A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

Previously published Slate articles made new.
June 19 1997 3:30 AM

A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

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Our electricity has been cut once again. No use moaning about it.

The good news is that our member in the Provincial Assembly of Sindh, Mir Hayat Talpur, who had been arrested last night, has been released. The bad news is that our deputy leader of the opposition and former minister, Pir Mazhar, who was kidnapped a week ago, has not yet been recovered.

The chief minister of Sindh does not like the deputy leader of the opposition. They both hail from the same home district. The chief minister began his tenure by filing a murder case against the leader of the opposition in the Sindh assembly. Then he ordered his minions to fabricate a case against the vocal deputy leader of the opposition.

Pir Mazhar always traveled with an overnight bag. He never knew when he would be thrown behind bars. But we didn't expect him to be kidnapped.

His wife was travelling with him when five armed men stopped his car. Assuming they were police and would fire, killing him and his wife for "defying arrest," he stopped. Both were kidnapped. The kidnappers didn't want the car, jewelry, or cash. The tearful wife was later left on the superhighway to find her way back. The police refused to file her report charging the chief minister with the kidnapping of her husband.

The chief minister has not even come to their house to shed crocodile tears. This morning he had the audacity to call the deputy leader of the opposition, grandson of a former chief minister, elected four times consecutively as the people's representative, a "corrupt," "abductor," "extortionist," "kidnapper," who had "staged the drama of his own kidnapping."

Meanwhile the leader of the opposition in the Sindh assembly informs me that the Sindh government has bribed three members of the Provincial Assembly to form a forward bloc. He has gone to the election commission seeking to unseat them.

But will the election commission act?

So far it has not disqualified a single member for floor-crossing despite laws to the contrary.

Two other former ministers from Sindh are behind bars. One of them, Munawar Talpur, is my brother-in-law, a sitting member who has been elected on five consecutive occasions. The other is Zafar Leghari, from the home district of the chief minister. Surprise, surprise.

One of our members of the National Assembly has hosted a lunch for me. I go to his house. It has lovely wooden doors. The guests are discussing the statement of the president. The president has criticized the credibility of the government's anti-corruption drive.

Senator Haider walks in and briefs us about the proceedings of the Supreme Court. The former army chief of staff has admitted that a banker was asked to pay Rs. 140 million to the intelligence service to influence the elections of 1990.

I feel vindicated. I had always said that the elections of 1990 were rigged to make my party lose. I become confident that the day will come when it is proved that the elections of 1997 were rigged to prevent my party from forming the government.

After lunch I go upstairs and meet the family members. My host has two wives and three children. Both wives are sitting happily side by side. We chat and take photographs. Seeing the children makes me miss my own.

In the old days, most people had two wives or more. But now the old ways are giving way to new, and most people have one wife.

I recall another colleague inviting me to his wedding earlier in March this year.

"Sorry," I said, "I would love to come but I am in mourning for one year over my brother's death and, according to our family customs, not attending festive occasions."

"Then come to my wedding in November," he said.

"I beg your pardon!" I exclaimed. "I do not understand."

"Well," he explained, "I'm marrying my first wife in March and my second wife in November."

I tried to convince him of the merits of having one wife, not two. He agreed with all my arguments but said, "It's my father's wish."

Here parental influence matters a lot.

After lunch I go back to the house. The electricity, which had come back when I left, goes off again.

"Let's go to the Marriott Hotel," I tell my afternoon visitors. It seems as though the fly on the wall has heard for, as we are preparing to leave, the lights come back on. Hooray.

I catch a flight to Karachi. As I reach home, I shout, "Children, children." They come rushing down the stairs with screams of delight, hugs, and shouts of, "Mama, Mama."

Bilawal discloses that Bakhtwar's tooth has fallen out. She shows me the gap and says she's leaving the doors and windows of her room open tonight. Do I think the tooth fairy will come, she wonders?

It seems I have come back just in time.

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