KARACHI: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gave vent to his emotions about his mother- the first woman to be the prime minister in Islamic world.
Commending her for balancing her life between family and work, he writes in a UK-based newspaper The Guardian, “At the time, as her children, we didn’t appreciate how extraordinary her life was. Looking back it is clear that despite her accomplishments, every day she had to prove that as a woman she had every right to be who she was, larger than life and leading from the front, every step of the way.”
He said he never found his mother complaining, even in private, about how she was treated only because she was a woman.
He was of the view, “As her children we didn’t comprehend the scale of her challenges because we never saw her complain, not even in private, about how she was held to a different standard just because she was a woman.”
Bilawal also remembers his grandfather, “My mother began her political journey as a symbol of hope and resistance to the repressive, regressive, Islamist regime of General Ziaul Haq. He imposed dictatorship, hanged my grandfather – the first democratically elected prime minister – on trumped-up charges, and brutalised Pakistani society under the most authoritarian regime our country has ever seen.”
He criticized General Zia saying he radicalised Pakistan to such an extent that we are still haunted by his actions today adding as a result of his extremist legislative rollbacks Pakistan became the first country on earth to revoke rights already granted to women.
Having launched a campaigned against his rule, Benazir faced enduring imprisonment, solitary confinement, exile, assassinations of family members and associates was what she had to live through as a young woman, he added.
The young PPP chief remembered 1988 when he said his mother led a nationwide election campaign, wrote a bestselling book, had her first child and became the youngest and first female prime minister of the Muslim world.
Bilawal said a public campaign was launched to say Islam did not allow for women to rule and so-called scholars issued fatwas decreeing against her rule.
Noting about the time when his mother was pregnant with his sister, Bakhtawar, he said her prime ministership was challenged for that fact with calls for her dismissal.
In reaction, he said, “My mother, being who she was, took this all in her stride with a smile on her face, had her baby in secret and was back at work the next day.”
“When my mother was not married, they would say, “Oh, good women are married, so why isn’t she married?” When she did get married, they would say, “Oh, why did she choose to marry him?” Then they would say, “Why is she not having children?” Then when she did have children, they said, “Oh, why is she always pregnant?”
Remembering ‘her final campaign against the military dictatorship of General Musharraf and the scourge of violent extremism in Pakistan’, Bilawal said, “She led the long fight against Musharraf, fought consistently for democracy, and advocated for the release of political prisoners, including my father who at this point had spent a collective 11-and-a-half years in prison without a conviction.”
He added, “All the while raising her children as a single mother, lecturing and giving speeches to make a living, making time to have a meal with us every day, taking us to the mosque every Friday, helping us with our homework, and much to our annoyance, never missing PTA meetings!”
Bilawal said forces of dictatorship and extremism robbed him of his mother but she lives on as a symbol of hope, a role model for women across the world.
Concluding his recollections, he said his mother proved women can certainly do everything, adding she lives on in history as a global icon.
“I know every child thinks of their mother as superwoman, I certainly did,” he paid tribute to his mother.