Behind 'Pinkie' Bhutto's Passion for Politics

Messenger of Muslim Modernism

A concentrator in comparative government, Bhutto had a fondness for politics, especially for those of her homeland.

"She really tried to make the Harvard community aware of Pakistan--she was able to put it on the map," says Professor of Indo-Muslim Culture Annemarie Schimmel, whose lectures on Pakistan Bhutto often attended while at Radcliffe. "I told her father that she was a great messenger for the country--that she was doing more for Pakistan in that way than anyone could."

Friends of the prime minister also recall how she passionately defended her father's actions. During the civil war in Pakistan in the early 1970s, he was sharply criticized by the American press, and Benazir often confronted friends who disagreed with his policies.

"She had very strong opinions--what she reminded me of at the time was Julie Nixon, who defended her father in the midst of Watergate," recalls Henderson.

Daughter of Destiny


By all accounts, Bhutto's father was a strong influence on her. While still an undergraduate at Harvard, Bhutto accompanied the late prime minister on his official trips abroad. In 1972, her father introduced her to the late Indian Minister Indira Gandhi--it was a visit that whet Benazir's appetite for government.

"Pinkie was always interested in political issues, but going along with her father quite excited her," Henderson says. "Her real committment to Pakistani politics started during those Radcliffe years."

John Kenneth Galbraith, former ambassador to India and friend of the family says, "Her father regarded Benazir as his natural successor all along. She was a very sophisticated and intelligent undergraduate, and she has always shown great political skill."

But it was not until Bhutto left Harvard for graduate study at Oxford University that she really took on a leadership role. And as the first Muslim woman president of the Oxford Union--the University's prestigious debating society--she refined those political skills.

"She was a star even back then, and she loved politics--it was obviously in her blood," says Nicholas T. Mitropoulis, former assistant director of the Institute of Politics and a classmate of the prime minister at Oxford. "She was a great speaker--passionate, articuluate and was clear to me that she was destined to do great things," he adds.

As the young Bhutto was making a significant impression on her colleagues at Oxford, her father was facing powerful opposition at home. Only weeks after she graduated from the University, the elder Bhutto was overthrown in a military coup in 1977 by Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq and was executed two years later.

Bhutto spent her five years after Oxford in and out of jail because of her outspoken criticism of Zia and his military regime. Even though she was placed under house arrsest in solitary confinement, she continued to organize the Pakistan People's Party to fight the military dictator's government.

Zia used the military to run Pakistan under strict Islamic laws, often oppressive to women and minorities, and he regularly denied political prisoners the right to a fair trial.

"She had to carry the banner at a very early age, and she has shown an extraordinary amount of courage," says Peter Galbraith, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, describing those years of endurance. "She was treated incredibly badly, yet she has retained a sense of balance--she's charming, she has a sense of humor, and she hasn't turned bitter."

'Enormous Risks'