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
"When the time comes that I have to die, I’ll die. There’s a day that you’re born and a day when you’re supposed to die. I could die crossing the street — especially in Pakistan." She laughs. Pakistani drivers are notoriously unsafe. "So that’s that."As we talk, staffers come in to attend to me and Bhutto. Do we want tea? Diet Coke? Here is some fruit on a platter. Do we want cookies? Here comes a tray of tiny elephant-ear pastries and pink candies. One of her assistants brings me a copy of Bhutto’s autobiography.Another brings Bhutto her cell phone. It’s her lawyer calling. She chats with him in Urdu, then turns to me. "I hope for your sake you never have to deal with lawyers," she says. While we are talking, all over the world, lawyers are fighting her corruption cases; and in Pakistan, lawyers and judges are reconsidering the charges against her and her desire to run for prime minister again. So much of Bhutto’s future is in the hands of lawyers and judges.Among her fiercest detractors are members of her own family. This is not a singular phenomenon among Pakistan’s political class, in which sons regularly abandon fathers, mothers publicly reject daughters, and brothers attack brothers. Particularly adamant is her 25-year-old niece, Fatima Bhutto — daughter of the murdered Mir. Fatima, a published poet and journalist who graduated from Columbia University and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, lives in the Bhutto family home at 70 Clifton, in Karachi, with her mother, Ghinwa Bhutto, Mir’s widow. Part of the fight within the family in recent years has been over the ownership of that house."I feel so sad that Fatima doesn’t have anything to do with us," says Benazir, her eyes downcast. "She’s a sweet girl, she’s very nice and everybody says she’s just like me.""I’m amused that she’s ‘saddened’ that I do not talk to her," Fatima tells me in an e-mail. (Fatima is known in Pakistan for her barbed irony.) "I have regular contact with my aunt through the courts of Pakistan, where she has filed a number of cases — [involving] property, inheritance, custody — against my family and me. I have been on the other side of Benazir’s vindictive, litigious streak since I was 14 — for 11 years. I think that’s plenty of contact."Also, just for the record — I am nothing like Benazir," Fatima writes. "I cannot emphasize that enough. People just seize upon the facts that we’re both women and that both our fathers were killed. The similarities end there. I promise."Benazir seems resigned to the estrangement. "Anyhow," she says, adopting a wistful tone, "I still send them love and prayers, because I think that’s the important thing to do. Send love and prayers and hope that one day, their eyes will open."Planning Her ReturnWhen a person has been living in exile for a long time, she can forget where her possessions are located — especially if she is lucky enough to be the sort of refugee who has a lot of stuff. When Bhutto left Pakistan in 1999, she fled in a hurry. "I took one suitcase to America," she recalls. She left more than one house full of belongings in Pakistan: There is the family manse near Larkana, one in Islamabad, and also Bilawal House, where she and Zardari lived in Karachi. Bhutto also has houses outside of Pakistan, filled with more things: an apartment in London, a house in Dubai, Zardari’s New York apartment, and other houses — in France and in England — that the Zardaris own. (Bhutto and Zardari together are probably worth in the hundreds of millions, some of it inherited, but much of it without such clear provenance.)But Bhutto has been thinking mostly about campaign routes, not about what to pack — except how many books to bring."Am I going to be arrested?" she says. "If so, I will need a lot of books to read."If she is not deported or arrested, she will go back to live in Bilawal House, which was broken into during the years she was away. "We don’t know what things will be like there," she says.She’ll be returning to Pakistan without her immediate family (unless she makes good on her threats to Aseefa, which is unlikely). She and her husband have not lived together for 10 years. "He’s not well," she says.

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