From an interview for More magazine conducted by Amy Wilentz at Benazir Bhutto’s house in Dubai on September 9, 2007.
They were nice days and fun days [back in college in the 1970s].
Now, I’m reasonably happy. My husband [Asif al-Zardari] is in New York, but he’s coming here. He’s not going back to Pakistan. I hope not because the kids need somebody with them. And his health is not good. He was in prison for eight years. He had heart problems, he’s got diabetes. But you know, he came out of prison and it was like being in a grave. He came out to lead life and it was just a shock for him that suddenly he came face to face with his own mortality.
Nobody prepares us for this kind of thing. If you’re a young person and you’re suddenly hit with this, you know, this kind of disease, it takes time for you to cope with your own frustration suddenly finally you can’t do the things you were used to doing.
I find 50 liberating.
I was always so careful being young amongst people, you know, not to send the wrong signals because I was young. So I was always very careful and I always felt I had to wrap myself up in all these shawls to protect myself. Now, I’m more than middle-aged. so I’m a mother figure and I don’t have to worry about these things. I should say now that I’m fat and 50, I don’t have to worry about these things! So I find that aspect of it liberating: there’s no danger of people misunderstanding you.
My mother [Nusrat Bhutto] is here. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s. Very badly. She doesn’t really recognize anybody. Mother was born in 1929, so she’s 78. She’s 78. She lives in the house [in Dubai]. She can’t walk very well. She does walk, though. They do take her for walks. I’ve got a wonderful lady who comes to give her physical therapy. You know, I try to make her as comfortable as possible, but I feel it’s so difficult. If she has a headache, she can’t tell me. Or a toothache, she can’t say. And so we fix appointments. For example, every six months, she’ll goes to a dentist, just to make sure.
Actually I had a very good relationship with my mother most of my life. I was the one who was closest to her. I was her friend, I was her confidant, and I was the person who was called in to her every time she and my father had words. So I was really more like a friend or a confidant to my mother.
And I was also, I would say, in a way a slave to both my parents, because I loved them both so deeply that I would do anything for them. Anything. But my mother and I had a brief period of misunderstanding when Mir [Mir Murtaza Bhutto, the elder of Benazir’s two brothers, who was assassinated in Karachi in 1996] decided to return to Pakistan in 1993, and it was very brief. It was like about six months [when her mother split with her and decided to support Mir Murtaza].
And I felt very shocked and faint by the events that took place then. And so did she. But she was coming down with Alzheimer’s and one of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is that you tend to move away from the ones that you’re closest to.
So it was not just with me. It was with me and those she was closest to. I remember she didn’t ask her sister, whom she loved dearly, and who always used to come to Pakistan, to stay with her when she visited. Again, she was so close, and the people she loved the most, after her own children and my father, I think were my cousin and my aunt. I think that in her mind, when she had this misunderstanding about me, I think she was blurred about whether Mir was her child or whether Mir was my father.
So, we went through that period [when Benazir wrested the chairmanship of the PPP from her mother], but she then came back to me and she lived half with me and half with Mir.
But I find this taking care of her very painful. I remember my mother being glamorous and well-dressed and you know, so confident. And now to see her, Mir and I were always respectful and fearful of falling in our parents’ eyes, you know. So it was very painful to see. My sister [Sanam Bhutto, who lives in London] finds it so painful that she finds it hard to visit. She says I want to remember my mother as she was. But you know, with me, I just find it so sad because when I try to talk to her, how can you talk to a person who can’t talk back to you? She doesn’t speak at all. No. So what I do is I go and read a newspaper or a book to her because I feel that she understands that. She gets lucidity.
I travel also and I regret the fact that I can’t give my mother time. My mother’s relatives come and visit her nephews and her nieces. They come frequently, whenever they can. And they always say to me “You’re such a good thing taking care of your mother,” but what I feel is that I’m not, because taking care is not getting a nurse or keeping somebody in comfort. Taking care is spending time. One of the regrets of my life is I don’t have the time to spend with my loved ones, whether it is my mother, my children, my friends.
Maybe one day [I might give up on politics], but not now, you know. The people of the country stood by me and I just, I mean, I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I just feel that with my experience in running Pakistan twice before, maybe there’s something I can do to help my country and help my people. That’s the reason why I’m still trying.
