What is it that has stayed with me all these years despite my only an hour or so of exposure to PM Benazir Bhutto?
It was my first and last meeting with her. I had been designated by Pakistan Television to do a one-on-one interview with her. I reached the Prime Minister’s House with my technical team well before time and started setting up for the conversation. To say that I was nervous would be putting it mildly but interviewing the most powerful woman in Pakistan at the time and a sitting prime minister would probably unnerve any one. I had submitted the questions earlier on but knew I would be meandering a bit here and a bit there during our conversation. Well, we’d come to that if and when it happened, I told myself to calm the butterflies in my stomach. I settled down, got wired up and looked at my questions.
She swept into the room regally, followed by a group of assistants and Farhat Ullah Babar. We greeted each other and the interview began.
So what is it that has stayed with me all these years despite my only an hour or so of exposure to her?
It is her clarity of thought, her focus on the moment, her impeccable use of the perfect words to express her thoughts. She did not fumble once. She did not stop for a second when she began speaking. It was almost as if sentences were being framed in her head even before she spoke them. She did not take her eyes off my face nor did I see her blink as I asked a question out of the prepared and submitted sheet. She was ready for the onslaught, she was in the game.
It is her clarity of thought, her focus on the moment, her impeccable use of the perfect words to express her thoughts. She did not fumble once.
She spoke during tea about her standing solidly with the women of Pakistan and supporting them in whichever way she could. She also spoke informally about how she wanted women represented everywhere and in every department and field in Pakistan. “I will support them as much as I can.” she said to me and I can never forget her smile as she said that.
There are many who may criticise her (and maybe rightly so) for not doing as much as she could have done during her two tenures and PM, like repealing the Zina ordinance of Zia days, or passing more laws in support of women and their inheritance and custody issues. But it is now in hindsight that I can understand that running a government as prime minister is not only about focusing on one particular issue, it is also a highly complex situation. If you are running it, not as a single party, but as a coalition, it can be even more difficult.
We did have very high hopes when she was sworn in. After the dark era of 11 years of Martial Law, December 1988 seemed like a fresh start but she did come in with her hands “tied” which we, the people of Pakistan, could not see or know about.
I recall a conversation with a close friend of hers (name withheld for privacy) when she told him that she was being totally restricted to act as she thought best.”Go back to the people,” he advised. “Go back to your voters. Tell them who is putting these blinders on you. Take them into confidence.” She never did that and we are all a witness to how that story ended.
In today’s world of confused “which way to go”, one misses her vision and political depth of understanding which is nowhere to be seen.
The author, a Faiz Foundation trustee, is a former PTV general manager