A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

Previously published Slate articles made new.
June 21 1997 3:30 AM

A Week in the Life of Benazir Bhutto

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We start looking for schools first thing in the morning. Luckily, one of the prestigious schools gives us an interview.

I call the children to explain that they may have to go to school here.

"Why?" they want to know, "why not in London with Auntie Sunny's children?"

"London is too far away. Here Mama can come and see you all the time."

"OK," they say. I'm taken aback at their nonchalant acceptance of a change of address. I guess they have experienced the many entertaining events that the United Arab Emirates has for children.

"It doesn't matter how you do in the test," I tell them in the ear. "What matters is how hard you try."

The Federal Council of the Pakistan Peoples Party has arranged a seminar on "The Budget and Pakistan's Economic Situation" tomorrow in Islamabad. I am the chief guest.

I begin working out the speech that needs delivering. I convey it to Senator Safdar telephonically so he can put it in a speech format for me.

Last week I had gone to a bookshop to pick up books for our former high commissioner to Her Majesty's Court, Wajid. Presently he is a "guest" of our government--he is under arrest. I thought some books would cheer him.

But, as often happens when I go shopping for books for others, I end up buying books for myself. I love browsing for books. When I was young, I accompanied my father on his book-shopping forays. He would take me to London Book Company or the Happy Book Store or the American Book Company. Once in London we went browsing at Hatchards together.

I buy a mix of books. Serious and light both for the high commissioner and myself. One of the books I get for the high commissioner is The Men and Women I Have Known, by the Indian journalist Kushwant Singh.

I have permission to see Wajid. I tell him, "You should write a book on the men and women you have known. It will make interesting reading."

The former high commissioner has known many people in power. From President Ayub to President Bhutto (my father) to England's new Prime Minister Tony Blair. And he has met quite a few famous Pakistani women too. The first Pakistani lady presidential candidate, Fatima Jinnah in the '60s, to the first Pakistani woman governor, Begum Liaquat Ali Khan in the '70s, to the first Pakistani woman prime minister in the '80s.

"Maybe I should get well first," he says. Three of his arteries are blocked. He suffers from diabetes and kidney trouble. On June 3 he nearly passed away. His prison cellmate, the former additional director F.I.A. Malik tended him all night. Miraculously Wajid survived. But we worry for him constantly. Months have passed and no formal charges have been pressed.

I am surprised the Americans have not raised a hue and cry over the arrest of Malik. Malik was part of the team that responded to the U.S. request for Pakistan to extradite the notorious terrorist Ramzi Yousaf wanted in the New York World Trade Center bombing. The American negligence of Malik will hardly embolden others to risk their lives for global values in the future.

Malik has been charged with stealing a car. He has the receipt for it. But, "justice delayed is justice denied."

I now read the book I bought for myself that day. Called Caesar's Women, it is written by Colleen McCullough.

I am astonished at the decay of moral values which existed at that time more than 60 years before the birth of Christ.

The religious right in America and the Islamic militants in Pakistan should read this book.

Moral decadence did not begin with the Roaring '20s or the Swinging '60s this century. It began 60 years or more before Christ.

"That's why the Prophets came," my friend says, "to clean up society and give us moral values."

Here we are heading towards the third millennium, and the conduct of men and women still mirrors the style of Caesar's age.

Does time go forward or backward or just stand still? Do we fight the same demons in each era and in each century only with different methods and in different styles? Are we condemned to a cycle of patterns that keeps turning and ending up where it started?

We go to the airport. A computer glitch has taken place. My name is not on the computer. The flight is full and takes off without us.

"Woe betide us for paying so much attention to Caesar's Women. If only we had come earlier," I lament.

Calls go back and forth from Dubai to Karachi. Finally, I'm booked on the 1 a.m. Dubai-time flight to Peshawar, arriving at 5 a.m. local time. Then a three-hour drive to Islamabad so I can make it to the seminar. It means staying awake all night. Just like university when I stayed awake all night to take an exam in the morning.

Wearily we return, the children's test reports are done. At home they top the class. I am horrified to read the alarming results of their test and flop into a chair.

"Mama, you've come back, you've come back. Can we have a McDonald's ice cream sundae?"

"Yes," is my monosyllabic reply. They don't deserve one on those test results but I certainly do. To punish or comfort myself I'm not quite sure.

"Mama, Mama, how old will you be day after?" (They're drawing and cutting birthday cards for me.)

"44," I reply.

"That's as old as a dinosaur," Bakhtwar says.

I don't have the strength to reply.

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

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