I’m worried about this militancy. It’s a threat outside but it’s also the most potent threat within the country, to the very unity and survival of the country.
I think that there is a commonality of interest between America and also in Pakistan. The commonality of interest is that it’s important to get rid of terrorism for Pakistanis to get peace and for Pakistanis to live without fear of suicide bombers coming in and killing them in marketplaces or militants seizing citizens and beheading them.
I think it’s very important for us to restore the rule of law and order. And if we restore the rule of law and order to protect our own people from suicide bombers and militants and fanatics, then we will not be harming America. So I think there is a commonality of interest.
Where the frustration lies is that the [Pakistani] government’s message somehow is that this is America’s war. That somehow, it’s got nothing to do with Pakistan. And that we’re only doing it because we can’t defy America. If we could, this message goes, we’d tell [the Americans] that we don’t want you. Go away. But we can’t defy the Americans, the government is telling Pakistanis.
But I see it differently. I can understand that America has a problem with terrorism because they’ve been attacked. But what I think that the government is not conveying to the people of Pakistan is that terrorism is also a threat to the people of Pakistan and to our way of life and to the unity of our country, which could disintegrate if these different militants and militia start taking over control of the country and taking over different parcels of the country.
And what has all this violence achieved, what has all this suicide bombing achieved? All the violence has done is get more violence. Ever since I was a little child, I’ve been seeing this violence and I don’t believe in violent means. I think one has to seek peaceful means of resolution to conflicts. I think the country has to turn around. We have to learn from the last 60 years and we have to turn around.
I grew up in a different age. I grew up in a militaristic age. You know, my father gave Pakistan the nuclear bomb and we thought we’d be strong because of the nuclear bomb. But we’re not strong. In fact, we’re falling apart. And that’s what really worries me. I think we have to stop seeing military means as the route to win self-respect or greatness or independence.
I think now that independence really comes from a knowledge-based society where you invest in the education and in the people, where you equip them to compete in the global market.
This is a global market in a global world, and that’s where I think we have to turn our swords into plowshares, as was once said. I can’t remember who exactly said it, but we must turn our swords into plowshares.
We lost half our country in 1971, so having a big strong army didn’t really save us. We more or less lost our tribal areas. We don’t control our tribal areas. The militants control our tribal areas.
That’s what really disturbs me. It disturbs me that the government no longer controls parts of our country. The Red Mosque incident in the summer in Pakistan was an eye opener, because the clerics there were defying the government. They were kidnapping policemen, trying to kidnap military men, intimidating barber shops.
In the Pakistani context, I think it’s very important for the government to enforce the rule of law. Not to bargain with terrorist militants, not to release them, not to have these cease-fires and these peace treaties.
For me, democracy is important. I think dictatorships fuel terrorism and militancy and aggression because dictatorship is about breaking the law. Whereas a democratic society is a society governed by rules and regulations, procedures and laws. People know what’s going to happen to you if you cross a red light.
So unless people know what it means to break a law, they’re not going to follow the law. And since 1977, we’ve had almost 30 years — except for brief periods — of direct or indirect military rule, which has spawned a culture of lawlessness where people think it’s all right if you have got a gun or if you’ve got a bomb and you break the law.
So the challenge is to create a democracy.
I’m not making deals with the military. I’m talking to them. I’m having a dialogue with them about how we can get a transition to democracy. And if we can get a transition to democracy, we have an understanding. But if we can’t get a transition to democracy, then we don’t have an understanding. Look, I want to come into power and you’re in power, let’s share power. I’m saying that the military has an interest in Pakistan’s survival and if there is a Pakistan, there is a military. So let us talk together – the military is one aspect of Pakistan, the people are another aspect of Pakistan. The military comes from the people. So I’m talking to them about how we can move Pakistan forward into the future with a viable political system that can guarantee the security of the country upon which hinges regional security and also bring the involvement of the people of Pakistan into decision-making.
I find it so upsetting that United States should be giving $10 billion in aid and assistance and this should not be trickling down to the people of Pakistan. Despite this massive infusion of money, poverty and hunger are extended to such an extreme that people are more concerned about how to survive [than about democracy]. This is what the madrasa element exploit. They go to desperately poor families and say, “We’ll give you a job. We’ll give your children food, clothing and shelter,” and then they take these young little children, 8 to 10 years old, and they start brainwashing them.
