My memories of Nusrat Bhutto go back to her appearances in the media as the wife of the charismatic president, and then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. I came into direct contact with her only when the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was launched against the dictatorship of Ziaul Haq. The MRD was a multi-party alliance. My husband, Fatehyab Ali Khan’s Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party was a founding member of the alliance and he eventually became one of its strongest pillars. Originally, there was some hesitation on the part of the more affluent older generation of politicians to allow a small leftist party, led by a reputed radical like Fatehyab, into the alliance.
Nusrat Bhutto, who had been impressed by Fatehyab’s courage in filing a constitutional petition against the radio and television programme aimed at influencing the Bhutto trial, Zulm Ki Dastan, came out on his side. The programme was stopped as a result of Fatehyab’s constitutional petition.
There was some reluctance also, among the older politicians, most of whom lived in palatial houses, to come to our simple home, opening on a run down lane, for a meeting of the MRD’s central executive committee. Nusrat Bhutto had no such qualms. Her arrival at the meeting in our house was a turning point for the politics of that time. Clad in a silk sari, she sat through the meeting in the rocking chair in our living room.
I was not part of the meeting, so I do not know what transpired during those deliberations. But I heard that she tried hard to build a consensus with members of the central executive committee, some of whom had cried for her husband’s blood during the PNA movement and tried to take everybody along.
At some stage of the movement, she had gone underground. I remember the event in which she was persuaded by Fatehyab to make a public appearance in a meeting of the Railway Workers’ Union in Karachi. Fatehyab brought her to my mother’s house and her gentle words, “I do get nervous, you know” still ring in my ears. Clad in a burqa, she went to the meeting with Fatehyab, chauffered by my brother Kazim. Her appearance at the gathering caused a tumult and was a great political energizer.
After Benazir came to power, Nusrat Bhutto met me in 1989. She had thrown her weight in favour of returning The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, which had been taken over by Ziaul Haq in 1980, to its members and original charter. I told her there had been some progress on the issue. “Really,” she said “They don’t usually listen to me”. There was a wave of joy on her face, when she told me that she might be meeting her grandchildren soon.
Few people have been dealt a fate as cruel as Nusrat Bhutto suffered. However she may have coped with her grief in public, in private she maintained her courage and dignity.
She was a great woman.
The author Dr Masuma Hasan, is the Chairman of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA). She has served Pakistan as Cabinet Secretary and Ambassador to the U.N., Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia.