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If you like Benazir Bhutto's story, you might also like:
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What is a Leader
The Democratic Process
Global Conflicts

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Benazir Bhutto
 
Benazir Bhutto
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Benazir Bhutto Interview (page: 3 / 5)

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan

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  Benazir Bhutto

You came to America to go to college. How did the years at Harvard affect you or influence you?


Benazir Bhutto: I think the most profound influence in my formative years was the years I spent at Harvard. I went there at a time of great social ferment, at a time when the Vietnam war was being fought. I -- as a nation -- was against the Vietnam war, but I found that my American fellow students were against that war too. So -- and they didn't want to fight the war. They were protesting it and I found that if you didn't like something you could do something about it. It was also a time when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and idealism -- Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott from California, labor rights. So I was very much into saving the world. My generation grew up in saving the world. We thought education wasn't important. Exams weren't important, although I still did it because I was scared my father would get cross, but I discovered that life was more than my homework and my tuitions and my tutorial. Life was about the larger issues where we could all play a role.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


The women's movement had just started. Kate Millet had just written her book and I remember all the discussions we'd have about which of us women would succeed. I remember a very dear friend of mine in college years, who I have hardly seen since, Wendy Lesser. She was putting out a literary magazine in California the last I heard. But we'd sit there having these intense conversations about women succeeding. Could they succeed? Could they break the barriers? At that time many women still thought that their objective in life was to go and be married, and not so much to have a career.

It was the time of McGovern running, and President Nixon's resignation. You know, Massachusetts was the only state that voted for McGovern, so it showed how idealistic we were compared to the rest of the world. Recycling newspapers, I'd go around trying to recycle newspapers. I see a bit of that age come back in the sense of the environmental issues which are getting important, but less in issues of sacrificing yourself for the larger community. Now I think it's more an age of the individual comes first. Then it was more an age where we as individuals subordinate ourselves to the larger communal good.

So you took all of this back to Pakistan with you?

Benazir Bhutto: Yes. I said, "Why can't we change our presidents?" because I saw Watergate happening and President Nixon being impeached.


I saw the power of democracy. It was really -- I felt powerful. I felt my voice counted. And meantime in Pakistan my father had been trying to empower the ordinary Pakistanis and telling them that they could break free of the shackles of feudalism and a military industrial complex. So when I went back, my own experience put me a bit ahead because I had a broader experience. I had experience in Pakistan and in America, and I had seen it succeed. So I went back really at the right time.


Did you have any doubts about what a woman could accomplish in a Muslim country?

Benazir Bhutto: I didn't have any doubts. My father was so important to me, and he thought a woman could succeed. He would tell me that "My daughter is going to make me more proud than Indira Ghandi made her father." So for me it was normal for daughters to succeed. Indira Ghandi was a very powerful leader. Mrs. Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka had been the first woman prime minister. Then of course, we had Fatima Jinna, who was also a presidential candidate -- unsuccessful but a presidential candidate.


I grew up in a region full of powerful women and I thought, "Well if they can do it, I can do it too." But when I used to talk to others they would say, "You're mad. How can a woman succeed?" Not necessarily in politics, but I wanted to be a diplomat. I wanted to have my own newspaper. You know, I wanted to do things, and other people -- men and women -- would find that very surprising, so others doubted it. Even my own husband, when he married me, he thought I was under delusions that I could beat a military dictator, and he thought that, "When she wakes up and finds out that it's all wrong and she can't, then I'll be there to console her." Little knowing that I was the one who had to console him when I won.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


My father always said, "My daughter will be making me more proud." There would be people saying, "Women are second class citizens, women don't have the same rights as men, and how can you think that people will elect you?"

But I had faith in myself. I had always felt that I could become prime minister if I wanted to, but I didn't want to, because I had seen the assassination attempts on my father. I'd seen the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur in Bangladesh, and maybe there was some kind of subconscious fear of what politics could bring, so I didn't want to do it. I didn't want the fear, the worries.

Was it the execution of your father that changed that?


Benazir Bhutto: His (my father's) execution changed that, because I felt I just couldn't let his blood, and the blood of all those others who had died -- because the dictator hanged so many people who were supportive of him. And they were coming on the streets to have him freed, and he'd have them whiplashed or hanged, and I thought they all did so much and he did so much, and how can we let the dictator win and let all this blood go to waste? So it was really at that time a sense of vindicating them rather than having my own agenda. I did believe in democracy but later on I developed an independent agenda of my own.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


Not only were you a woman, you were young. You were only 35 when you became the first woman to serve as prime minister of a Muslim country.


Benazir Bhutto: It was a victory for women everywhere. I would really realize that when I won and I got so many letters from other Muslim women, and more than that, from women within my own country who felt that it was not decent to work. I don't know why. It's a strange thing to say today, but in those days people thought that it was indecent for a woman to work and "good women" (in inverted commas) didn't work. It was a very strange world of divisions, and it liberated women. They said, "The prime minister is a woman, why can't we work?" I remember being told a story about a lady who wanted to be a pilot, and went for an interview and the chairman, who happened to be from the armed forces, laughed and said, "Come back to me when we have a woman prime minister." Well she did, and she got the job and now there are more woman pilots too.


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This page last revised on Nov 02, 2010 15:29 EST
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