Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Who was Benazir Bhutto?

Posted by Charles II on December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto as a young girl, from


Politicians are often the blank slates on which we project our own madness.  A recent article by the New York Times Company was so filled with resentment against Benazir Bhutto that I feel compelled to protest. The piece, which can still be read in the IHT, was a very personal attack against Bhutto as a woman and a Muslim. 

The worst instance was the choice of the phrase “the dance of the seven veils” to characterize Bhutto’s management of Pakistani political matters. The Dance of the Seven Veils is a well-known metaphor for sexual seduction, being associated with the dance Salome performed for Herod to get him to agree to murder John the Baptist.

It is worth recalling at this point that the Bhutto family has not been the murderer but, like the Kennedy family, the victim of murderous attack after attack. So, the peculiar metaphor of the Dance of the Seven Veils is not only Orientalist and misogynistic– with a whiff even of necrophilia– but it in effect criminalizes Bhutto as a murderer. Given the political context, of accusations by her opponents that Bhutto staged the first suicide attack against her, this looks very much like cleverly written hate-speech.

The article also recites in abbreviated form the allegations of personal corruption against Bhutto. There is plenty of material in that regard. But Pakistan is and always has been a place where corruption is embedded in the fabric of society. It is notable that Bhutto was re-elected despite these allegations, and might well have been elected again in the coming election.

Nor are the charges particularly notable. Reading through the Wikipedia entry invites comparison with any number of financial scandals in the US, the UK, France, and other countries (emphasis added):

French, Polish, Spanish, and Swiss documents have fueled the charges of corruption against Bhutto and her husband. Bhutto and her husband faced a number of legal proceedings, including a charge of laundering money through Swiss banks. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, spent eight years in prison on similar corruption charges. Zardari, released from jail in 2004, has suggested that his time in prison involved torture; human rights groups have supported his claim that his rights were violated.

A 1998 New York Times investigative report indicates that Pakistani investigators have documents that uncover a network of bank accounts, all linked to the family’s lawyer in Switzerland, with Asif Zardari as the principal shareholder. According to the article, documents released by the French authorities indicated that Zardari offered exclusive rights to Dassault, a French aircraft manufacturer, to replace the air force’s fighter jets in exchange for a 5% commission to be paid to a Swiss corporation controlled by Zardari. The article also said a Dubai company received an exclusive license to import gold into Pakistan for which Asif Zardari received payments of more than $10M into his Dubai-based Citibank accounts. The owner of the company denied that he had made payments to Zardari and claims the documents were forged.

Bhutto maintained that the charges leveled against her and her husband were purely political. “Most of those documents are fabricated,” she said, “and the stories that have been spun around them are absolutely wrong.” An Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) report supports Bhutto’s claim. It presents information suggesting that Benazir Bhutto was ousted from power in 1990 as a result of a witch hunt approved by then-president Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The AGP report says Khan illegally paid legal advisers 28 million Rupees to file 19 corruption cases against Bhutto and her husband in 1990-92. (continues)

So, was Bhutto corrupt, or is Pakistan (and maybe a Western nation here or there) corrupt? Bhutto deserves to be judged equitably, and there is plenty of reason to believe that at least some of the accusations against her were fabricated. If voters re-elected her, who are we as outsiders to the society to judge that she was unfit to serve? Was she, perhaps, the least corrupt politician?

She has also widely been accused of being an American puppet and of having created the Taliban. These allegations cannot be defended. The reason she was unable to maintain her grip on power was that she lacked power over the military and intelligence services.

But finally, hear another voice about Bhutto. From a personal account by Kamran Shafi in Dawn

This was the elected prime minister of Pakistan, and a lady to boot, standing up to receive her guest, even if he was to be appointed to a lowly Grade-20 position. I remember remarking to friends that she came out as someone from one’s own family: relaxed, easy, and eager to put her guest at immediate ease. I saw Benazir in many situations, at many times, and always found her to be a good person; she was what in Punjabi is called a ‘Chunga Banda’. Indeed, I saw her relate to ordinary people, and relate well to them, often being moved to tears hearing their problems.

…I so remember a time when some of her most trusted advisers suggested that the government go public on a private affair where someone who was her leading tormentor had been caught en flagrante delicto and she came down hard on the persons making the suggestion in no uncertain terms.

I asked to see her and she invited me to come to the PM’s House at her walk time. A whole lot of officials used to be present on these walks and were asked, by turn, to walk with her so she could hear what they had to say.

I told her straight away that I needed some funds to match the lifafas of the opposition because it was using money to influence the more purchasable parts of our press. “Are we like them (the Establishment)?” said Benazir.

“No, prime minister,” I said; “but we must play by the rules of the game as set by the all-powerful Establishment”. “No” she said emphatically, “we will not. Let them do what they want; we will not do the wrong thing”.

The other instant I remember was when I sent her a file one day and heard that same evening that she had left for Karachi to have Bakhtawar without announcing the impending birth of her child.

