A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

Previously published Slate articles made new.
June 20 1997 3:30 AM

A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

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The children's summer holidays have begun. I am sending them to London. My sister lives there with her kids. I want the cousins to spend time together and get to know each other.

Since the budget session is on until June 30, I cannot take the children to London myself. I have arranged to take them to Dubai (which is an hour and a half away from Karachi). A friend of mine will accompany them to London.

I ring up the office. No news yet about the kidnapped deputy leader of the opposition. His car has been found in a remote part of the desert leading to the mountains.

My political secretary is in the Sindh High Court today. It is a big pink stone building built during the British Raj. Like others, she has had to spend her hard-earned savings on lawyers to defend herself. It seems that all over the world political leaders are forced to pay legal fees to defend themselves against charges made when they become famous. It is the best way to bring them down, even if it is only temporary.

Politics today is increasingly becoming a game of mudslinging. Opponents exchange charges over corrupt or unethical behavior. The public grows increasingly cynical about the system and the elected leaders it produces.

Will democracy, in its moment of greatest triumph, face its greatest threat from the instant-information age? An age when each publication or television station is so anxious to put the news out first that it leaves them little time for proper research or investigation into the credibility of those making the charges or the charges themselves.

My mood has not improved with an unsubstantiated report that some elements wish to burn down my house in Islamabad and make it look like a short circuit. But since anything can happen, I do not ignore it. I write a letter to the speaker informing him of what I have heard.

Our home is facing a minicrisis. My mother's companion has not got a visa yet (obviously, since she just returned with her passport 48 hours earlier). She is throwing a tantrum.

Bilawal sits in my lap as we drive to the airport. Aseefa holds my handbag. Bakhtwar pulls out a computer from her knapsack and I help her with the quiz.

In Dubai, I discuss the situation at home with a friend. I am worried that the supply-side economic policy is going to lead to a massive revenue shortfall and massive inflation. I fear that between November of this year and next March, inflation will force people into the streets.

The regime does not have much of a political base. Only 15 percent of the people, according to international observers, turned out to vote. The last time Nawaz was prime minister, the law-and-order situation deteriorated and the country came close to bankruptcy. There is no reason to believe it will be otherwise this time.

Moves by India indicate that they sense our vulnerability. They have violated our airspace since Nawaz took over, stored their short-range missiles near our border, and declared they have no intention of pulling out from Siachen, the glacier where our troops are eyeball to eyeball.

I have proposed a government of national unity to agree on a consensus approach to the major national and international issues facing Pakistan. The government says there is no crisis.

I am concerned for my children. I worry for them every time I am away. It does not help when my 4-year-old, Aseefa, says, "Mama, I cry every night when you are away and Baba is in jail."

I am concerned that this time the religious leaders will exhort the urban masses to attack the homes of bureaucrats, businessmen, and politicians during their Friday sermons. As an aftermath of the Afghan war, Pakistan is awash with weapons and trained militants who fought Soviet occupation.

Am I overreacting? Am I getting emotional, because I am a mother thinking with my heart and allowing my imagination to influence my reason?

My friend tells me, "No, it is better to be safe than sorry. The children will be in London in the summer. Why don't you explore schools in Dubai? If the signs are bad, you can always send them here."

We mull over the matter, drinking cups of coffee and nibbling on dates. We decide to check out the schools tomorrow. Just in case.

The children come back from a funland called Magic Planet. I push the worries to the back of my mind and listen to their stories. Bilawal won a car and Bakhtwar won a watch and, "we had such fun, Mama, such fun."

Oh, for the innocence of childhood. Let no one steal it from an unsuspecting child for there can be no crueler theft.

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

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