On 23rd October 2011, Nusrat Bhutto departed from the world.
Although she was mainly known as the wife of popularly-elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was dubiously hanged by the Military Regime in 1979, and as the leader of his Pakistan Peoples’ Party after his execution; there was much more to this figure than this aspect.
Stanley Wolpert writes in ‘Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan’:
‘Nusrat Isphani was one of Karachi’s most beautiful debutantes. Her Kurdish-Iranian parents had migrated to Bombay, where she was born on 23 March 1929. Her father had founded Bombay’s Isphani Soap Factory, which soon exported large quantities of soap to Iraq that he later changed its name to Baghdad Soap Factory.’
‘Nusrat joined the Pakistan Women’s National Guard, was good at martial drill, and soon learned to drive trucks and ambulances. A tall, slender, dark beauty, she was soon promoted to captain, with silver pips on her shoulders.’
With her efforts even praised by Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, she is widely acknowledged for her exemplary role as part of the Women’s National Guard at the time of the Refugee Crisis.
It was at Bhutto’s sister’s wedding, where they were first introduced to each other and just after a few meetings, he proposed to her. Even persuading her to elope with him when parents on both sides objected to the match, but after her refusal to undertake such an initiative, much drama ensued leading to Zulfi and his Nusratam (My Nusrat, as he used to call her) becoming man and wife within a week.
As the First Lady of Pakistan, Nusrat Bhutto was unparalleled. A paragon of style, class, refinement and sophistication along with being a fashion icon of that time, she dressed with flair and carried herself with natural poise as she stood side by side and hobnobbed with Heads of States and their wives.
At this position, she splendidly represented and promoted Pakistan at international forums. As the head of the Red Crescent Society, she worked tirelessly for the poor, women and children of Pakistan.
In 1975, she led the Pakistani Delegation to the United Nation’s International Women’s Summit and was also elected the Vice President of the Conference.
Since her marriage, not only was she the emotional and mental anchor for her ambitious husband in all his endeavors and decisions but soon became a political backbone for him when she assumed charge on his orders of PPP’s leadership (Coming to be the first female chairman of any party in Pakistan‘s history), when he was incarcerated after being deposed through a Coup.
During Zia’s authoritarian rule, she was kept under detentions, possibly in Class-C cells with no running water, bedding or air, hit with batons while attending a cricket match at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, when the crowd began to raise pro Bhutto slogans (It is said, that this clubbing was the origin of complete health deterioration that affected her later and the cause of Alzheimer)
Before Bhutto’s execution, both Nusrat and Benazir were whisked away suddenly, without previous notice, to his cell and were allowed only a half an hour with him instead of the full one hour entitled to the family on the prisoner’s ‘last day’. And that too, they could ‘meet’ only through the bars.
It was then that Bhutto gave permission to her to take the children and leave Pakistan if they wished to, but instead Nusrat Bhutto chose to take the dicatorship head-on.
Diagnosed of lung cancer during her battle against the cruelest of dictatorships, Zia ridiculously constituted a Federal Medical Board to decide whether her condition was serious enough to allow her to travel abroad for treatment which expectedly decreed that she was perfectly fine while recommending her tests that could have aggravated her malignancy. After much international lobbying, she was allowed to travel abroad.
With the founder killed, deserting members on the rise and the Zia regime leaving no stone unturned in trying to isolate PPP and throttle any legacy of Bhutto, she not only kept the party together but astutely organized it in the fight against the autocratic military regime but was one of the most prominent spearheads of the Movement To Restore Democracy, a movement for the revival of democracy and all the freedoms and rights it entails.
A lean woman who felt no hesitance in defying the dicatator and standing up to oppose his afflicted oppression on the nation , she was considered a threat by him and unsettling for the whole system he had organized to his advantage thus, arrested and placed under detentions numerous times as the MRD spread its activities throughout the country and gained support.
Throngs would come to hear her speeches or to her rallies.
Nusrat Bhutto endured a life, that is best-described as a struggle of suffering with a tragedy at each turn; From the Coup of 1977, Nusrat Bhutto’s life took a plunge into tumult and tragedy which continued till her demise. A plunge that took away her husband, both sons and a daughter from her. All murdered. Since the last few years, Begum Sahiba had even lost the ability to recognize her own two daughters, grandchildren or remember anything.
In all her 82 years, Begum Bhutto proved to be an epitome of strength, valor, resilience, elegance, resolution and extraordinary prowess; giving weight to her family’s tracing of their ancestry to the legendary Salahuddin Ayubi. She was and will remain a symbol of resistance and unflinching conviction against tyranny and suppression. Something that even those with political dislike for PPP and the Bhuttos, would find hard to deny.
Her fortitude and story will inspire generations to come.
May she rest in what was never granted to her in this world; peace.
~ Hafsa Khawaja