What proved beyond a shadow of doubt that Benazir was a woman with great diligence (and extreme courage) was when the file landed back on my desk on the third day of my having sent it with a long remark duly written by herself! Meaning that she worked on it on the day after Bakhtawar’s birth! She was a good woman, was Benazir.

I think Bhutto was one of the most slandered politicians of modern time, a screen on whom this world projected its own misogyny and racial contempt. But who Bhutto really was is now a matter for historians. I choose to remember her as the child in the photo, like all of us a child of God.

21 Responses to “Who was Benazir Bhutto?”

  1. Thanks, Charles.

    By the way: That’s the same photo that FDL contributor looseheadprop, who knew Bhutto when they were at Harvard together, used in her piece on “Bennie Bhutto” yesterday.

  2. Charles said

    Oh, wow!

    I’ll go read her piece.

  3. Michael said

    Benazir Bhutto claimed Osama Bin Laden was murdered.

  4. Bradford said

    A commenter on The Sideshow suggested that she had meant Daniel Pearl. It would be a bit strange to call shooting bin Laden “murder” since he is a combatant.

  5. reformislam said

    For someone with background in philosophy, you don’t seem to be too bright. We are trying to save hundreds of millions of lives. You are trying to belittle billions of people. You must be really insecure if you need to keep telling yourself that billions of people who believe in God(s) are dumber than you are. It must piss you off that some people believe they will go to heaven while you’ll become worm food.

    “You’re re-writing a book supposedly dictated by the creator of the universe, removing passages you don’t like, and telling the world that god dislikes the same passages you dislike.”

    No, we are trying to revert to the original using common sense, something that you apparently, lack.

  6. Michael said

    That’s possible, Bradford. I hadn’t heard any explanation of it, but there’s a whole other worldview some people have and I try to keep an open mind.

  7. Michael said

    I cannot figure out what Reformislam is responding to. Is there some missing context?

  8. Charles said

    See Attack of the Stupids, Michael. Reformislam is replying to some comment by someone somewhere– one surely not by Phoenix Woman or me. Had s/he not read the thread header, s/he might have realized that this is exactly the wrong blog for a comment like s/he made.

    It is on the basis of such misguided emotions that the conflicts of the so-called “War on Terror” are based.

  9. damozel said

    Very useful piece, Charles. I plan to quote it in both my political blogs (BN-Politics and the one I use for my personal reactions to things). I’ve been very confused by the trashing of Bhutto in the media…

  10. Charles said

    I’m glad it’s of use, Damozel, and will follow your blogs on this issue. I would like to see the charges against Bhutto carefully examined, because what I have seen so far is very much the first draft of history– all heat and very little light.

  11. Benazir Bhutto: “one of the most slandered politicians of modern time”

    Today’s not my day to post at BN-Politics, but I wanted to comment both there and here on an exchange I’ve been having with Charles at Mercury Rising, so will cross-post there tomorrow. This is just an unsystematic first reaction to what I’ve learne…

  12. In Defense of Benazir Bhutto

    Posted by Damozel (photo from Wikimedia Commons) | At Mercury Rising, Charles has written an eloquent and thought provoking post (Who Was Benazir Bhutto?) in response to the negative tone of some of the media coverage of her death. Politicians are ofte…

  13. damozel said

    Via blogburst, you’re now quoted here as well (hope the Html “takes”)


  14. Charles said

    Thanks for taking up the cudgels, Damozel. Anytime that a person is slandered, but especially in death, we are all diminished.

  15. saiqa said

    muhtarma benazir bhutto is great politician n best mother n best daughter n best sister. i want 2 salam her JEAY BHUTTO SADA JEAY JEAY BENAZIR

  16. sajjad ahmad said

    zulm phir zulm hay barhta hay to mit jata hay sara loot mar ka maal chor k hum chal diyay sanam

  17. XLNC said

    benazir aka pinky began her political career with the political assassination of her father. she came into the lime light after the assassination of zia ul haq who was directly responsible for her father’s death.from 88 to 90 when ghulam ishaq khan overthrew her government on corruption charges…then from 93-96…again accused of corruption by the president who happend to be from her own political party.

    number of years served in pakistan = 5
    number of years spent overseas = 40

    thats benazir for pakistan (1953 – 2007). i think she was more of the darling of the west than the daugher of the east. but i must…she was a woman who had balls. one brave woman indeed!!! and thats how i would like to remember in peace pinky darling!!!

  18. sanaullah said

    Benazir Bhutto: “one of the most slandered politicians of modern time”

  19. Benazir Bhutto: “one of the most slandered politicians of modern time” Zinda hai bhutto Zinda hai, kal b bhutto zinda tha aaj bhi bhutto zinda hai
    long live babushah

    Nawabshah Sindh

  20. Rex said

    I just read her auto biography. An amazing women with who said i didn’t choose life, life chose
    me’. She accomplished more in her lifetime with skill, guts, education and perserverance.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: