Behind 'Pinkie' Bhutto's Passion for Politics

Messenger of Muslim Modernism

To most of the world, Benazir Bhutto '73 is known as the prime minister of Pakistan and the first woman in modern history to lead a Muslim nation.

But to her friends from Harvard, she's just "Pinkie."

"It probably wasn't until [her] Commencement day that I knew her name was Benazir," says Alan E. Heimert '49, master of Eliot House, where Bhutto spent her undergraduate years. "She was always just Pinkie."

There are two stories behind Bhutto's nickname, recalls Peter W. Galbraith '73, a close friend of the prime minister and the son of Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus John Kenneth Galbraith.

"The real story was she was a pink baby," says the younger Galbraith, explaining that the prime minister's rosy complexion earned her the sobriquet when she was born. "But occasionally she told people it was because of her leftist politics."


Bhutto came to Harvard at the early age of 16, during a time of political and social unrest throughout America. Students were marching in protest of the bloody war in Vietnam, and the women's movement was gaining unprecedented momentum. Watergate was undermining the integrity of the presidency. Young men walked around with hair down to the peace-symbol patches on the pockets of their jeans. Sexual norms were changing--during Bhutto's sophomore year at the University, Radcliffe and Harvard began housing men and women under the same roof.

In the midst of all this upheaval, the Muslim Benazir Bhutto made a home for herself within the ivy confines of Harvard. As the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto--then prime minister of Pakistan--Bhutto grew up as a member of one of the country's most prominent families. But at Harvard in 1969, few were familiar with the politics of South Asia, and Bhutto's new life of anonymity offered a welcome change.

"She loved being away from the limelight. She had come from a very prominent family, and what she liked about Harvard was she could lead a normal life," remembers Yolanda K. Henderson '74, who roomed with the future prime minister.

Fitting In

And Bhutto tried hard to delve into the informalities and novelties of American culture. In her autobiography Daughter of Destiny, she writes of her decision to adopt Western-style clothing--partly because the wardrobe of her homeland was not practical for Boston winters, and partly because it set her apart.

"I quickly shed the shalwar khameez and reemerged in jeans and sweatshirts from the Harvard Coop," Bhutto writes. "I let my hair grow long and straight and was flattered when my friends in Eliot Hall told me I looked like Joan Baez."

Friends say that Bhutto--who was social secretary of her freshperson dorm and a popular tour guide for the Crimson Key Society--adjusted well to the social and political life of the University, attending basketball and hockey games and joining in the anti-war protests of the day. "I can remember her playing a lot of Carly Simon," her former roommate adds.

Peter Galbraith agrees that the young Pakistani was very American, with a few exceptions.

"She didn't drink, and she didn't have boyfriends," he says, explaining that while assimilating remarkably well into American culture, the young Bhutto retained the self-discipline and customs of her Islamic heritage.

Messenger From the East