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A Letter to you from

Sunday, 3rd of June 2018

Above all you must study hard. Very few in Pakistan have the opportunity you now have and you must take advantage of it. Never forget that the money it is costing to send you comes from the land, from the people who sweat and toil on those lands. You will owe a debt to them, a debt you can repay with God’s blessing by using your education to better their lives.” To those who know me & know me not, As a woman with much to say, persistence and strength, I have been in combat throughout my life. Being a woman, I have to strive ten times harder than the men around me to be in control and in a position of strength. But if I can do it, all of you can do it.

I was born on the 21st of June 1953, in Karachi, Pakistan. The eldest child of former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. My father founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and was prime minister from 1971 to 1977. I completed my early education in Pakistan, and then pursued my higher education in the United States. From 1969 to 1973, I attended Radcliffe College, and then Harvard University, where I graduated with a B.A. degree in comparative government.

Then I left to the United Kingdom to study at Oxford from 1973 to 1977. There, I completed a course in International Law and Diplomacy. I returned to Pakistan in 1977, and was placed under house arrest after the military coup led by General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq overthrew my father’s government. One year after Zia ul-Haq became president in 1978, my elder brother was hanged after his conviction on charges of authorizing the murder of an opponent. I inherited my father’s leadership of the PPP. There was more family tragedy in 1980 when my brother Shahnawaz was killed in his apartment on the Riviera in 1980.

We knew he was poisoned, but no charges were brought due to the conspiracies and power struggles within the country. Another one of my brothers, Murtaza, died in 1996 in a gun battle with the police in Karachi. I moved to England in 1984, becoming the joint leader in exile of the PPP, then returned to Pakistan on April 10, 1986, to launch a nationwide campaign for open elections. “I don’t cease to exist the moment I get married. I am not giving myself away. I belong to myself and I always shall.” I married a wealthy landowner, Asif Ali Zardari, in Karachi on December 18, 1987. We had three children: son Bilawal and two daughters, Bakhtawar and Aseefa. Zia ul-Haq’s dictatorship ended when he was killed in a plane crash in 1988. And I was elected prime minister barely three months after giving birth to Bilawal, my first child. The hypocrisy in our country was immense. But I became the first ever female prime minister of a Muslim nation on December 1, 1988.

I was defeated in the 1990 election, and found myself in court defending myself against several charges of misconduct while in office. I continued to be a prominent focus of opposition discontent, and won a further election in 1993, but was replaced in 1996. I exiled to Britain and Dubai, but I was again convicted in 1999 of corruption and sentenced to three years in prison. I managed to continue to direct my party from abroad, being re-affirmed as PPP leader in 2002. I returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, after President Musharraf granted me amnesty on all corruption charges, opening the way for my return and a possible powersharing agreement! My homecoming rally after eight years in exile was hit by a suicide attack, killing 136 people.

I only survived after ducking down at the moment of impact behind our armored vehicle. It was Pakistan’s “blackest day” when Musharraf imposed a state of emergency on November 3rd and threatened to bring my supporters on to the streets in mass demonstrations. I was placed under house arrest on November 9th. I called for Musharraf ’s resignation four days later. The state of emergency was lifted on December 27th 2007. After a long career of struggle and power, exile and constant determination to survive, to give back to the country I paid for everything I gained and gave back with my life. They will blame each other, many others and discuss of conspiracies and give their condolences and move on and bury the hatchet. Maybe even have a laugh later onwards. Those who really seek for change and justice will be buried just like me, my brothers and my father. On December 27th, I only heard shots fired.

An assassin fired shots and then blew himself up after an election campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The attack killed 28 others and wounded at least another 100. He struck just minutes after I addressed a rally of thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, 8 miles south of Islamabad. Our vehicle was tumbling and I could see smoke and fire, and people running and he place was gory. I remember hitting my head on part of the vehicle’s sunroof. “I passed from childhood into the world of the adult. But what a disappointing world it turned out to be. The colors of the sky, the grass, the flowers were gone, muted and grayish. Everything was blurred by the pattern over my eyes.”

Benazir Bhutto, Daughter of Destiny

Written by Devuni Goonewardene (Email any feedback to devuni@gmail.com)

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