The first time Benazir Bhutto was thrown out of power, she told her daughter Bakhtawar: “If anybody teases you at school, just tell them, ‘But your mother was never prime minister of Pakistan.’” Or so the story goes.
In Pakistan, where the lives of the Bhutto family have been so closely entwined with the history of the country, it does seem like a credible anecdote. Bhutto’s assassination begins a possibly even more bitter and bloodstained chapter of her family saga, Suzanne Goldenberg writes in The Guardian on Saturday.
Benazir’s death leaves no obvious heir for now. Her three children, son Bilawal, and daughters Bakhtawar and Asifa are all still in their teens.
Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, is a discredited and reviled figure in Pakistan, where he is associated with the corruption charges that sank both her governments.
The next in the line of succession would face rivals, and typically for large and landed Pakistani families, some of the most determined of these are also blood relatives – the would-be heirs of Bhutto’s brother, Murtaza.
After his death, his widow, Ghinwa, whom he met during exile in Syria, took up the leadership of his breakaway faction of the PPP. Murtaza’s daughter by his first wife, Fatima Bhutto, has also emerged as a harsh critic of her estranged aunt.
Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was hanged in 1979 by the dictator of the day in Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq.
His death plunged Bhutto, then a cosseted daughter who had spent her youth at Harvard and Oxford, into the tumult of Pakistani politics.
In 1987, at an advanced age in Pakistan for a bride, she consented to an arranged marriage with the son of a Karachi cinema hall owner, Asif Ali Zardari.
The match between the intelligent, worldy Bhutto and the son of a traditional feudal family mystified her western friends. But within a year, she became prime minister, wrote a book, and had her first child.
“In politics she carried her father’s legacy, but in her personal life she was her own self. I don’t think that she was thinking [that] her son or daughter ought to pick up the banner of the PPP,” said Peter Galbraith, a former US diplomat who befriended Bhutto during their second year at Harvard.
“I don’t think she has laid on her children the same expectations that were laid on her, or that she created for herself.”
Bhutto was the mainstay of her children’s life in recent years as her husband served several years in prison in Pakistan on suspicion of murder and corruption and sought medical treatment for a heart condition in the US. She and her children lived in Dubai.
Galbraith said Bhutto delayed her return from self-exile precisely because she was worried about the toll on her family.
Months before her departure she was engaged in deciding which university her eldest would attend, Harvard or Oxford.
“This weighed heavily on her,” he said. “There are some politicians who are just one dimension – that is all they care about and think about — but that wasn’t true for her.”