So this is the tragedy. But I would not agree that people don’t care about who governs them. I think that people in Pakistan do care, and they are very politicized and they do want to take charge of their lives again.
But just surviving has become such an ordeal for the vast majority of people. Sixty percent live on two dollars or less a day. Sixty percent. We pick up the newspaper every day, and we read that two or three people have killed themselves because they can’t afford to eat. That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? And it’s such desperately poor families who are becoming so engrossed in how to survive that they couldn’t care about anything else. But if the government provides employment, provides a decent standard of living, drinking water and education and health, then people will have a stake in that community. They’ll defend it.
You defend something that is helping you.
Some of my friends think I’m mad to be going back. Even my relatives, you know. They love me very much and they don’t want to lose me, and they’ve seen what happened to my brothers and to my father, so they keep telling me: think again. But for me, it’s my country. And you know, I saw what’s happened, I’ve seen what happens to countries that fall apart. Afghanistan fell apart and there were three million refugees, and those three million refugees live in squalor — despite the best support of the rest of the world community — in tents in different Pakistani cities. Some of them went overseas and live difficult lives.
I’ve been to refugee camps, you know, and I have seen a woman tell me that once she had a dining table and therefore she was a human being. And that really shook me that a dining table, which we take for granted, that she and her children used to eat around a dining table, and now she was stuck in a tent in the mud. They were sleeping on the floor, eating on the floor, eating on the floor, doing everything on the floor and you just think of how high the stakes are if Pakistan’s not saved from turning into a failed state.
And I feel – I had the experience before because in 1993, the World Trade Towers had been hit for the first time, and at that time, Pakistan was threatened being declared a terrorist state. I formed the government shortly thereafter. And I worked with the people of Pakistan and the world community to undermine terrorism.
The terrorists were on the run then, and Pakistan became one of the ten emerging capital markets of the world. And so I feel that it can be done again. My mother came from Iran and I remember after the revolution, many of her relatives and their friends fled overseas and the men could either not find jobs or if they found jobs, they were never like the jobs they had left behind.
They were living geographically in one place and psychologically in another. It’s their children who had better opportunities. The children have become professional and are all doing very well. But for that generation, it was a lost generation.
In a sense, I’ve lived like that. I’m geographically out of my country, but psychologically I have been back in Pakistan. And in the last election, my party took the largest number of votes. So I feel that when people have supported the party and myself to such an extent, despite all the mudslinging campaigns and the slander and the demonization that took place, well, I feel that I owe a debt to the people to go back.
I block out such thoughts [of assassination and what it would mean to her children]. I really block out such thoughts,
I just don’t think about that aspect. No, I just say that’s out, and when the time comes that I have to die, I’ll die, and for that, I will die. Because I’ve had several assassination attempts on me. I’ve had several assassination attempts. Because I don’t like to, you know, I think that there’s a day when you’re born and a day when you’re supposed to die, and you know, you could die crossing the street, so, why think of that?
And when my children were smaller, it was different. It’s different now. I feel that they’ve grown up. My son [Bilawal Bhutto Zardari] is going off to college, to the same college Mir went to. To Oxford: Christ Church College. And then my daughter’s in her final year. The younger one is still here. And where my father went and Mir went.
My kids were all good kids. They didn’t give me any trouble. We’ll see [whether they go back to Pakistan, too].
When I was younger, I wanted to be a diplomat. I wanted to be a lawyer. I started off when I was a child, wanting to be a lawyer because I used to play with my father’s wig, you know, in those old days, the barristers had to wear these wigs when they went to court. And then, I wanted to be a journalist because he was taking out a newspaper in Pakistan. And then, when I finally went to college, I wanted to be a diplomat, so I had this idea that I’m going to have, you know, I’m going to be a diplomat and I would have all these sort of intellectual salons with writers and artists, and everybody was going to come and we were going to discuss the different intellectual trends of the day.
I mean Arianna [Huffington] might get cross if I say I wanted to be like her, so, but that’s what I thought life would be – intellectually stimulating conversations, lots of discussion and being a diplomat. My ambition was to be ambassador to Washington or high commissioner to England. And I still think when I look back on it, well, maybe that would have been a nice life.
I never wanted to go into politics when I was at Harvard. Never, never, never. The execution of my father, that was the turning point.
