Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa Bhutto-Zardari gave their first exclusive interview to Hello! Magazine for their February issue along with a family photo shoot. In this interview, Benazir Bhutto’s three children describe growing up in Pakistan’s grandest political dynasty, their years overseas and their return to Pakistan in tragic circumstances.
Bakhtawar and Bilawal have been in news for weeks now because of the grand Sindh Festival that they had organized and promoted, and which has been quite a success so far. The interview to the magazine was their attempt to promote the Sindh Festival, in which they not only talked about the festival but also about their life before returning to Pakistan, and how they had longed to return to their homeland for so many years.
Bakhtawar, 24, who has worked for a number of charities assisting flood and earthquake victims, said their mother juggled running the Pakistan People’s Party with bringing up three young children.
“We always wanted to return back to Pakistan, my mother frequently spoke about returning home and we often reminisced about our memories of Bilawal House,” said the Edinburgh University graduate, referring to the family home in Karachi. “Tragically, we came back for our mother’s funeral. It was not the sort of homecoming we had planned…” she added.
Benazir Bhutto was killed in a suicide attack as she left a campaign rally in 2007, weeks after she flew back into the country for the first time in almost nine years. Her return was possible only after corruption charges against her were dropped as part of a deal to restore democracy and usher Pervez Musharraf out of office.
Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, spent eight years in prison after being arrested in the late 1990s, years which weighed heavily on his young children as they grew up in Dubai.
Asifa, 21, said: “It was a very traumatic time for all three of us. I was only three years old when my father was imprisoned and it wasn’t until I was eleven when he was finally released. My childhood was quite bereft.” She was famously the first Pakistani baby to be vaccinated against polio after her mother launched a major immunization drive in 1994 and has since become a national ambassador for the campaign.
Many people have wondered why Bilawal has kept away from politics for such a long time now that he has completed his studies and reached the age of 25 which is the appropriate age to run for the National Assembly. His other two siblings have been more active than he ever was. In recent months, however, Bilawal has developed a higher profile, improving his Urdu and carving out an outspoken leftist position on tackling extremism and reforming the economy.
Talking about his absence from Pakistani politics and his love for his country, he said “My identity is Pakistan, where else can I be authentic? Where else would I see and actually feel the love of so many people? Pakistan is my final destination; this is where I would return to eventually”
“Our shared experiences have drawn us together so tight that it is hard to find times, when we are all in the same country, when we aren’t all together and enjoying each other’s company until the early hours of the morning”, said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari when talking about the bond between the three siblings.
He also had a great time organizing and leading the Sindh Festival. While sharing his experience of the event, he stated: “One of the most enjoyable parts of Sindh Festival has been working alongside musicians like Ali Gul Pir and the Beygairat Brigade as they recorded songs for the various events of our festival.”
Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari became the third generation to run the family party when his mother died, just as she had inherited the post when her father was hanged after a military coup. “I never planned to be doing this,” he said. “Like my mother, this crown of thorns was entrusted to me at a very young age. I see it as both an honour and an opportunity.”