KARACHI - Pakistan’s former first lady, Begum Nusrat Bhutto died Sunday afternoon at Iranian Hospital in Dubai where she was brought under critical condition a day earlier.The 82-year-old lady, whose husband and daughter both served as prime ministers of Pakistan, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the last many years and had been staying in the Gulf state for the last 10 years.
Begum Nusrat was the first member of ZAB family who died on a hospital bed. She witnessed the traumatic hanging of his prime minister husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and violent deaths of her two sons Shahnawaz Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto and daughter Benazir Bhutto.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced 10-day national mourning and a public holiday today (Monday) to mourn Begum Nusrat’s death. He also cancelled all his political engagements. The Federal Cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday was also put off. In line with federal government’s decision, the Punjab government also declared the day as a public holiday.
The federal government has also announced to posthumously confer Nishan-e-Pakistan on Begum Nusrat Bhutto for her services to the country and the democracy.
According to a spokesperson of Bilawal House in Karachi, the funeral will take place at Garhi Khuda Bux near Larkana. Her son-in-law, President Asif Ali Zardari reached Dubai, leaving his Jordon trip incomplete, where he was to participate in the World Economic Forum meeting.
Begum Bhutto’s body will be flown to Larkana by a special plane where she will be laid to rest at the ancestral graveyard beside the grave of her slain husband.
A pall of gloom descended on Pakistanis, especially in localities dominated by PPP, as soon as the official announcement was made about Nusrat Bhutto’s death in Dubai. People from all walks of life remembered the graceful figure of Begum Nusrat Bhutto attired in Sari and moving around in official functions and political rallies.
Borne on March 23, 1929 to a rich Iranian business family, Begum Nusrat was married to Mr Bhutto on September 8, 1951 and was her second wife. She had four children, Benazir, Murtaza, Shahnawaz and Sanam. Only Sanam Bhutto is now alive and living in London. He has no interest in politics.
Begum Bhutto went to Dubai along with her daughter Benazir Bhutto who spent eight years in self-exile and took care of her ailing mother apart from leading the PPP from abroad after her party suffered immensely from dictatorial regime of Ziaul Haq. The Bhuttos also spent most of the time of Nawaz Sharif governments abroad.
Nusrat Bhutto showed extraordinary personal strength and determination when she stood by her husband when he was ousted in a military coup on July 5, 1977 and was later sent to gallows on April 4, 1979, following what many allege was a politically motivated conspiracy and murder trial.
Begum Nusrat Bhutto herself led Pakistan People’s Party for several years after her husband’s demise. During Zia’s regime, she personally suffered immensely as a number of cases were filed against her. The military government and elected government of Nawaz Sharif haunted her for many years to discourage her from keeping PPP alive as a political force.
She led processions for democracy and got injured when she was hit by the police baton charge in one of the demonstrations in Lahore. She was said to be having a wound in her head as a result and was denied proper treatment and was banned from travelling abroad by General Zia.
Begum Bhutto was a staunch democrat and always stood by her husband since the day General Ayub Khan removed him as foreign minister from his cabinet in 1966. She encouraged ZA Bhutto to join politics and gave him strength to stand up and fight for democracy.
Begum Bhutto was elected member of the National Assembly in 1977, 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1997 before she shifted to Dubai with Benazir.
As the first lady she was at the forefront of social activities aimed at alleviating the lot of poor peasants through official channels and as a minister. She was seen as a mother figure by the poor womenfolk of Pakistan.
As a mother she had suffered hugely when her youngest son Shahnawaz Bhutto was poisoned to death in France and when her elder son was gunned down by Sindh Police in a staged encounter just a few yards away from 70 Clifton, where she lived after marrying ZAB.
Due to these most traumatic experiences, Begum Bhutto’s health deteriorated and she went to UAE with her daughter.
Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan from her eight years self-exile on Oct 18, 2007. She escaped a twin bomb blast attack on her reception motorcade on Sharey Faisal on October 18 but the assassins finally reached her on December 27 when they succeeded in assassinating her in an attack on her car after she was returning from a public meeting in Rawalpindi at Liaquat Bagh, where the first Prime Minister of Pakistan Khan Liaquat Khan too was gunned down on Oct 16, 1951.
Nazir Siyal adds from Larkana: After the news of Begum Nusrat Bhutto’s death came, party workers, leaders and other people from all walks of life started gathering at Al-Mrutaza House in Larkana and President Zardari’s house in Naudero to participate in mourning rituals. The arrangements for Begum Nusrat’s burial at the ancestral graveyard of Bhutto family in Garhi Khuda Bux were also started.
It was learnt that prominent personalities from different parties and PPP activists and leaders will be reaching Larkana and Garhi Khuda Bux to attend the funeral and burial of Nusrat Bhutto. The place for her grave by the side of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s grave has been finalised by President Asif Ali Zardari and Sanam Bhutto. Arrangements in this regard were being made at Garhi Khuda Bux.