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What is a Leader
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Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto
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Benazir Bhutto Interview

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan

October 27, 2000
London, England

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  Benazir Bhutto

Could you begin by telling us something about your childhood in Karachi?

Benazir Bhutto: 1953. It was a very different world then. Very few motor cars and much more poverty. The gap between the rich and the poor was greater, too. I remember people walking barefoot and bare-backed because of the poverty.

It was a very privileged life that we led with huge homes and scores of staff with everything looked after. Now the world has changed much more. There's a greater appreciation of each human being, being equal and entitled to the same opportunity, as well as an emphasis on human dignity. In those days there was much less dignity. I remember that the poorer people would greet the richer people by bending down and touching their feet, or prostrating them and throwing themselves on the feet, so it was a totally different kind of world and it has changed for the better in that sense.

As you say, you led a life of privilege amidst great poverty. Were you aware of these disparities? How did this influence you?

Benazir Bhutto: My father was always championing the cause of the poor. He was very much against the status quo, so he was always telling us that it is wrong, that there should be people in such abject poverty, unable to feed their children. I'd be sitting there when women would come to my mother and say, "Take my children, we can't feed them."

My father was a lawyer. I remember him coming back and saying that a man came and said, "I don't have any money to pay you for this case." Some other case he'd been involved in. And he said, "Take my cow because I don't have any money," and that was the cow that would give them milk to feed the children. So it was quite shocking to me, and I was sensitive to it because my father was sensitive to it. And he'd take us -- we were landowners, large landowners -- and he would take us to the lands and he would tell me, "Look at the way these people sweat in the heat and in the sun in the fields, and it is because of their sweat that you will have the opportunity to be educated, and you have a debt to these people, because they weren't born to sweat like this. And, "You have a debt and you've got to come back and pay that debt by serving your people."

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Your father was an important influence in your life?

Benazir Bhutto: A very important influence.

Now when I look back on it, it was my father who was against the gender constraints of my time. And my mother, she used to be a working woman herself, she joined the National Guards. She was a captain in the National Guards. She was the first woman in Karachi to own a car and to drive, and people used to talk about her because they said, you know, "We're not supposed to drive cars." But when I look back on it, it was my mother who taught that a woman grew up to be married and to have children, and she would tell my father in front of me, "Why do you want to educate her? No man will want to marry her." So all the time, for her, success depended on having a good catch as a husband, and having children. Whereas for my father, he broke free of those constraints, and he insisted that I have an education. He said, "Boys and girls are equal. I want my daughter to have the same opportunities."

[ Key to Success ] Vision

How do you account for that?

Benazir Bhutto: I really don't know, because I never had a chance to ask him. As a child I just assumed this is what fathers did, and when I finished university he was in prison. Then he was unjustly hanged by a military dictator. Now in reflection, I would like to ask him, "What made you do things differently?"

I'd go to other people's homes, and I remember a friend of mine -- they couldn't eat food until the brothers had finished, and the leftovers would be given to the daughters. That never happened in our home. I remember that I used to sit at the head of the table because I was the eldest child. That never happened in other homes, and I should have asked my father when I had the chance, but he enabled me to appreciate that a woman is not a lesser creature.

Benazir Bhutto Interview Photo
And also my nuns. I used to go to a convent school, the Convent of Jesus and Mary. And I remember very much Mother Eugene used to teach us literature and poetry, and to reach for the moon, and the lodestar, and inspiring us. It was very inspirational and motivational that one could conquer the moon and the stars if one reached out. It was all about reaching out. I think the two powerful influences in my life in my childhood was my father and my teacher in the Convent of Jesus and Mary, Mother Eugene.

I was fascinated with literature. My father gave me a love for books. He loved reading books and he'd make sure that I bought books and he'd buy me books. And then Mother Eugene made my imagination run wild through Shakespeare -- Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar -- and Keats and Browning and Byron.

What books were most important to you?

Benazir Bhutto: It was mostly historical biographies that I would read. I remember starting out with King Alfred of England, and the cakes that he burned when he got lost and was taken in and given refuge. Alexander, the Great, cutting the Gordian knot. Nobody could do it, but he sliced it. His horse who was frightened; he tamed the horse because he understood it was the shadow that frightened the horse. I read mostly about people who were achievers.

My father was himself an achiever and maybe it was a time of achievers. I grew up at a time when colonialism had just ended. The whole inspiration behind colonialism had been to discover the world and achieve more. There was a sense of adventure in going to unmapped places, braving beasts of unknown description, to conquer the world. We were still very much in that phase when words and expressions were more grandiose and the imagination was more grandiose. Now things are much leaner and meaner.

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