Daughter of Destiny

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 34)

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, was executed on April 4, 1979, by the military regime that had overthrown his democratically elected government, his daughter Benazir set her sights on a single goal. At whatever personal cost, she would restore to the people of her country the right to determine their own political destiny. Her book documents the decade-long struggle that culminated in the resounding victory of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in November, 1988, and her appointment as prime minister a month later.

Bhutto writes at the end of her first chapter, “In the stories my father had told us over and over as children, good always triumphed over evil.” It is this kind of story that she has made of her life. Daughter of Destiny is not a history of Pakistan in the late twentieth century but the personal narrative of a devoted daughter passionately committed to carrying on her father’s work. She says in her epilogue that she wrote in order “to set down the record of the brutal Martial Law regime of General Zia ul-Haq.” Much of the work is thus an account of the torture, imprisonment, and abuse endured by her family and their political allies. To give a sense of the scope of the persecution, she includes brief accounts of the horrors suffered by other Zia victims. Yet throughout the painful, graphic scenes runs a thread of hope, the author’s underlying faith that good will triumph—and she never conveys a moment of doubt that the Bhutto cause is just.

The emotional effect of the book is heightened by its structure. It begins with a detailed account of the crucial event in Benazir’s life, her father’s execution for what she argues convincingly were trumped-up charges of conspiracy to murder. In her first major section, “The Years of Detention, 19774984,” she interweaves her description of her happy childhood and adolescence with an account of her detention at her family’s country home for six months in 1979 and 1980. The effect of this juxtaposition is to make clear the contrast between the comfortable, privileged world into which she was born and the appalling conditions in which she found herself after her father’s arrest.

The Bhutto family was one of Pakistan’s richest and most prominent. Benazir’s grandfather, Sir Shah Nawaz Khan Bhutto, was one of the first Muslim landowners to see the advantage of a good education for his children. His son, her father, was a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Christ Church College, Oxford. He, in turn, sent his four children to be educated in the West. Benazir, the first woman in her family to study abroad, was graduated from Harvard University at twenty, going on to the University of Oxford for four more years. Her brother Mir Murtaza and her sister Sanam followed her to Harvard. Mir, too, went on to Oxford and their younger brother Shah Nawaz studied in Switzerland. Underlying their education was the assumption that all four would have significant roles to play in the development of their young country.

Zulfikar Ah Bhutto was closely involved in Pakistan’s political development throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, serving as representative to the United Nations and in various positions in the government. In 1967, he founded the socialist PPP, which would later become the focus of his daughter’s life. As Benazir left for Harvard in 1969, control of Pakistan passed into the hands of a military dictator, Yahya Khan. In 1971 came violent conflicts between East and West Pakistan and then a disastrous thirteen-day war with India. When Pakistan surrendered to India and East Pakistan broke away to form the new nation of Bangladesh, the government of Yahya Khan was ousted, and Bhutto became his country’s new president.

Benazir’s father and her capable Iranian mother Nusrat involved her very early in her life in important national events. As an undergraduate she sat behind her father in heated United Nations Security Council meetings and traveled with him to India for crucial negotiations with Indira Gandhi, for the first time becoming something of a media celebrity. In spite of her exposure to world affairs, however, she says that she remained naive and idealistic in her student days, confident in the freedoms she studied in her American political science courses.

Her preparation for a political career continued in her happy years at Oxford, which culminated in her election as the first woman president of the Oxford Union Debating Society. This period coincided with her father’s tenure as Pakistan’s prime minister and the country’s adoption of a constitution guaranteeing human rights and democratic government. As she left Oxford in 1977 she expected to work for her father, supporting his land reforms and socialist economic policies. She knew that these policies were unpopular with large landholders, businessmen, and conservative...

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Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

As the autobiography of the first woman ever to lead a Muslim country, Benazir Bhutto’s Daughter of Destiny is the story of the making of a tenacious and charismatic politician in a male-dominated society. It is also a record of the years from 1977 to 1988, when Pakistan was ruled by a military dictatorship under General Zia Ul-Haq until free elections swept Bhutto to power.

Bhutto’s account of these years is dramatic and highly personal. Woven into the political story is a continuing family tragedy. Daughter of Destiny begins in medias res with a painful account of the last days of Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in April, 1979. He had been Pakistan’s socialist-leaning prime minister from 1971 until he was ousted by a military coup led by his army chief of staff, General Zia, in 1977. Zia then had the former head of state put on trial on a charge of conspiracy to murder a minor politician in 1974. According to Benazir Bhutto, the charges were a fabrication, and the trial was rigged. Bhutto was convicted and hanged by the military regime in spite of worldwide pleas for clemency. After this shattering event the Bhutto legacy fell to the twenty-six-year-old Benazir and her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, who became acting chair of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

While Benazir Bhutto and her mother tried to carry on the work of the PPP, they were repeatedly arrested by the military regime. In the structure of her book, Bhutto uses one of these periods of detention, at Al-Murtaza, the family home, as a frame for several chapters in which she tells the story of her life. Born into one of Pakistan’s oldest landowning families, Bhutto had a privileged upbringing. She was sent to Harvard University at...

(The entire section is 718 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Long before her political achievements in Pakistan made her famous, Benazir Bhutto made a small contribution to the emancipation of women when in England in 1976 she became the first woman president of the Oxford Union Debating Society. Only ten years before, women had been restricted to the upstairs gallery during debates.

More significant, of course, was that at the age of thirty-five Bhutto became the first woman to lead a Muslim nation, even though many of her opponents had claimed that this was contrary to Islam. On the campaign trail she had countered these charges by telling crowds, which were made up mostly of men, that Muslim women had a proud heritage and that she herself had the courage of Bibi Aisha, Muhammad’s favorite wife, who had ridden her own camel into battle at the head of the Muslims.

Bhutto’s success was not as unusual as some Western commentators assumed. As Bhutto points out, there is something of a tradition in southern Asia for the women of prominent families to carry on the political legacies of the men. Such has been the case with Indira Gandhi in India, Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, and Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s mother. In India in 1991, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the leader of the Congress Party, the party offered the leadership to Gandhi’s Italian-born wife, although she refused it.

Benazir Bhutto served as prime minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990, when she was removed from office by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan on charges of incompetence and corruption. Bhutto claimed that there was a conspiracy against her and spent more than two years fighting her way back. She became prime minister again in 1993, after her Pakistan People’s Party won a majority of seats in parliament.