I’ve always had trouble reading autobiographies. It takes me a lot of willpower to go through non- fiction (except for anything by Malcolm Gladwell, heh heh) but I have improved a lot in this area, I must say! Now, the thing about autobiographies is that you only get one side of the story, so here comes the disclaimer: I know nothing about Pakistan or politics in the Middle East. I merely read the book and enjoyed it. Ok, that’s done, we can get to the review now!
Daughter of Destiny is a gripping account of the life of Benazir Bhutto, the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the first woman to be elected head of government of an Islamic state. Her story is intertwined with the history of Pakistan, her nation of birth. Narrated in the first person, the account tells of the family history of the Bhuttos, dating from her childhood years in Karachi. Bhutto paints a picture of a happy family, and all through the book she speaks fondly of her father – Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan – as a man who loved Pakistan dearly and wanted the best both for his family and the country.
As an observant fourteen-year old, Benazir was inducted into the world of politics by watching her father campaign for the post of Prime Minister, under the aegis of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). She gives a fascinating account of intimidation, arrest and death threats leveled against her father and senior PPP leaders by the then government of Ayub Khan. The early history of Pakistan- first under British colonialist rule then under the de facto dictatorship of Ayub and Yahya Khan, closely mirrors that of Kenya. In fact, many parallels can be drawn all through the book between the two countries.
On December 20, 1971, Yahya Khan was forced to step down and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto became the new president. Overnight, Benazir Bhutto went from being the unknown girl from Pakistan at Radcliffe College to the daughter of the President of Pakistan. She recalls accompanying her father on various state trips, a landmark one being a trip to India in 1972 to meet with Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India. At only 19, she was already taking part in the politics of Pakistan. Interestingly, Benazir reveals that she had no desire to become a politician. Instead, she was aiming for a career in Pakistan’s Foreign Service.
In the wee hours of the morning of July 5th 1977, an election year, the Bhutto family awoke to the news that there had been a military coup d’ état. Interestingly, Prime Minister Bhutto confirmed this from the instigator of the coup himself, his Army chief of staff, Zia ul-Haq. Zia promised to hold elections in 90 days, but it was not to be. Prime Minister Bhutto was arrested and Pakistan’s democracy came to an end.
What followed the coup was a period of military rule and the suspension of freedom for ordinary Pakistanis. Prime Minister Bhutto was arrested and transferred from one prison to another in a bid to keep his whereabouts unknown. Arbitrary arrests and public floggings of PPP workers and supporters became the order of the day, as Benazir and her mother were detained under house arrest at their home in Lahore. Close friends of the Bhutto family were harassed and arrested, and many family members were forced to flee the country.
It was during this dark period that Benazir’s political career began in earnest. Urged on by her father, she toured the various provinces, speaking to PPP supporters and seeking to restore their morale. With the help of friends from inside and outside Pakistan, Benazir and close friends of the family worked in secret to put together a defense for her father, held under trumped-up charges by the military government. On February 6, 1979, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Prime Minister Bhutto. In the early morning hours of April 3, 1979, despite appeals that came pouring in from various international bodies and countries around the world, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was killed.
On March 8, 1981, Benazir Bhutto was arrested and jailed on the charge of belonging to the terrorist movement, Al- Zulfikar, which had hijacked a Pakistan International Airlines plane. Benazir herself spent a year behind bars, and two more under house arrest. One telling statement reveals the weight of the imprisonment: “As 1983 began, I realized there had only been one New Year’s Day I had been free since 1977.” (pg. 232) Her freedom came after 6 years, following years of intense international lobbying and pressure on Zia ul-Haq’s government to have her released.
It’s not all gloom and doom, however. In the midst of imprisonment, Benazir was able to attend her sister Sanam’s wedding. She also talks about her marriage, something she reveals she thought would never happen because of her circumstances, and the birth of her three children.
At the end of December 1985, Martial Law was lifted in Pakistan. On April 10th, 1986, Benazir flew back to Pakistan to lead PPP’s campaign to bring an end to Zia ul-Haq’s regime. Then began a series of political rallies in several cities, all the while having to deal with assassinations of PPP supporters, intimidation and death threats as the country awaited the promised national elections.
On December 2, 1988, Benazir Bhutto took the oath of office as the first elected woman Prime Minister, not only in Pakistan, but in the entire Muslim world. In 1993, she was sworn in as Prime Minister for the second time. Unfortunately, like her father before her, she was ousted from power in August 1990, this time not through a coup but on corruption charges. She describes the pain of watching, from the opposition, the new government led by Nawaz Sharif undoing many of the social reforms she had instituted.
In an interesting bit towards the end of the book, Benazir explores the link between Pakistan and terrorist attacks against the West, in the wake of 9/11. She traces the roots of the development of terrorist groups to the West’s support of dictators in Pakistan and Afghanistan to further their own political goals. These extremist groups, she explains, flourish best under military dictatorships. She especially castigates Pervez Musharraf — who dissolved Nawaz Sharif’s government — for his “… policies which also empower the enemies of the West and the dangerous political Madrassas, preaching intolerance at home and war against the West abroad …”
As she returned to Pakistan in 2007, Benazir was aware of the risk she took in going back home, but was determined to return in order to fulfill the democratic aspirations of the people of Pakistan. She returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, at the age of fifty-four. Ironically, having survived an assassination attempt on October 19, Benazir was shot on December 27, 2007, as she left a campaign rally at Rawalpindi. She succumbed to her injuries the next day and was buried next to her father in Naudhero, Sindh Province, Pakistan.
Daughter of Destiny is more than just a tragic tale about a brave woman. It is a story shot through with hope, the never-failing hope of Benazir Bhutto and her love for her country Pakistan, and its people. It will inspire, enrage and educate you in equal measure.