I just can’t bear to read anything relating to his imprisonment even though so many years have passed. I can’t just go back to those days. I never look at things, never read about it. At that time, Mir was doing so much [trying to get world support to stop the execution]. It was so tragic.
[Fatima Bhutto, Mir Murtaza’s daughter, from whom Benazir was estranged] must’ve been about 15 -14, 15, when Mir was killed [in 1996]. She’s a sweet girl. She’s very nice and everybody says she’s just like me. You know, that’s the amazing thing. They all say it. She’s just like me, she looks – I mean, I don’t – she’s prettier than me, but they say she looks like me, she writes – she does well in her school – I feel so sad that she doesn’t have anything to do with us. Her mother is not anything at the moment [holds no political office]. Her mother has taken over the houses in my sister’s name. I mean she takes over our property [the family house at 70 Clifton in Karachi, among other properties], you know, my father’s property – Shahnawaz [Benazir’s younger brother, who was mysteriously poisoned on the Riviera in 1985] had two shares, Mir had two shares [in the Bhutto property]. Sanam has one, I have one. My mother has one. So we have three plus two, which is five [Benazir’s, her mother’s, and Sanam’s, plus Shahnawaz’s, by Benazir’s calculation]. And they [Fatima and her mother] have two.
Fatima’s mother takes over everything. She tries with the government’s guns to take over. They support her again. The military – from those days, who tried to destroy us – they are the ones who probably had a hand in my brother’s [Mir Murtaza’s] murder, and now they’ve been patronizing his widow and his children, the children who were too young to know what was what.
But anyhow, I still send Fatima and her family love and prayers because I think that’s the important thing to do. To people that you are tied to, to send them love and prayers and hope that one day their eyes will open. Same thing happened with my younger brother Shahnawaz. We never saw his daughter, but now she’s very friendly with us. She’s grown up, she’s doing a masters at Columbia and… Her mother is in Los Angeles. We don’t see her.
[Sanam’s] kid is taking a gap year. Look, I don’t want gap years for mine. There’ll be no gap years for mine. Get them into school, finish them up, set them onto life as soon as possible. Sanam hated politics always and she doesn’t do politics. She is very smart, she’s very astute. I often tell her that she should teach because she has such a good command over English and history but she has a full time job looking after her kids. She’s divorced.
With my mother, I was like her friend, her sister, her confidant. She would tell me everything about my father, my brothers, sisters, friends, everybody. I was her confidant.
I was very close to my father. But with my father, it was a different relationship in that we were all in awe of him and we were all a little frightened of falling in his eyes. So we all wanted to be perfectionists and to do well, so that he would be proud of us. So it was a different kind of relationship. And I think now that I have children of my own that I can see something of myself in some of my children. So I think my father saw something of himself in me, because he would say to people, “She’s a chip off the old block,” or he would say “My daughter will follow me into politics.”
And I used to say no, but I think he used to think that I was like him. He always took pride in me. He was happy that I use to study. He used to be happy that I used to get good grades.
With my mother, she used to treat me… I was not equal, but I was like her protege or friend. I used to always go with my mother everywhere. The other kids wouldn’t want to go out with mother. But I’d go with her. If she had to go to the beauty salon, I’d go with her. If she had to go to the market, to see the tailor, I’d go with her. Whatever mother had to do, I used to go with her.
With my father, we all had a more sort of formal relationship.
We called him Papa. He was always traveling. He was a distant figure. He was not always present. He was present at the important occasions in our life, on our birthdays or special days. And he was a kind and generous father. He’d always come back with tons of clothes and food, chocolates and toys for us and he would spoil us. I went with him on a few occasions. I was with him at the U.N. when he went there to argue Pakistan’s case in 1971, when President George Bush 41 was the U.S. ambassador to India. Somehow, I always ended up in New York.
My husband is there now, but with my father, it was a different relationship. The first 25 years of my life, my father had an enormous influence on me and we always took my mother for granted, I think. You know, mother was there. She was always there. Father was the one that we tried to please. Father was the one we tried to impress. And now that I’ve become a mother, have children of my own, somehow the other lessons that I learned from my mother have come back to me – in running my home, in dealing with my husband, in dealing with my children. It’s things that my mother would say that come back.
My father is still as important to me as when he was alive. I mean, the most important factor that changed and shaped my life was the execution of my father. All of our lives. None of us, I mean, my brothers, my mother, myself, my sister, even the choices that we made were because of what happened to him. My sister decided never to live in Pakistan again. And she didn’t. She just found it too painful that he did so much for the country and he was killed.
