Benazir Bhutto: The Exile's Return

Benazir Bhutto: her history, life story and her return to from exile to Pakistan.

By Amy Wilentz
Illustration by Chang Park
Also, during Bhutto’s second administration, Zardari was accused of masterminding the death of Benazir’s brother Mir, who was gunned down by Pakistani police outside the family house at 70 Clifton Road in Karachi. At the time, Mir had been attempting, weakly but insistently, to chip away at his sister’s power base within the Pakistan Peoples Party. None of the officers who participated in his assassination was ever arrested. In fact, some were even promoted. After Bhutto was ousted as prime minister for the second time, Zardari served more than seven years in prison on charges of corruption and of involvement in his brother-in-law’s murder, although none of the charges against him were ever proved.Like her father, Bhutto has several times risked safety and freedom for the people of Pakistan; so far, all her striving has meant little improvement in their daily lives. (Bhutto herself points out that two or three Pakistanis commit suicide every day because they cannot feed their families.) Her detractors insist that her corrupt administration has gotten in the way of her loftier goals. According to a 1998 story by John Burns in the New York Times, Pakistani investigators discovered a pattern of illegal payments by foreign companies seeking contracts with Pakistan when Bhutto was in office. They traced more than $100 million deposited from such payments to foreign bank accounts controlled by Bhutto’s family or by her husband or his family. A Swiss court found against Zardari and Bhutto in 2003. She has formally contested that conviction, but the investigation continues.Bhutto remembers well the Times article that outlined the charges against her and her husband, and all the stories that followed. "None of it was true," she tells me later. "These things would come on the television, and I would be so ashamed in front of my family and my staff. The worst thing is to have your character attacked. If they assassinate your physical being, you’re just dead. But character assassination is the killing of your personality and your reputation."She feels the decline in her international reputation keenly. "Look," says Irfan Khawaja, a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame who frequently writes about Pakistani politics, "she has never fully vindicated herself. Of course she’s not guilty for things her husband may have done, but to claim she didn’t know what he was doing is absurd. There is a cloud over her head wherever she goes."As she sits calmly in her suburban living room, talking quietly in front of the Al Arabiya cameras, it’s hard to remember her earlier, triumphant return to Pakistan in 1986, just before Zia had her arrested, but I happen to have recently looked at a photograph from that day. She is in a motorcade. It’s a bright sunny day in Lahore. She’s wearing a sari and shawls, a head covering and sunglasses. Almost a million Pakistanis have come out to greet her. Rose petals are flung at her like confetti. She’s waving from the car — her face turned down slightly to avoid the shower of petals — and she’s smiling broadly.A "Mother Figure"While I’m sitting in the little library area, Bhutto’s younger daughter, Aseefa Zardari, 14, flounces in from school and throws herself onto the sofa that is sitting improbably near the bottom of a spiral staircase. Aseefa lolls there with a notebook in hand; she’s a tall girl, an imposing figure, with thick straight, black hair; dramatic eyebrows; a quick, ironic smile and intelligent eyes. She adores rap music, according to her mother, and — also according to her mother — spends too much of her time online in rap chat rooms. Today, Aseefa is wearing a black-and-white teenager’s getup that looks vaguely rapper style; on one of her fingers is a huge, flashy ring that covers two knuckles."Real?" asks Narmeen, a childhood friend of Benazir’s who is like an aunt to Aseefa. Narmeen points to the ring.Aseefa rolls her expressive eyes."No, it’s fake, of course," she says. "I only get real if I get A’s." She listens as her mother’s voice continues on in the other room. Bhutto was late for her television interview because she’d been called into school to discuss Aseefa’s grades."Now look!" Aseefa complains, shaking her head.

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