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What is a Leader
The Democratic Process
Global Conflicts

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Benazir Bhutto
Benazir Bhutto
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Benazir Bhutto Interview (page: 4 / 5)

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan

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  Benazir Bhutto

You've had to deal with family tragedy, you've been in and out of prison, in and out of detention. How have you dealt with these enormous obstacles and challenges in your life?

Benazir Bhutto: In life there are challenges, but I think leadership is very much predicated on the capacity to absorb defeat and overcome it. Now, after having been in politics for more than two decades, I have come to the strong conclusion that the difference between somebody who succeeds and somebody who fails is the ability to absorb a setback. Because on the road to success there will be setbacks, and there are those who give up, and those who say that, "No, we are going to go on." So it's that capacity to absorb a failure.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Also, when I was in prison I became very devout. I'm not a fundamentalist but I am very devout, and I believe that God places a burden on one's shoulders that he feels that you can bear. So when the burden grows heavy I turn to God and say, "God, don't let it be so heavy that I cannot put up with it." So I would say that in solitary confinement when I had nobody to talk to. I was brought up ritualistically religious as many people are. Their parents take them to church and teach them how to say their prayers like my mother taught me, but it's all ritualistic.

It was when I was in prison and everyone was cut off from me, my family, my friends, food, even couldn't get a glass of water without having to beg somebody for it who came twice a day with my food, and no ice. I mean, the ordinary things, in the heat of the summer where you can open the fridge and take -- nothing. I had nothing. They cut everything -- took everything away. Material, physical, everything. And suddenly I realized they can take everyone away. I couldn't read newspapers. They wouldn't give me newspapers or Time magazine. So suddenly I realized that they can't take God away from me. So to pass the time I started passing it in prayer. So from that moment I realized that God is always with one, so what gave me the faith and sustenance was my belief that God places a burden on people to bear and He places only that burden which they can bear.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

The second thing was the love of ordinary people. The love was so much that it was enriching. It gave me strength, nurturance. Maybe I'm a needy person, maybe I need love. Sometimes I think, "Why would someone go on doing it?" When I get so much love at the mass level, I feel that I must go on. So I think that those are the two factors that really kept me going because in the worst of my moments I always had vast reservoirs of love.

I remember when I was overthrown in '97 and things were very bad in the press. They were calling us all sorts of names. And the first time -- you know, you're spoiled as prime minister, you have your own planes to go and everything like that, you don't catch passenger planes or go through immigration -- you know, security checks. The first time I caught a plane and was reintroduced to the real world, one of the air hostesses just saw me and she hugged me and she said that, "You know it was during your time that my brother got a job and changed our family's life." Then I remember that when I reached Karachi -- I was going home -- the whole union had gathered, and the whole union received me and they threw rose petals all over me. So suddenly I thought, "I'm not alone." Even if the press, the government, everything was after me.

You ran to improve the position of women, social services, education, health. Your very political ideals were controversial, weren't they?

Benazir Bhutto: That was my agenda. First I did it for democracy, because that was my father's agenda and it was also mine as a youth. But my own agenda was very much poverty alleviation and population planning, for instance. We brought down the population growth rate by one-third, and because of the cascading effect it's going to continue going downwards. And there was a lot of hue and cry against the population program, but we did it by recruiting 50,000 women from different villages, and training them in three-month installments. First they would train for three months. They'd go out and work and then every month they'd come back for a refresher to learn something more. So when we had 50,000 women with a vested stake in it, we had ambassadors everywhere to counter people in villages who were opposed to population control.

Benazir Bhutto Interview Photo
I remember the iodized salt; the clerics said, "You shouldn't eat iodized salt because it has really got population control in it and you won't be able to have any children." So we did take on an agenda that frightened the people who believed in the status quo, and who actually believed in a tribal patriarchal society, because to a great extent there is still an undercurrent of a patriarchal society in Pakistan.

How do you deal with that kind of resistance? There's a price you pay for change, how do you deal with that?

Benazir Bhutto: There will always be critics. They say in politics there will be the appointed and the disappointed. So there will always be the critics. One has to take it, I learned that right after my first election. I thought all I have to do is win an election and all my critics will disappear and according to Barbara Cartland we'll live happily ever after. But I realized you wake up later, and your critics are still around and you still have to factor them in.

My experience has made me a more inclusive person, not inclusive to the margins, but inclusive to those people who have differences with us but who are still moderates, so I tried to be more inclusive. It's not easy because the other side has to respond too. Ultimately there will be critics but one has to do what is right as long as the majority of people support that.

Building schools was right. I tried to placate even the clerics originally. I adopted a very aggressive stance. I thought I had to prove I was as tough as a man because I was in a man's world. Now I think it's not a man's world anymore but in those days it was supposed to be. So I also tried to be very aggressive and warmongering in my second term to try and co-opt my opposition. I am a consensus sort of person, I like to win people over. Not to compromise the core of my values, but I seek the middle way and I tried do that. I think in retrospect it was wrong because I did not co-opt them and I alienated some of my own supporters. But at the same time we got the three years to eliminate polio, to build schools and electrify villages.

Now I feel that if politics was a man's world in 1997, now it's a human's world, and that when people vote for women, they vote because they think women are more nurturing, that they give life, they produce children, and they give life. As the larger issues of communism and capitalism fade away, the focus in my view is turning more and more to the human being, and with more women coming into the work force or into the press, there is a sense that women leaders will be sensitive to the needs of mother and child.

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This page last revised on Nov 02, 2010 15:29 EDT
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