I have ambivalent and ambiguous feelings about my children going into politics because such a heavy price has been paid [by our family already], but I feel that if they want to, I should not stand in their way because of my own experiences. I hope that for the next generation, the experiences will be better.
But on the other hand, I know that I will definitely warn them not to go into politics just because I’m in politics. So I’m very clear that they must not think about politics until they finish their educations and they’re older and they’re mature – in other words, until they know that that’s what they want, rather than because their mother’s in it.
I really want them to make a mature decision about it, but I do know one thing: that whatever they do, I would like my children to be able to do something for society. You know, I have a great admiration for doctors because they save lives and once I had to write an essay on who the heroes of the 20th century were. And it was when I was thinking about the heroes of the 20th century that I realized that in wars, the people who win – even if they are evil men – write their own history, right? But the real heroes of the 20th century are the people who made discoveries in health. Who discovered penicillin, who saved millions of lives. And they’re the unsung heroes.
So I would have loved it if one of my children had become a doctor. I was after my son to become a doctor, but he’s doing history, not medicine. So I want to get them to do something which can help the community, because I feel that the real satisfaction that comes from life is in helping other people. Not in a way of showing off and saying I’m helping other people, but leading a life where you can really have an impact on your fellow human being.
I tell them to become lawyers because if you become lawyers then you can defend the poor, you can defend people who are facing an unjust situation.
The kids are the iPod generation, aren’t they? Facebook – and they are more on computers, so we were different. We were all brought up reading books.
My administration brought the modern age into Pakistan – the mobile phone, you know, fax machines, the digital pages, the internet and television everywhere. We were also setting up software and we were going to set up this big software path in Islamabad, which would be run by the commerce secretary who was coming in, but then he died in a crash. And that was so tragic and then it got delayed, and we were waiting for the next commerce secretary to come and then our government was overthrown.
The jihadi complex goes behind the president to get rid of the prime minister because the uncertainty and the instability suits it. That’s my view on it. And I always say that if we are tackling militancy then I know we can get rid of militancy in our country and dismantle the militant cell and get rid of those irregular armies and reform the madrasas. But the basic thing is that we ought to be safe doing it, and not all the time having to look over our shoulder because the jihadi complex is working on the president to get rid of the prime minister.
What I mean by the jihadi complex, the generals that fought in the jihad and the complex they created, which included the Afghan mujahedeen, who went on to become Al Qaeda and Taliban. It included the political madrasas and it included the political faces they created in Pakistan. For example, the president of the ruling party now, these are the people who have all worked with General Zia. And so it’s the generals of that era who see democracy as their enemy, and who see a jihad where they’re against one superpower or another superpower as their raison d’etre. They’re no longer serving the people.
And it’s just like an industry. Somehow there are unlimited funds. I don’t know where the money comes from. Part of it is drugs, so we’ve got to stop the drug trade. But they have unlimited funds. I mean, people say we are going to set up a madrasa. We’ll be given government land and they’ll give us money and we can become lords of our own little fiefdom. There are a lot of drugs in the tribal world. So that’s what it is, it’s big money and th’€™re using these militants to further their own cause.
It’s the Zia legacy that recruited everybody from different parts of the Muslim world and the Muslim expatriate community. In those days, they brought people back to train them to fight the Soviets, but it’s those same networks and those same cells which now have started fighting against the West.
And for me, we know who these people are and that if you put together the right law enforcement, if you put together the right policies and you get the right intelligence and you work with the other countries that are fighting against terrorism, that we can get them — but otherwise, they’re spreading. My fear is that, you know, these political madrasas that they build, they’re like little military cantonments dotting our country from the north to the south.
It’s frightening. That’s what I call the threat within. This is not America’s war, this is Pakistan’s war. It’s a Pakistani agenda.
The president of the ruling party and some of the other members of the ruling party would rather have [Nawaz] Sharif back to form the old alliance against me. You see, they don’t want me to come back because they think that when the PPP comes back it will mean the rollback of the frontiers of terrorism and extremism. And it was the military hardliners, who destabilized my government in 1996.
In those days, most people did not know about Osama bin Laden, even though he had already spent $10 million trying to get rid of my government.
