. Bhutto Sahib’s lawyers – Yahya Bukhtiar and Ghulam Ali Memon – used to be there most of the times preparing the case. Benazir Sahiba and myself used to help them in sifting the notes that Bhutto Sahib used to send from the jail and look after typing. During this period, she refused to meet a number of noted leaders who had betrayed Bhutto Sahib.


It is a known bitter fact that after Mr Bhutto was hanged, his wife Nusrat Bhutto and daughter Benazir Bhutto were not allowed to have his last glimpses and attend his funeral rites and were instead placed in detention at the Sihala Rest House near Rawalpindi.


She despised General Ziaul Haq and even had been questioning Mr Bhutto as to why he had chosen such an unimpressive person as the chief of army staff. She also did not like Ziaul Haq’s habit of flattery and feared that this person may cause some harm one day.


I also remember how kind she was even to animals. Begum Nusrat Bhutto was going in a vehicle to Jaranwala to address a gathering there. Ruksana Bangash and myself with her in the Pajero, which was being driven by Tahir Niazi. Suddenly, a galloping horse appeared from one side of the road, sped past the vehicle hitting it slightly and disappeared. The vehicle, somehow, did not overturned. It was immediately stopped and Niazi apologised to her for the incident. She asked me to go and find out whether the horse was safe and not injured after hitting the vehicle. She was relieved when I told her that the horse had disappeared, which meant that it was not hurt.


There are many instances, which I can quote here but for want of space it is not possible.


After joining the PPP, I’ve remained loyal to it and also to the leadership, held many offices, including being the PPP Punjab president, a senator and chairman of the PPP Cultural Wing, and am the only PPP leader who had written in 2004 a book in Urdu on Begum Nusrat Bhutto. The book titled Begum Nusrat Bhutto - Shakhsiyet Aur Siyasat was dedicated to Benazir Bhutto. When I had presented the book to her, she had greatly appreciated it and said no other PPP leader or anyone else has written such a book about her mother.


The writer is a PPP central leader who was Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s political adviser and can be reached at fakharzaman21@gmail.com


Posted Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2012
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