Benazir Bhutto’s legacy is tangled and complex, and Baughman’s film attempts to show the many sides of this complex woman who attended university during the civil rights, anti-war and feminist revolutions and agreed to an arranged marriage; went to a cabinet meeting in the afternoon and gave birth the next morning; stopped all meetings at 7pm on Friday nights for dinner with her family; negotiated political deals; embraced her faith, yet opposed those aspects which required women to submit to men; and strove to restore Pakistan to the glorious days of the Islamic empire when scholarship and art were celebrated. She modernized Pakistan, bringing health projects and high tech to the country, yet fell prey to tribalism and and repressive tradition.
The film begins with the exit of the British from India and the creation of Pakistan as a separate Muslim state, the military buildup of Pakistan and the political rise of Benazir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was Pakistan’s first democratically elected president and his dynasty is compared to the Kennedys’. Once elected on a platform of food, clothes and shelter, Zulfikar released political prisoners and made peace with India without compromising his peoples’ position.
But when India became a nuclear power, Z.A. Bhutto wanted the same for Pakistan, a move which concerned the West. Henry Kissinger warned that the United States would
make an example out of you
And curiously, President Bhutto–who had appointed General Zia to his cabinet to make the military happy and increased the focus on Islam in Pakistan to help secure his position–was charged with murder and sentenced to death, but not before anointing his first born child Benazir (rather than his first born son Murtaza) as the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. He told Benazir–educated at Radcliffe and Oxford–that she would make him prouder than Indira Ghandi had made her father. General Zia, however, was in charge of country and with the invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR, the United States supported Zia, and
[a] sordid dictator became a plucky fighter for freedom.
Textbooks for madrasas were published by the University of Nebraska as the United States propped up Pakistan and underwrote the mujahadeen.
Benazir’s brothers were accused of attempting to overthrow the government from outside the country, and Benazir who remained in Pakistan was jailed. She was eventually released; while in the South of France with her family, her youngest brother was poisoned and died. General Zia was assassinated in a plane crash (possibly caused by an explosion in a box of mangoes); the American Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel and General Herbert M. Wassom, the head of the U.S. Military aid mission to Pakistan were among the other officials on board who were killed.
And so Benazir, who participated in an arranged and seemingly happy marriage with financier Asif Ali Zardari, was elected Prime Minister, breaking the glass ceiling for Muslim women. Benazir instituted massive social changes–releasing political prisoners, providing clean drinking water, instituting a massive polio vaccination program, opening 48,000 primary schools, lifting censorship and creating all women police stations. Benazir Bhutto changed how Islamic women viewed themselves and how Islamic men viewed women. To her it was important to be a strong leader, but she also recognized that
It’s important to be a woman, because a woman brings nurturing aspects
But the military opposed her, as did the powerful ISI ( Inter Service Intelligence, a combo CIA/FBI/SAVAK/NSA), and both propaganda and political campaigns were launched against her, her husband was jailed for corruption, and she was ousted.
When she returned to power again, Benazir sought to find a way to integrate the Taliban into Pakistan. Issues of corruption escalated, and her husband was charged with being behind the murder of her oldest brother Murtaza, who was also her political opponent. Zardari was jailed again. One report cleared Bhutto and her husband of corruption, but Benazir remained in exile, taking speaking engagements to support her family. Benazir took the international stage, discussing the issues of the resettled mujahadeen and the Islamic refugees, and watching as madrasas became the only places children could learned to read and write–and the proving ground for the Taliban and terrorism.
With Pakistan increasing in importance in the post 9/11 world, it became clear to Pakistani President Perez Musharraf–no doubt with pressure from the West– that Benazir’s presence could be beneficial. But her return to her homeland in 2007 was fatal.
In her political will, Bhutto left rulership of the PPP to her son once he finishes his studies; the party is now being run by her widower.