How I get along with the Pakistani intelligence service depends on who is heading it. Actually, when I took over in 1988, things were not good with intelligence. My head of intelligence was very, very supportive of extremism. And I was horrified because I thought our intelligence head was a pro-Western choice, and I mentioned this to my ambassador at large, who went promptly to the American ambassador and said let me know. And the American ambassador said, oh no, he drinks, so it can’t be so [i.e., if he drinks he cannot be an extremist]. Now, I don’t know whether that man really drinks or not, but that’s obviously the report that they had. So things were a disaster.
In my second term I had a different general running it, and things were fine. That’s when we were bringing down all this local terrorism. And then my guy was replaced by a man who was very weak and he couldn’t control the ISI. But the main MI guy got the sack after 9/11 because he was suspected of having some [relationship] with the Taliban. So Pakistan’s generals got the sack. And he was the worst, so in that time, he was destabilizing my government. So it depends, you know. It depends on who heads ISI and what sort of relationship you have with the guy who heads it.
Our intelligence really ran amok. Every country needs an intelligence service. The security of the state depends on the intelligence service. That if something goes wrong with the intelligence service, then something goes wrong with the security of the state. So what’s happening in Pakistan is that something’s gone wrong with our internal security, which is also having an impact on our regional security. And I found that most of the army people that I used to meet in the regular armed forces, they were mostly moderate, at least right up through the ten years my government went. They were mostly moderate. They were hard working, they were proud of their profession. They wanted to do well by their country. They were just good decent people. But it was a handful who gained control, and then could manipulate the armed forces or the intelligence services towards their own ends.
One of my intelligence officers uncovered an Islamist coup against us and saved our lives. So when you ask me what relationship I had, it just depended on who was in what position.
[My self-help books] helped me survive, I can tell you that. For all the lows in my life, those self-help books are there, and there’s a focus on the present, don’t worry about tomorrow. I never knew whether my husband would come out of prison alive or not. For eight long years, I never knew what would happen to him. I never knew what would happen to me as I traveled the world. And what would happen to my little children as a consequence, and my mother, who, thank God, you know, was a tower of strength in the early years of my imprisonment and exile. She left to be with the kids [who were in London]. She told me to move there. She said what are you waiting for? They’re going to come and arrest you any day.
Well, I take each day at a time because tomorrow may never come. I remember that Gone With the Wind. You remember Gone With the Wind, Vivien Leigh, was that the one? Vivien Leigh? Oh, I mean Scarlett O’Hara! She says at the end, “Tomorrow is another day.” That’s how you survive. A person survives by looking on the brighter side, and tomorrow is another day.
[Interviewer reminds her that Scarlett O’Hara’s father is always saying: “It’s the land, Katie Scarlett.”]
And it is the land, isn’t it? It’s just – it’s our fathers had a strong sense of land and they gave us a strong sense of land. One of the things that I regret is that I was not able to give my children that strong sense because they grew up in a foreign land. Because had they grown up in their own land, they would have a different appreciation of the pull of the land. Because there’s a pull of the land, a pull to go back home. I miss it so much, I can’t tell you. I miss the smell. I miss the scent. I know when I go to Larkana, and the smell of the rain when it falls on the dusty roads – because we don’t have proper roads in parts of Larkana. So – but there’s a particular scent of the rain on dust as it gets wet. The wheat crop that flowers, the birds in the sky. I miss my trees.
I miss, of course, the people and my father’s way. I miss doing the things that we did as a ritual, from the time that I was a child it was a ritual that every eid, which almost like Christmas, we would travel to Larkana and we would visit the graves of our forefathers because they were always saying that if you pray for the souls of your ancestors, your ancestors will then pray for you. The other world should be taken care of here. So there were little rituals that we would do.
Actually, I think it’s so sad that our family no longer radiates this nostalgia for the land because my father – because the Bhutto family doesn’t exist any longer. My family, the Bhutto family, doesn’t exist – my mother is sick, my two brothers are gone, my sister’s leading a quiet life far away. So I miss – you know, my father used to say to me [that we siblings should be] like the three musketeers, you know, he would say you should always be strong and think of the three musketeers, think of what they used to say: “United we stand, divided we fall.” That’s how we were brought up. He used to always say: Be united.
And I think back and see where have we all gone.
