A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

Previously published Slate articles made new.
June 18 1997 3:30 AM

A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

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My wake-up call goes off several times. I wish it would stop. It does not. Another day has dawned.

I get ready and go down to the office. It is empty except for my political secretary.

We go through the morning mail. The Portuguese ambassador has sent me a book by their poet Fernando Pessoa translated into Urdu. The Portuguese have done this to commemorate our golden jubilee year, which is really thoughtful of them.

I flip through the pages. I see the poems about women and sadness. I close the cover.

I jot down some additional points for my budget speech, slip an explanatory note for the office and leave.

As a Muslim woman, I cover my head with a veil, called a "Duppatta." It keeps slipping unless one has a bee-hive hairstyle. Every time there's a big speech, I have to try and make it to the hairdressers.

As a Muslim woman, I almost always go out accompanied by a lady companion. Gone are the days when I could hail a taxi or drive a car. I miss the informality of the past.

My political secretary Naheed accompanies me. I have two cups of tea at the parlor. Not good for my blood pressure, a little voice whispers, but I drink the tea anyway. You only live once.

We return to the house to find that the government has cut our electricity. It's boiling hot. The computers are not working. I make corrections with sweat dripping all over. It gets into my eyes and blurs the page. I am angry but I concentrate on the work.

We enter the National Assembly at 5:00 p.m. There are hardly any members. Good. There will be less heckling.

The speaker has broken with precedent and decided not to give the electronic media permission to film my speech. I get angry. Stop it, I say. That's what they want. You are not going to play their game.

"I call upon the leader of the opposition to begin the general discussion on the budget proposals," the gray-haired speaker intones.

Taking a deep breath I begin:

"Mr. Speaker, Sir,

"The budget proposals for 1997-98 presented by the finance minister are based on deceit, disinformation, distortion. This is a breach of the privilege of the House. The budget theme is to borrow. Borrow time and borrow money."

I notice the House is beginning to fill up. The back-benchers can hardly contain themselves when I speak. They start muttering.

The finance minister has admitted that the civil servants are in a deep crisis. I respond, "When customs officials are punished for performing their duties, when police officials are accused of extrajudicial killings, when senior bureaucrats are tortured into making false statements, there will be a deep crisis."

The Treasury benches start heckling. There are only 17 of us in the House and 160 of them.

I mention that the politics of revenge has frightened capital and paralyzed the economy. I begin to give a few examples. When I mention my political secretary, who has been imprisoned and freed on court orders three times, off-loaded from a flight once, tortured and asked to lie about me, the Treasury benches burst into an uproar.

I shout as loud as I can over the microphone, "Sir, why do they panic every time they hear the name of a woman?" That shuts them up. At least temporarily.

When I finish, the Treasury benches start discussing my speech. Their first speaker makes sexist remarks--"She is melodramatic. She should have gone to New York and performed in the theater. She would have been a prima donna."

Bored, I sit back and begin to read the "Tasbee," the Muslim rosary. When I finally get to my office in the Parliament I am too tired to meet the press. Instead I ask for water, tea, sandwiches, deep-fried chicken wings. I am rewarding myself for the one-and-a-half-hour speech delivered in a House where we have only a handful of supporters.

Now the work is done. It's time to go home.

I go into the verandah and call the cats. One of them is from Maui. I got her in 1992 when I visited Hawaii. I gather their plates, wash them in soap and water, get a can of food and put it into their plates. They are jumping and purring all over me. I love it.

Then I call Dr. Ashraf Abbasi, the former deputy speaker of the National Assembly, a remarkable lady. She worked with my father and gave me the love of a mother.

We go to the upstairs lounge, put on CNN, call for some green tea, and sit down to watch and chat.

Bliss.

Tomorrow is another day.

Benazir Bhutto wrote this Slate "Diary" in 1997 as the former prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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