In Memory of Benazir Bhutto

Friday, December 28th, 2007

‘I am at peace with myself and my religion’


The Province interviewed Benazir Bhutto when she visited in 1991

The following are excerpts from a Province story by former staffer Lyn Cockburn when Benazir Bhutto visited Vancouver on Jan. 22, 1991:

She is above all a tightrope walker. She walks the line between the old and the new. She balances delicately between Muslim tradition and the modern world.

For example, she wears an approximation of the veil, something she did not do when she studied at Harvard and Oxford.

She agreed to an arranged marriage with Asif Ali Zardari, a wealthy businessman. On the other hand, she promises to increase the rights of women in Pakistan.

She was in Vancouver yesterday and I interviewed her just hours before she was to address the black-tie World Affairs fund-raising dinner at the Hyatt Regency.

We sit at a huge conference-style table in her [hotel] suite. She is composed; I am a little nervous.

“Sit over on this side, I’m a little hard of hearing,” she says, instantly making me feel better.

There is a dignity about her, a presence, a sense of power, a feeling of serenity.

She knows exactly what she wants to say and she says it. For however long she wants to say it. If you try to interrupt her to ask another question, she says calmly, “May I please finish my sentence.”

Her tones are measured, considered and, in some cases, careful.

She is ever on that tightrope.

For example, she is aware that she has often been accused of being an insincere Muslim educated in western ways.

“I am at peace with myself and my religion,” she says.

“I am deeply religious. I believe in the power of prayer but I don’t believe that fundamentalist Muslims have any right to tell me or the people of Pakistan how to run our lives.

“We are answerable to God, not the fundamentalists.”

Bhutto states that she and her Pakistan People’s Party represent the liberal face of Islam while the fundamentalists would take Muslims back to the world of centuries ago.

“Islam is not just a set of narrow, rigid laws,” she says.

If she is a trifle circumspect when discussing religion, she makes up for it when she talks about the Oct. 24, 1990, election which gave her a mere 45 seats in the 217-member National Assembly.

“It was rigged,” she states flatly.

A Canadian team of observers was present for that election and declared the polling largely free and fair.

Bhutto points out that the Canadian team went home right after the election while a French team did not. “The French observers said publicly that fraudulent ballots were added after the polls closed at night,” she says.

“We won that election,” she announces, conviction evident in her voice. “And we would win again.”

© The Vancouver Province 2007

 The Les Twarog Team Honors a Courageous Woman…

Comments are closed.