Pakistani Students Hear News from Home After Bhutto’s Assassination

“I was in Bahrain when I heard, in a cafe with my friends, and the waiter came and told us, ‘Have you heard? Bhutto’s dead,’” said Nadine Khan ’09. News of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination spread quickly around the world, affecting Phillips Academy students with connections to Pakistan. Khan, a British citizen and resident of Bahrain, said most of her family currently resides in Pakistan. Her plans to visit home over winter break were disrupted due to the unrest. But Khan also said that schools and shops in Pakistan are still operating. “No country is going to fall apart over one person.” Bhutto, two-time former Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated on December 27 while leaving a political rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. She was running for a third term as prime minister, in elections that were scheduled for January 8. The elections have now been postponed until February 18. Zahra Bhaiwala ’10 also has family in Pakistan. All of her mother’s relatives and most of her father’s live in Karachi, Bhutto’s ancestral home. Bhaiwala said her cousins’ schools have been closed and most of her family now lives within a government quarantine zone. News of Bhutto’s death reached Bhaiwala while she and her family were in Egypt. “We were in Sinai. We were riding in a cab when it came on the radio and my mom just screamed. Everywhere we went, when the people heard we were Pakistani, they came up to us to say they were sorry about Bhutto,” she said. Khan said, “It hasn’t affected me as much as it has my cousin in Islamabad…She was there when the Masjid happened.” In the Red Mosque incident of July 2007, Pakistani government forces invaded a mosque held by radical Islamists. Khan said explosions cracked the wall of her cousin’s house during the firefight. Bhutto, who was 54 years old, was a controversial figure in Pakistan. In October, she returned to Pakistan from Dubai, where she had been living in self-imposed exile to avoid corruption charges. Bhaiwala said that her parents were ardent supporters of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, and that they were deeply affected by her death. “I don’t know much about her policies, but I do admire that she was a woman leader in a third world country,” Bhaiwala said. ?“In Pakistan, women [in politics] are scarce,” she said. Khan felt differently about Bhutto. “I never respected her as a politician, as a woman, or as a Pakistani,” said Khan. “I will give her this: she was probably the only person who could unite the majority of Pakistanis.” Khan reflected on Bhutto’s political legacy, saying, “She came up with a catchy slogan, ‘Bread, Clothes, and Shelter.’ She managed to convince the poor people she would get them these things, but over time she became a very corrupt person.” Acquaintances from Bhutto’s Harvard days, where she completed an undergraduate degree, have different memories of the former prime minister. Kit Rault of New Orleans, Louisiana was one class year after Bhutto at Harvard. Rault is the mother of Hugh Edmundson ’08 and a member of the Harvard Club of Louisiana. Though they were not close friends, Rault said she worked with Bhutto on student panels and dined with her on many occasions. “I knew her more as a symbol of a woman who overcame prejudice, who had the courage to get an education and to stand up for democracy,” Rault said. Rault recalled Bhutto as an idealistic student deeply interested in political science and in the welfare of her people. “She was really cheery and happy and always on the go. She was so very pretty, always well dressed, and she had many friends.” Dr. Richard Hunt, University Marshal and Senior Lecturer in Social Studies, taught Bhutto. As an undergraduate, she was a student in his German History class where Hunt said she performed well. Though he did not know her well as an undergraduate, they became better acquainted when she returned in 1989 to accept an honorary degree and deliver the annual commencement speech. “You could tell this was a very formidable, powerful woman who had a command of world politics,” said Hunt. “She was always very generous, very nice.” Hunt said that news of the assassination saddened him greatly both on a personal level and because of the turmoil it has caused. He remains skeptical of the accusations of corruption leveled at Bhutto, citing the opinions of his friend Peter Galbraith, former United States Ambassador to Croatia. “She had a long and cordial relationship with Galbraith and he didn’t believe corruption was any part of her being,” said Hunt. With prime ministerial elections postponed at least until February, Khan worries about her country’s future. “It just makes me want to watch the news all the time,” she says. These events at home have given Khan a newfound interest in politics. She plans to join Tehreek-e-Insaaf, a small political party dedicated to fighting corruption in government. “I will always believe in democracy,” she said. Both Khan and Bhaiwala hope to return to Pakistan this summer.