But I’m lucky [compared to Caroline Kennedy] to still have my sister and I have my mother. I have my mother physically. But never again will we have that family that we were when I went to Geneva, and my mother was living in exile there, and the brothers were there with their wives and children. My sister and I were visiting, too, and we would walk on the road. We’d look at the shops. We’d go to McDonald’s. We’d have a burger. And each time we would moan and groan, “When will we go back to Pakistan? When we will be a family again?” Because for us, to be a family was to be back in my father’s house at 70 Clifton, in our own rooms, eating food at our own dining table.
And we never were a family again.
[Shahnawaz] was killed in France and by the time mother came back, Sanam and I were married and then – so we were never – but we were a family in Geneva. And we should have enjoyed being a family. And instead, we were thinking of a future that never existed. So really the future never exists. It’s today and what we do about today that matters. We can have dreams for the future, but the future does not exist.
I thought it was the most natural thing in the world to be a woman and a leader, because my father never discriminated between the girls and the boys in the family. My father never discriminated and my father never said “Because you’re a girl, you’re not going to be the eldest” or “You’re not going to be the one that everybody else respects.” I thought it was the same all over Pakistan and all over the Muslim world, and it was a big shock in my life when I found it wasn’t so.
But for me, I grew up in a family where everyone was treated equally, the boys and the girls. And I grew up being taught that the prophet of Islam married a working woman. So I thought a working woman was very central to the concept of a Muslim woman and the life of a Muslim woman. But it was during the election campaign that the men would come out and they would say that a woman can’t be elected prime minister or that to vote for a prime minister is to vote against Islam, and I was shocked to my very core. And that’s why I feel it’s so important for Muslims to read about Islam for themselves and not just take it from particular clerics.
I remember when we grew up, we used to always be told that we are all the same, we are all believers of the Book. Now they’re taught that you can’t defend people who are not Muslim. They’re your enemy. Things like that just shock me because when we grew up, it was a totally different. So I feel that the extremists are trying to hijack the message of Islam, the real message of Islam, which is one of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and all religions. We grew up – I remember in the classroom reading about religious wars, but I never thought that in the civilized world in which we thought we lived, that there would be the threat of such a war.
We’ve got obstacles in the way [of my becoming prime minister]. I know one thing. Either we get elected, and I have one part of my life. Or I won’t get elected, and then I’ll have another part. But I’ll definitely be there in Los Angeles to see you.
Harvard gave me such a grounding. It was the best thing that happened to me. My father used to say they can take everything away from you, but they can’t take your education away from you. So that’s what I tell my children. I say nothing matters, nothing in life but your education. That’s why I get so upset [if the children don’t study]. Since their father was released from prison, the kids have been very distracted. You know, instead of sitting and doing their homework in the winter, they’ll be going off to see their father in New York. They don’t have the same continuity. Whenever they have a holiday, he wanted to see them. He missed seeing them. They’d get onto a jet plane and go out to see him.
Really, he’s a good influence. You know what husbands are. But you must meet him, I think.
I think of what it will be like back in Pakistan. I left my house [the last time she left Pakistan for exile] with everything out, nothing packed. I took one suitcase that I took to America and then when I stopped in England on the way back to go on a relief mission to Kosovo, I heard I had been sentenced. And my mother and my husband and my party all told me to stay out. Don’t come back for the time being, they said. So I stayed out with one suitcase and I just wonder what the house there will be like. Everything was just lying there. My comb, my brush, my toothbrush, my toothpaste – Anyway now that I’m fat, nothing fits me anymore.
You know, I never – that big house [outside of London, the subject of one investigation into Bhutto’s finances], I must tell you about it. I never visited, I’ve never seen it – I don’t own it and – My husband – it has to do more with my husband’s family. Not with me. I didn’t know about the house. I learned about it from the press. But everybody mentions my name. But if they only mention my husband’s name, it won’t get a play. But I’ve never seen it, never been to it.
My in-laws still have the house in Normandy [in France]. They have the house in Normandy. They always had it. I don’t know why they made a big fuss about it. [They did not have it before I was prime minister], but they had other property, one of which they gifted to me before I was prime minister for my marriage.
But they always had property. They were very rich. One of the wealthy families. My father-in-law used to have banking shares and insurance shares that my father nationalized. [She laughs]
And he also had a monopoly on the importation of English films.
So he used to get all the revenue from every single Anglophone film that was shown anywhere in Pakistan.