KARACHI, Pakistan – The eldest daughter of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated former prime minister of Pakistan, took her first steps on the political ladder last week with her appointment to a high-profile post in the party her mother once led.
Bakhtawar Bhutto, 17, has been made head of the Pakistan Peoples party’s (PPP) women’s wing.
In her first television interview since her mother was killed last December, she pledged to carry on her mother's work.
In a pronounced American accent, Bakhtawar Bhutto promised to play a prominent role in the campaign for women’s equality and said that she had not ruled out a career in politics.
“I definitely want to help people in Pakistan. I want to continue my mom’s mission in any way I can, whether it’s politics or something else — I haven’t decided yet,” she said.
She and her sister Asifa, 14, were last seen in public mourning at the flower-bedecked graveside of their mother after she was killed by a suicide bomber two weeks before an election that she had been widely expected to win.
“I am proud to think people see me as a role model," said the oldest Bhutto daughter, who goes to school in Dubai. "I’m a very confident speaker and I hope all women can do what they want.
“I was given the opportunity. I was privileged, as you know. I was born into the family that I am in, where everything I could have was my right. Everything was equal between me and my brother, and there was no discrimination between the sexes.”
Her 19-year-old brother, Bilawal, an Oxford undergraduate, was appointed co-chairman of the PPP along with Bhutto’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari, within days of the assassination and is widely seen as a future leader of the party.
“We have been brought up to equality and everything my brother was given, I was given," Bakhtawar Bhutto told a Pakistani satellite news channel. "We went to exactly the same schools, exactly the same teachers. Education for women is as important as for men because I believe we can all have the same jobs in life."
Her brother’s surprise appointment as party co-chairman after their mother’s death was initially welcomed as a reflection of Benazir Bhutto's wishes. Supporters said she had never dreamed Bilawal would assume the mantle so soon, but she had always expected he would one day take over the “family business” of politics.
Other friends deny that the slain leader ever favored a political career for her children and said she had sought to protect them from the burden of expectation that she had faced after her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was overthrown as prime minister in General Zia ul-Haq’s 1974 coup and later executed.
“I don’t think she has laid on her children the same expectations that were laid on her, or that she created for herself,” said Peter Galbraith, an old university friend.
According to another friend, Benazir Bhutto strongly believed that her children should complete their education and make their own decisions later in life.
Nevertheless, the appointment of Bakhtawar Bhutto, which was combined with the announcement that her younger sister would lead the party’s youth movement, led to speculation that she, rather than her brother, might be the next star of the Bhutto dynasty.
Bakhtawar’s public reminder that she is Bilawal’s equal has also raised memories of the bitter sibling rivalry that divided the Bhuttos after the death of their mother's father.