Begum Nusrat Bhutto was born on 23rd March 1929, former first lady of Pakistan, widow of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and mother of Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairperson Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who was also a former Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Nusrat Ispahani is a Iranian from Kurdistan Province, Iran by heritage and daughter of a wealthy Iranian businessman who settled in Karachi, British India before its partition. Nusrat met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Karachi where they got married. That was to be Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's 2nd marriage.
As first lady from 1973-1977, Nusrat Bhutto functioned as a political hostess and accompanied her husband on a number of overseas visits. In 1979, after the trial and execution of her husband, she and her daughters were imprisoned and put under house arrest by the new regime of Zia-ul-Haq. However, due to health concerns she was later permitted to leave the country for London, where she was later joined by her daughters Benazir and Sanam. She became leader of the People's Party of Pakistan during her London exile and although she was chairman of the party for life, her daughter Benazir Bhutto later replaced her in the post.
After returning to Pakistan in the late 1980s, she served several terms as an MP to the National Assembly from the family constituency of Larkana in Sindh. Also, during the administrations of her daughter Benazir, she became a cabinet minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
She outlived three of her children Murtaza, Benazir and Shahnawaz Bhutto. Of the immediate family, only Sanam Bhutto, daughter of Nusrat and ZA Bhutto remains. She suffered from the combined effects of a stroke and Alzheimer's Disease. She passed away on October 23, 2011. Begum Nusrat Bhutto was 82 years old at the time of her death.
A Tribute to Begum Nusrat Bhutto
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan.
March 24, 2007
Unaware of what horrendous things are happening to Quaid and her martyred husband ZAB’s Pakistan, Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s (March 23 is her 78th birthday) gaze is stuck on the horizon. One cannot read her mind. Though she appears overly blank but her once beautiful mien still retaining its noble grace—is full of tales that catalogue not only her eventful and yet tragic life and a catalogue of crimes and follies of undemocratic rulers that have scarred the pristine face of her country.
March 23 is a landmark day in the life of Pakistani nation—if at all a people fractured and divided by its rulers—can still be described as a nation. It is, indeed, a historic coincidence that in the year 1929 on March 23 Isphanis of Karachi were gifted by Allah, the Most Generous, with a daughter—Nusrat Khanum—who was chosen by destiny to be the great woman behind a colossus of man that her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto grew to be.
An Iranian Kurd by origin tracing her ancestry to the legendary Islamic hero, statesman and a great soldier Salahuddin Ayubi—Nusrat Bhutto was surfeit with compassion, grit, dauntless determination and courage from the days of her childhood. And her dynamism, love and care for humanity blossomed her into a young lady who would strive, seek and not yield at a challenging time when loads and loads of trains packed with refugees from India were pouring into Karachi in the aftermath of partition of the sub-continent.
As a self-less member of the Women’s National Guard she rendered herself day and night into the relief operation of the millions of the uprooted refugees, feeding them, providing them shelter and succour when Karachi—nay entire Pakistan—had no resources, no infra-structure, no proper administrative set up, no houses, no medicare—for the teeming thousands except of course a generous and hospitable heart and determined relief operators like Nusrat Khanum. At that hour of crisis though physically frail, she stood tall among the tallest of ladies that had plunged themselves in one of the biggest relief work ever undertaken. She showed rare qualities of leadership and selfless service that inspired others and strengthened young nation’s will to survive despite the odds—a fact recognised and acknowledged by both Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and Begum Liaquat Ali Khan. Quaid too was proud of such Herculean services that Nusrat Khanum and the like had left no stone unturned to render to the afflicted people. Looking at their gigantic performance he had remarked that no odds, no challenges, no difficulties could overawe a nation that had youth like Nusrat in the field.
Begum Nusrat Bhutto was born with a silver spoon in her mouth to a wealthy and culturally rich Iranian businessman whose ancestors had settled in Karachi and had a vast network of roaring business across the sub-continent at the time of partition. And being a lady of sterling qualities of both head and heart as she was, she found her match in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Karachi. It was love at first sight that landed them in a wed-lock and a marriage that lasted to ZAB’s martyrdom and her uncompromising devotion to him to this day.
