Play Connects Pakistan's Past and Present On Thursday, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan following an eight-year, self-imposed exile. The night before, The Leopard and the Fox opened in New York. It tells the story of Bhutto's father, Pakistan's first democratically elected leader.
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Hear Bilal Qureshi's report on Weekend Edition Saturdayabout a New York play that examines Pakistan's past

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Play Connects Pakistan's Past and Present

Hear Bilal Qureshi's report on Weekend Edition Saturdayabout a New York play that examines Pakistan's past

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NPR's Bilal Qureshi reports on a play that tries to connect yesterday and today.

BILAL QURESHI: So in 1985, the BBC commissioned writer Tariq Ali to create a three-part TV series he called "The Leopard and the Fox."

SIMON: In terms of the animal kingdom, a leopard can gobble up a fox, but sometimes the fox outwits the leopard, and that is what happened in the case of Pakistan. Zia totally outmaneuvered and outwitted Bhutto.

QURESHI: The BBC asked the writer to make changes.

SIMON: And I said, in very rude words, which I better not repeat on radio, that my reaction would be to tell you to take a running jump.

QURESHI: Playwright Rajiv Joseph says he didn't just want to restage the old work without acknowledging what was going on in Pakistan today.

SIMON: It seemed that we'll be doing a disservice to this production if we didn't and somehow, like, think about that. You know, allow that - the reality of today's Pakistan to become part of the story because it is so connected.

QURESHI: Here Zia ul-Haq threatens Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.


SIMON: (As General Zia ul-Haq) I called you here to talk. It is out of respect I do this.

SIMON: (As Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) Respect. You talk to me about respect, surrounding my home with tanks at midnight while my wife and daughter were asleep inside.

SIMON: (As General Zia ul-Haq) Oh, you, boy.

SIMON: (As Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) My wife and daughter inside asleep.

SIMON: (As General Zia ul-Haq) There are times when no one is really safe.

SIMON: (As Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) This is how you repay me after all I've given you.

QURESHI: There are definite parallels between the politics of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and those of his daughter, says Husain Haqqani, the head of the International Relations Department at Boston University.

SIMON: Benazir Bhutto is very much Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter. She is as concerned about civilian control over Pakistan as her father was. She is as much of a nationalist as her father was.

QURESHI: As for the link between President Pervez Musharraf and the older military ruler...

SIMON: Zia ul-Haq believed that the Pakistan army is the only institution that can keep Pakistan together. And so for him, army equals Pakistan. And for Musharraf also the same equation holds true.

QURESHI: The new play acknowledges that enduring tension between military rule and democracy in Pakistan. In an imagined telephone conversation, Benazir Bhutto taunts President Musharraf - the head of the same army that deposed her father.


SIMON: (As Benazir Bhutto) I have to hang up now, general. Think over the terms I've made and then text me your answer, or perhaps I'll just show up and you can throw me in jail, hang my corpse from a tree like Zia did my father.

SIMON: (As President Pervez Musharraf) I am not Zia.

SIMON: (As Benazir Bhutto) Sadly you are.

QURESHI: The play opened the night before Benazir Bhutto's chaotic return to Pakistan on Thursday. After the premiere, there was a lively debate among the predominantly South Asian audience.

SIMON: There was a tendency to be one-dimensional.

QURESHI: Javed Jabbar would know. He was the minister of information in Benazir Bhutto's cabinet in the late 1980s. He did commend the play, however, for providing historical context to what's happening today.

SIMON: I think the arts should continue to remain a mirror of the political process as well as a critic so that people are able to step back from the hurly-burly of politics.

QURESHI: Samia Shoaib is visiting New York from Karachi.

SIMON: It was very strange to go from talking to my husband who's like, ugh, can hear the riots to see someone who really hasn't done the research, portraying Benazir as some kind of heroine. She's killing people as we speak. People are dying on the streets of Karachi because she's coming back.

QURESHI: Tariq Ali who wrote the 1985 screenplay, "The Leopard and the Fox," on which the current production is based, isn't exactly thrilled with the new version either. He says Benazir Bhutto is neither the leopard her father was nor is President Musharraf a fox.

SIMON: Jackals both of them. One is a military dictator and the other is a corrupt politician.

QURESHI: Bilal Qureshi, NPR News.

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