Benazir Bhutto Examined In New Book, Documentary

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A new book and movie are offering different views of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani political commentator and author, reviews the movie and book. Siddiqa tells Steve Inskeep she remembers Bhutto as the woman who took on the country's military ruler in the 1970s and 1980s.


A new documentary and a new book both try to sum up the life of Pakistan's most famous woman.


B: In 1953, six years after the birth of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was born.

INSKEEP: That's a clip from the documentary "Bhutto," about the former prime minister who was assassinated in 2007. We'll get a review of that movie and of the book. Our critic will be Pakistani writer Ayesha Siddiqa. She remembers Bhutto as the woman who took on the country's military ruler in the late 1970s and the 1980s.

AYESHA SIDDIQA: She struggled, protested, she took out processions. She led her party against military dictatorship.

INSKEEP: Benazir Bhutto began that struggle after her father, himself a prime minister, was overthrown and subsequently executed. In the film we see Benazir Bhutto talking about lessons she learned from her father.


BENAZIR BHUTTO: We were landowners, large landowners. My father will tell me: Look at the way these people sweat in the heat and in the sun and the fields. It is because of their sweat that you will have the opportunity to be educated. And you have a debt to these people.

INSKEEP: As a politician, she won the support of Pakistan's poor and was twice elected prime minister. But her achievements were limited. Both times in office, her governments collapsed, her husband, who is now Pakistan's president, was repeatedly accused of corruption.

Ayesha Siddiqa says Benazir Bhutto was a complicated figure.

SIDDIQA: I've met her thrice, and every time that I left her, I left with this feeling of her being very alone. She was a committed mother, she was also a committed wife. And therefore she stuck it out with her husband, who not only had a reputation of being Mr. 10 Percent, but also had a reputation of mistreating her. And they could have done a better job with that film.

INSKEEP: Now, in fairness, we should say that while it's an admiring look at Benazir Bhutto, there are some critics who are included, including Benazir's own niece, Fatima Bhutto, who is a young journalist and who makes the argument that Benazir was supportive of none other than Afghanistan's Taliban in the 1990s. Let's listen to a little bit of Fatima Bhutto from the film.


FATIMA BHUTTO: In 1996, when the Taliban took over our neighboring Afghanistan, there were only three countries in the world that recognized them. And Benazir, as a supposedly Democratic feminist, extended her country's recognition, support and aid to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: Did Benazir Bhutto really do that?

SIDDIQA: You know, Afghanistan was an issue that the army wouldn't allow her to mess around with. She was the prime minister but these were areas which were not under her control. So there was no way in hell that the military would allow her to abandon the Taliban.

INSKEEP: Now, Fatima Bhutto, Benazir's niece, is also the author of the book that we want to review here, which provides a completely different look into the Bhutto family. It's "Songs of Blood and Sword." What is this book about?

SIDDIQA: Fatima Bhutto's book is about - it's about her relationship with her father in fact. She's trying to pose (unintelligible) Bhutto, her father, as the more logical alternative to Benazir Bhutto.

INSKEEP: And we should say, Benazir's brother, Fatima's father, was killed while Benazir was prime minister and Fatima Bhutto believes that her father was in effect murdered by Benazir Bhutto's government.

SIDDIQA: Yeah. I mean, the jury is still out in what was happening. The reason, I think, the fundamental thing which Fatima doesn't understand, nor does others like her in the Western media, what the people in Pakistan don't forget is that Benazir Bhutto was the image, you know, representing political Pakistan.

INSKEEP: One thing that's interesting - when I've traveled in Pakistan in recent months, there are still billboards all over the place with Benazir Bhutto's face. Is she as big a part of the national consciousness of Pakistan as she was when she was alive?

SIDDIQA: I'll tell you something. She has turned into a saint. Benazir consciously stood up in some ways, like her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to face and, you know, defy a military dictator. Yes, both were flawed. I mean people, ordinary people are not interested whether these - how flawed their policies were. They are interested in these two characters, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto, as symbols of the strength, you know, one needs to stand up to the establishment in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: Ayesha Siddiqa, thanks very much.

SIDDIQA: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She's the author of "Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy." She reviews here a movie about Benazir Bhutto called "Bhutto" and a book by Fatima Bhutto called "Songs of Blood and Sword."

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