Her marriage to ZAB was also a great turning point in his life. Though himself a highly qualified and richly endowed scion of an illustrious parentage and heritage, stability at home provided to him by Begum Nusrat Bhutto, enabled him to harness his energies and knowledge in the service of the nation onto pastures new to the last drop of his blood—a promise that he had made in writing to Pakistan’s founder the Quaid when he was still a student. While he made his mark as Pakistan’s representative to the UN as a young lawyer, his wife stood behind as a rock, through thick and thin, hell and high water—to see him travel rapidly in the realms of one success after the other. He was no doubt a great man in the making and the woman behind him was Begum Nusrat Bhutto.
When he became youngest member of Ayub Khan’s cabinet—a position that he held—handling successfully different important portfolios—until he resigned as Foreign Minister, his capable wife Begum Bhutto acquitted admirably well the responsibilities of bringing up their four children—Benazir, Murtaza, Sanam and Shahnawaz and also the role of playing a perfect hostess. She also lent support to her husband socially, looking after his swelling number of admirers and followers. Since good bearing was in their blood and top priority fixed for them by their father was acquisition of high quality education, it fell on the shoulders of Begum Bhutto to bring the children in such a manner that it should do Bhutto heritage a proud.
Despite the fact that as the wife of Pakistan’s most ever dynamic foreign minister she had to travel with him far and wide and play hostess at various functions by him, she did not allow any strain on her responsibilities as a perfect mother. Her total devotion in bringing up their children is perhaps the reason that all of their off-springs were highly educated.
The true strength and greatness of character—that she had in her blood by virtue of her ancestral lineage with the great Kurd—Salahuddin Ayubi—manifested itself when her husband broke away with President Ayub Khan for his surrendering to India at Tashkent followed by his resignation as foreign minister and formation of Pakistan’s People’s Party as harbinger of change and empowerment of the people. Once he was opposed to Ayub Khan, the military dictator unleashed the state hounds on him, incarcerated him and persecuted him to no ends. Begum Bhutto kept alighted the flame of her husband’s struggle for democracy and unshackling of the masses, braced to face the dictatorial batons, worst harassment and intimidations keeping the masses march onward until their victory.
Begum Bhutto, however, gave her best when Bhutto Sahib’s elected government was removed on July 5, 1977 by General Ziaul Haq’s coup in the dark of the night in the bleakest hour in the nation’s life. She not only lead the people and kept ignited their democratic aspirations when her husband was incarcerated facing a concocted murder charge. Though she was not alone this time as her equally talented and gifted daughter Benazir Bhutto was with her, she nominated by Bhutto Sahib as the party chairperson in his absence, kept the party flag high in defiance of a ruthless martial law and state oppression to the extent that she received a head injury in the baton charge by Zia’s thugs. And this head wound—having not allowed its proper and timely treatment-- had an ever lasting injurious effect on her to the extent that it has gradually disabled her. Despite that she has shown tremendous forbearance and tenacity. Assassination of her youngest son by Zia’s hired killers—Shahnawz Bhutto—did have a devastating effect on her followed by Murtaza Bhutto’s in the prime of his life. The head wound that did not overwhelm her not-withstanding constant persecution, character-assassination and life in exile, did finally lead to incurable consequences.
The revenge of the Pakistani people as manifested in the electoral victory of Pakistan People’s Party under her daughter Benazir Bhutto’s leadership in late 1988 and in 1993 despite the worst possible manipulations and rigging by the successive unrepresentative rulers and the highest number of votes PPP received in the overly flawed 2002 polls—are the fruits of the selfless devotion of Bhuttos to the people and the overwhelming confidence they enjoy among the masses.
Twice Begum Bhutto was elected member of the National Assembly, remained a senior minister and also a constant source of inspiration for her daughter former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, masses and PPP workers especially. She has done proud to the country by representing Pakistan at various international forums and her contribution as the Chairperson of the Red Crescent had gone a long way in improving the country’s image. She has also received various international awards for her immense contribution to the greatest good of the largest number especially workers, women and children.
Begum Nusrat Bhutto had always been a fighter. She fought the battle for the empowerment of the people in the streets against dictatorship. She fought for their rights in the apex courts. And even today she is fighting a battle with life under the constant care of her loving daughter Benazir Bhutto and her grand children so that she could see the fulfilment of the democratic dream of the Quaid and her martyred husband who walked to the gallows head high so that his people do not have to bow to oppression and dictatorship. May Allah, the Most Compassionate, give her strength and long life to see the end of the journey with the early return of democracy and blossoming of a civil society that ensures equality to all—irrespective of caste, creed or colour.