Many prominent women, mostly politicians, around the world have been labeled as “iron ladies” of their countries with Margaret Thatcher of the UK and Indira Gandhi of India being the most prominent. In Pakistan, many women have stood out in various fields and made a winning impression but the nation hasn’t reached a consensus on awarding the title of Iron Lady to anyone. Many think of Fatima Jinnah in this regard while some would like Benazir Bhutto to be awarded with the title. However, the only name which comes to my mind is Begum Nusrat Bhutto, who stood the tough tests of times very bravely but ultimately fell into the wings of death on October 23, 2011. As her death anniversary is commemorated all over Pakistan, I shall take you on a distant journey through her eventful life.
Nusrat Bhutto rose to national prominence when her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over a divided Pakistan on December 20, 1971. Although the relationship between ZAB and his wife was not like the one between Emperor Jahangir and Noor Jahan but Nusrat somewhere or the other had an influence on ZAB’s decisions and life. She cannot be termed as ZAB’s top advisor but someone who the charismatic leader liked to listen to while living his political and personal life. Nusrat was an active first lady throughout Bhutto’s reign. She chose to come out in the open instead of remaining confined to her house. Nusrat actively traveled with her husband all over the world with the most famous trip happening to China. She was well-educated and devoted her abilities in forming and keeping active the women wing of her husband’s PPP. The first lady served as a guiding force, motivator, mentor and role model for all the female workers and leaders of the party. She strongly believed that women should have all equal rights just as men and galvanized the party throughout Pakistan. Even in deeply orthodox areas of the country, Nusrat was able to find support for the party and convinced women to not only vote on election day but also take active part in politics.
But Nusrat’s real test came when ZAB’s government was overthrown . As her husband was arrested and put on trial , Nusrat showed the people what unimaginable power a woman can have. First of all, she challenged the imposition of martial law in the apex court of the country. The case came to be known as the Nusrat Bhutto VS Chief Martial Law Administrator case. References and instances from the case have been repeatedly quoted in various cases across the country. As her husband was being hanged to death in the biggest judicial murder of the world, Nusrat and Benazir visited ZAB for the last time in his death cell. During the conversation, ZAB declared her wife and daughter free from his side and asked them to go to Europe and live their lives freely. But a defiant Nusrat replied that she can never think of leaving her husband’s party in the lurch and all those workers who wanted to commit suicide after their leader’s death. Her brave and courageous daughter Benazir also replied the same. After hearing this, ZAB felt proud and said that she expected the same answers from his family. As ZAB left for heavenly abode, the outstanding Nusrat took over the party, which was so brilliantly built by her husband from scratch. She became the first female head of a leading political party of Pakistan, which was really taboo in those times and remains even today in many areas of Pakistan.
Nusrat was the main architect of the MRD Movement, which aimed at restoring democracy in the country. Although, Asif Ali Zardari is credited with starting politics of reconciliation, the real founder of that kind of politics was Begum Nusrat Bhutto. No one can forget that meeting at ZAB’s house 70-Clifton, where all of Bhutto’s political adversaries met his widow for forging a united stance against the military dictator. Only if they would not have opposed Bhutto without any reason, there would never have been a martial law in Pakistan in 1977. As the MRD Movement achieved success and democracy was restored in Pakistan, Nusrat saw her elder daughter take her father’s seat as PM. Before that she bravely withstood the death of her younger son Shahnawaz and always showed the ability to absorb grief with bravery. As Nusrat became deputy PM under her daughter, relations within the family started to deteriorate. Her elder son Murtaza returned to Pakistan to claim her father’s party but was faced with resistance from her elder sister and her husband. As Benazir took sides with her husband, Nusrat stood with her son. That was the time when she showed weakness and couldn’t keep the family united. It was really strange that a woman who kept her husband’s party intact couldn’t keep her family the same. Maybe her heart at that time was working more as a mother than a leader. As family feuds and secret hands took her Murtaza away from her as well, just one year back she made a prediction, which became true. Nusrat said that she fears that the forces which killed her husband would come back for Murtaza and Benazir and the same happened in 1996 and 2007 when both her children were also assassinated.
Although she saw Murtaza’s death and couldn’t keep her mental balance after that, Nusrat was in a complete vegetative state when her Pinky left this world. Maybe God kept her like this so that she couldn’t see that after her husband and two sons, Pinky has also been taken away from her. What Begum Sahiba saw as a wife, mother and leader is something which everyone prays not to see on his own. As she rests in her grave at Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, we pray that her soul finds the calm it couldn’t see in her life and may women always get inspired from her instead of the fake ideals roaming around nowadays.
The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at [email protected]